September 19th, 2004

krazy koati

Though you could be a doctor or perhaps a financier

First, happy birthday to spengler. But you knew that already. Now to live up to a promise made blither, I review of Don C. Seitz's Under the Black Flag: Exploits of the Most Notorious Pirates.

The book is one of Dover Publishing's greatest projects, reprinting old academic books. The 1925 book gives a history of many pirates, over centuries and continents. As an overview it succeeds wonderfully: the short chapters give room to explore pirates and privateers (for convenience, I'll simply say pirates, though many were legally licensed) barely footnotes today. Most of them were simply fascinating people, not obvious nor predictable. Nearly all have multiple remarkable stories of survival.

Where the book fails is in omissions. There are no maps; when the action jumps between the Barbary Coast, the Caribbean, New York, the East Indes, and Madagascar one needs help. There's also virtually no political context; you have to just know of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. More surprisingly there's no outline of pirate vessel organization. Even a faulty template with many exceptions would be better than interpolating one. Many pirates begin on other pirates' vessels, but links between people are rarely explicit. The effort to cover many pirates means some -- notably William Kidd -- are nearly ignored. Most crippling for a nominally academic book there's no index, nor sources.

Despite this, and some archaic writing, and the text's odd belief piracy is gone, it's interesting and informative.

Trivia: 100 Middletown, East New Jersey residents seized Governor Andrew Hamilton and several court officials as they attempted to try Moses Butterworth, one of Captain Kidd's pirates, in March 1701. Source: New Jersey: America's Main Road, John T. Cunningham.

Currently Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, Alan Palmer.