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Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign Paperback – April 22, 2008

4 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Talty (Mulatto America) entertainingly chronicles the life of legendary privateer Capt. Henry Morgan and his crucial role in challenging Spain's hegemony in the New World in this informative popular history. Seeking his fortune, Welshman Morgan arrived in the Caribbean just as British King Charles II decided to challenge Spain by using pirates "as a stick with which to beat [them]." Morgan accepted a privateer's commission from the British—in effect, a license to steal—and set out in 1661 to make his fortune. Smart and charismatic, Morgan quickly rose to the rank of captain and became "fabulously rich." His attack on the Spanish stronghold at Portobelo "showed the world that the empire was vulnerable," and his raid on the city of Panama—the "greatest raid in the history of buccaneering"—forced "the Spanish to renounce their exclusive rights to the New World." Charles II knighted Morgan and appointed him deputy governor of Jamaica, a position that tasked him—"the greatest of the buccaneers"—with exterminating piracy. Morgan died of the effects of alcohol abuse in 1688 at 53. Talty strips away the legend to recreate a pivotal era in this accessible portrait of the pirates of the Caribbean. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Before he became rum, Cap'n Morgan humbled the Spanish Empire. Part swashbuckling pirate, part aristocratic wannabe Henry Morgan blended his desire for adventure and wealth into an innovative military approach. English greed and rugged individualism could defeat Spanish monarchical bureaucracy. Talty illustrates the lures that drew free spirits from the Old World and into the new. Port Royal, Jamaica, serving as the seventeenth-century's sin city, offered all the vices a young rogue craved, plus the pirate excursions to fund his debaucheries. Talty's well-researched account weaves together myriad political and financial interests in the New World. From the young rogue in search of wealth and a good time to the British monarchy looking for a cheap way to defeat the Spanish (and finding that champion in the young pirate), the pirate's ferocity and depravity became known and feared. Morgan succeeded, where most could not, in straddling dual roles. He stood as the vital force in British military cunning and success, and did so as a feared yet respected pirate. Blair Parsons
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307236617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307236616
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephan Talty is the NY Times bestselling author of six acclaimed nonfiction books, as well as two crime novels, "Black Irish" and "Hangman," set in his hometown of Buffalo. He's written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Playboy, the Chicago Review and many others. Talty's ebook, "The Secret Agent," was a #1 Amazon Kindle bestseller in nonfiction.

Talty lives outside New York City with his wife and two children. You can visit his website at www.stephantalty.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
One of the thoughts I took away from this book was how sometimes in order to defeat an enemy, it is necessary to fight him at his own level. Understanding this, England's most pragmatic monarch, Charles II, took the shrewd step of not only employing the regular navy in his conflicts with Spain, but of commissioning pirates to act as privateers, which he then sent out to take the fight directly into the nerve-center of Spain's lucrative Caribbean territories.

Empire of Blue Water---which has a beautiful cover, I might add---is primarily the story of Captain Henry Morgan, 1635-1688, the ultimate embodiment of buccaneer and raider in the great age of sail. Living a life that lends credence to the old maxim about truth being stranger than fiction, the flamboyant, fearless Morgan, son of minor Welsh gentry, proceeded to attack his nation's foes from Cuba to the coasts of South America and back again across a string of islands in a series of audacious flanking strikes that not only rattled the Spanish from the New World to Madrid, but lead to Spain's making a peace treaty with England that was highly beneficial to England's interests.

Stephan Talty also dishes up the de rigueur gossip and dirt on other pirates who sailed the Caribbean waters, sometimes acting in one nation's interest, sometimes that of another, most often simply dwelling as seaborne opportunists who sought profit and adventure wherever it was to be found. Fans of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series will probably enjoy reading about the exploits of real life counterparts to the fictional characters in the film, who were every bit as conniving, lawless and savage as might be expected. (Or hoped.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is basically a rehash of material that was covered by Peter Earle's THE SACK OF PANAMA. But instead of digging into new primary sources as Earle did in the unexplored Spanish records, Mr. Talty quotes familiar sources like Alexander Exquemeling and other secondary works, including Earle's. One sees the phrase "As quoted in" repeated all to often in his endnotes. He even includes sources on pirates who flourished sixty years after the events in his book, and he creates a fictional composite of a buccaneer named Roderick to perform actions that aren't backed up by facts. Mr. Talty also annoyingly peppers his prose with inappropriate modern analogies. For instance, Thomas Gage, former missionary to the Spanish Main, and propagandist for colonization of the Indies is described as the Neil Armstrong of his day.

Nevertheless, Talty's style can be engaging when he refrains from modernisms, and the book did provide some historical context for Henry Morgan's exploits. The introductory chapters on Gage and the settlement of Jamaica, as well as closing chapters concerning the years when Henry Morgan was deputy Governor of Jamaica were worth reading. But there is too much in between that has been refuted by the historical record, such as Exquemeling's lurid descriptions of torture which, if they were true, would have found their way into Spanish reports.
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Format: Hardcover
I've never been much interested in pirates, but I found myself enthralled with Stephan Talty's Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign.

Empire of Blue Water begins with the British trying to muscle in on Spain's hold in the New World by conquering Jamaica. At the time, Welshman Henry Morgan was a young sailor. But by the end of his life, he proved to be one of the most influential men in the Caribbean and helped to change the course of world history.

There was a thin line between being a private or a privateer, with Morgan being in the latter group. Privateering was actually invented by Henry VIII. This cash-strapped king offered commissions to sea captains to harass the French, attacking and capturing enemy ships. But unlike regular pirates, privateers gave a percentage of their "profits" to the crown. A romantic imagine exists today about pirates, but pirating was a very hard and dangerous life. But unlike most jobs, pirating was a "democratic institution." "The most important decisions were made from the bottom up." As for leadership, "the captain was only in charge when the crew was fighting, chasing a ship, or being chased."

Henry Morgan made a name (and a fortune) for himself by amassing large groups of pirates and staging four of the most daring raids of that period. They were against Granada, Portobello, Maracaibo and Panama. The Caribbean was akin to the Wild West in these days and Morgan proved to be a bold and brilliant leader. His cunning strategies allowed him to assess the weaknesses of the Spanish and to beat them at almost every turn. When England and Spain finally signed a peace treaty, pirating was outlawed.
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Format: Paperback
The author is at his best in describing Morgan's battle tactics against the Spanish. He's a resourceful,bold leader whose men were better armed and much more disciplined than their adversaries. As a consequence, Morgan was uniformly successful even when facing long odds.

Also well done is the description of the pirate code -- the democratic nature of the pirates and the difficulty the captain had in leading his men as a result. The pirates value treasure above all and the Morgan must adopt the ruthless attitudes of his competitors if he is to maintain his standing in the community. Yet, Morgan viewed himself as a soldier with a commission, not a pirate. By the end of his life, he was rounding up renegade pirates who did not accept the peace treaty with the Spanish and the need to give up the pirate life.

The Jamaican base of Morgan and its end in the great earthquake of 1690 are also well portrayed.

On the other hand, the book is overwritten -- heavy on adjectives and overblown descriptions that attempt to heighten the drama. The author would do well to just tell the story.
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