Review: The Sea Rover’s Practice

Rating: ★★★★★
The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730
by Benerson Little

During my time running, I’ve read many, many pirate books. And in doing so, I’ve developed exactly two heroes. The first was Kevin Rushby for possessing the wherewithal to truly – and I mean truly – explore the waters and cultures between Cape Town and Madagascar. And only now have I found a second author of truly heroic status. Benerson Little has written a book without precedent – a small tome of combat knowledge as it applies to our pirate forebears. Be it ship-to-ship, hand-to-hand, or just plain deceit and cheating, the tactics are all here and explained in glorious detail. So why does this make Little a hero? Because he speaks from experience.

It’s one thing for a historian to write about old naval tactics. It’s quite another when that historian is a former navy SEAL. Continue reading

Review: A Pirate’s Life for Me!

Rating: ★★★☆☆
A Pirate’s Life for Me!
by Julie Thompson and Brownie Macintosh

It’s no secret that I adore children’s pirate books. In a world of myth-busting party-poopers, it’s refreshing to sit down and read some gloriously illustrated tale that shares my shameless love of pirates, without letting history get in the way of a good tale.

BUT, sometimes you gotta set the record straight with the young’ns and educate them properly as to the actual historical aspects of piracy, lest their heads become full of Hollywood mush. A Pirate’s Life for Me! does exactly that, covering the daily routines of your average Caribbean pirates from morning to sunset, with all the shipboard maintenance, eating, drinking, and fighting that typically occurs between. Actually, that’s not quite accurate – drinking is NOT covered. Continue reading

Review: Victory in Tripoli

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Victory in Tripoli: How America’s War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation
by Joshua E. London

Having read several historical novels of late, it occurs to me that one thing they most all lack is a proper story arc. For example, in a typical pirate biography Pirate A was born, raised, raids this city, raids that ship, yaddy-yaddy-yadda, and then dies. Real life rarely offers the proper format of dramatic elements that make for traditional storytelling, which can make for historical novels that are sometimes a bit winding and seemingly aimless.

No such danger with Victory in Tripoli – we have both a protagonist and an antagonist, a beginning, middle, and even an exciting conclusion. And we of course have pirates – it’s all here!

Long before the United Stated won its independence, the Barbary Nations had established a unique relationship with the major European powers – namely that of terror, extortion, and downright piracy. Continue reading

Review: Rum

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776
by Ian Williams

“The fulcrum of most European imperial ventures during the formative years of the thirteen colonies was not the North American mainland but the Caribbean. From the Spanish Main that hems it to its polyglot islands, the one universal uniting factor for the Caribbean is rum – lots of it, as a living liquid memorial to the time when the lands bedecked around that perfect blue sea were not the tourist playground of North America and Europe but the cockpit of all their rivalries.”

Perhaps no single paragraph throughout Ian Williams’ Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776 more concisely summarizes this work’s content and tone than this, the opening segment of its tenth chapter. It introduces the idea that pre-revolutionary American history wasn’t centralized in Boston or Philadelphia, but actually the Caribbean – and that the one material that truly greased the wheels of rebellion wasn’t tea, but rum. Rum: A Social and Sociable History focuses largely on rum’s role in the colonies, and how its trade, regulation, and consumption ushered the founding fathers towards revolution. Continue reading

Review: Drake

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Drake: The Life and Legend of an Elizabethan Hero
by Stephen Coote

Perhaps unlike any other pirate in history, Sir Francis Drake enjoys a near sterling reputation. A British national hero as well as skilled navigator and explorer, it’s easy to see why Drake is difficult to place in the same category as the likes of Blackbeard, Kidd, or the Lafittes. That he sat rather comfortably beneath the umbrella of “privateer” rather than overt piracy only keeps the tarnish off his name all the more.

