Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Under the Black Flag

"There is a less obvious explanation for the attraction of the pirates...As all women know and some men can never understand, the most interesting heroes of literature and of history have been flawed characters....They [pirates] are seen as cruel, domineering, drunken, heartless villains, but it is these very vices which make them attractive. A degenerate and debauched man is a challenge which many women find hard to resist. They want to give him the love they feel he is missing and they want to reform his evil ways."

Perhaps this quote from the afterward of David Cordingly's Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates explains some faucet of my recent choice of reading material... or perhaps not. Cordingly's book was certainly a more literate, but still factual, account of the history of pirates. He has taken years of research and used it to write a very enjoyable and accessible history of pirates not only in the Caribbean, but also other places such as the North America eastern coastline, the Indian Ocean, and the Chinese pirates of Mrs. Cheng. Of the two pirate books I've currently read, this is the first book you should pick up if you want to learn more about pirates.

Under the Black Flag was originally published in 1996. My later paperback copy has 296 pages, although the writing ends at 244 and the remanding pages are appendixes, notes, a glossary, index, and bibliography. There is also a section with pictures. (In the picture section is a photograph of an early eighteenth century set of chains. This was used to display the bodies of notorious pirates near a port as a warning. It was helpful for me to see an actual picture of this contraption.)

From Amazon:
Though literature, films, and folklore have romanticized pirates as gallant seaman who hunted for treasure in exotic locales, David Cordingly, a former curator at the National Maritime Museum in England, reveals the facts behind the legends of such outlaws as Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, and Calico Jack. Even stories about buried treasure are fictitious, he says, yet still the myth remains. Though pirate captains were often sadistic villains and crews endured barbarous tortures, were constantly threatened with the possibility of death by hanging, drowning in a storm, or surviving a shipwreck on a hostile coast, pirates are still idealized. Cordingly examines why the myth of the romance of piratehood endures and why so few lived out their days in luxury on the riches they had plundered.

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