Author Stephen Coote follows Drake from his early years serving under John Hawkins, through his circumnavigation of the globe aboard the “Golden Hind,” his famous knighting, and on to his eventual death. Drake’s life is already a thoroughly written subject, and as such few major points will be new to the well-read pirate-enthusiast, although Continue reading

Review: Scurvy

Rating: ★★★★☆
by Stephen R. Bown

Scurvy! Say it with me now – Scurvy! Few words seem so salty and piratey, and it’s downright fun to say. But what exactly is it?

Stephen R. Bown covers the story of scurvy and the quest for its cure by tracing the efforts of three distinct individuals – James Lind, James Cook, and Gilber Blane (the surgeon, the captain, and the gentleman, respectively.) These men’s stories each make for a gripping read, and together they tell a fascinating tale about a terrible affliction that not only crippled its individual victims, but entire navies as well. Throughout most of history, long voyages manned by malnourished sailors short on Vitamin C inevitably gave way to a variety of dreaded symptoms, from spongy, bleeding gums to decades old wounds reopening. It’s easy to see how scurvy rose to such infamy, especially in days before nutrition was widely understood, and its cause was routinely attributed to unrelated factors such as poor sanitation or impurity of thought. Continue reading

Review: Pirate Tales

Pirate Tales Issue #2

The world of pirate comicbooks has been precarious at best. As soon as a new title enters the market – be it good or bad – it quite often fades into oblivian before you can even give it a fair chance. Not so with “Bloodthirsty Pirate Tales,” a historically-based comic book series that primarily traces the exploits of Blackbeard. “Bloodthirsty Pirate Tales” managed to stay alive for a full eight years – virtually an eternity for the pirate comic genre. And even though they only managed an average of one comic per year, they nontheless left a fine legacy, and are surely remembered fondly by many a pirate enthusiast. Continue reading

Review: The Pirates Laffite

Rating: ★★★☆☆
The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf
by William C. Davis

The world needs more pirate biographies. I’m not talking about “General History of Pirates” types of biographies that discuss every pirate under the sun (which can be both informative and interesting but at the end of the day leave you struggling to remember which pirate was famous for raiding what town.) No, what we need are more biographies that pick a pirate and follow them through from beginning to end. Which is precisely why I was so excited to learn of William C. Davis’ new book, The Pirates Laffite.

Following Jean and Pierre Laffite from their humble beginnings in France through their booming smuggling operations and eventually to their rise to fame and notariety, Davis carefully documents most every aspect of their lives imaginable. His incredibly thourogh account weighs in at a hefty 490 pages, with nearly another 200 set aside for notes and bibliography, and leaves absolutely no portion of the Laffite’s careers in the dark. Continue reading

Review: The Lost Fleet

Rating: ★★★★☆
The Lost Fleet: The Discovery of a Sunken Armada from the Golden Age of Piracy
by Barry Clifford

“The Lost Fleet” has all the makings of a typical sequel – exotic locales, more shipwrecks, and even a new villain. Where Barry Clifford’s account of his discovery of the Whydah occurred domestically in the relatively uneventful waters off Cape Cod, his exploration of an entire sunken armada near Venezuela brings us the dangers of foreign governments in turmoil, ravenous barracudas, and a power-hungry dentist turned jungle explorer. It would almost seem ridiculously stereotypical if it wasn’t all true. Continue reading

Review: A Hanging Offense

Rating: ★★★★☆
A Hanging Offense: The Strange Affair of the Warship Somers
by Buckner F. Milton, Jr.

Now normally I side with the pirates – it’s in my nature. But in this story I just had to root for the naval captain. Sorry, not story – this is history. And a fascinating piece at that. Word has it that at the time these events gripped the nation (the OJ trials of the 1800s, I suppose,) but today not many have heard of the Somers. 19 year old Philip Spencer was a midshipman, the son of the secretary of war, and trouble. Insubordinant from the get-go and selfish to boot. That may be all forgivable, but when he’s stationed on the Somers, a training vessel manned almost entirely by children, well, that’s when I draw the line and playful mutiny becomes cold-blooded murder. Of course, Captain Mackenzie learned of the plans in advance and dealt with it as best he could, but you can read about that yourself. Continue reading