Customer Reviews: 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
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on May 3, 2007
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.)

At the center of this book is Captain Morgan's January 1671 raid into Panama, which demonstrated the vulnerability of even the most boastfully protected strongholds to the fast-moving, ruthless new breed of warrior he and his men represented. Ironically, Morgan's brilliantly executed raid, complete with a Robert E. Lee-like division of his forces during the assault, was carried out after the signing of the British-Spanish treaty, and was therefore an act of piracy. Arrested and jailed for his aggression, Morgan, then a national hero, escaped punishment by pleading ignorance in London of the existence of the treaty, and returned to the Caribbean a figure of almost cult-like renown.

A necessary part of this book which I did not greatly enjoy was that which dealt with the declining years of Morgan, when he became a figure very unlike his younger self on whom his legend is based. Morgan, who began life flirting with roguedom and ended it a deposed, drunken governor of the British colony of Jamaica, knighted and almost respectable, was forced to hang in the name of the Crown pirates he surely once knew as fellow "highwaymen of the open water." Eventually removed from office and spurned by those he'd once served, Morgan became a pitiable figure whose life perhaps lasted a decade longer than his fame. The fact that a heroic adventurer could find his end at the bottom of a bottle, a discarded pawn and tool of the establishment, was depressing and unworthy of what Henry Morgan deserved. Still, it's the legend that is remembered today, and Talty does a good job of buoying the myth, even as he never loses sight of the truth.

Good historical writing, and well-chosen subject matter.
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on May 28, 2007
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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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. Morgan was one of the few who made a successful transition to private life, running his Jamaican plantation and becoming deputy governor.

There are fascinating tidbits of information in Blue Waters and I enjoyed how Henry Morgan and his exploits affected the world stage. Morgan had much to do with breaking the back of the Spanish Empire. "Without him, who knows what the map of the Caribbean and even the United States might look like." After 1713, Spain ceased to be a world power. Also, an earthquake in Port Royal four years after Morgan's death destroyed this Jamaican trade capital. Trade with Port Royal was then diverted through the American Colonies, never to return.

So, was Captain Morgan a bold, brilliant privateer or a "rampaging, torturing, thieving pirate?" Read Stephan Talty and decide for yourself!
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VINE VOICEon June 18, 2011
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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on January 24, 2016
Despite some grammatical errors in the first few chapters, I still have to give this book 5 stars. For anyone who is a history buff, the author has no problem sucking you in making this book extremely difficult to put down. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys history, particularly pirate history and 17th century Caribbean history. All in all, a great read.
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on December 29, 2013
I really enjoyed this book. As soon as finished, went out and bought the Illustrious Dead by the same author.

Tally does a great job of blending the overall picture, with the little details which makes history come alive. I emerged from the book having a clearer understanding of how Pirates operated on a day to day basis, as well as why the Spanish Empire wasn't able to mount a better defense.
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on May 17, 2013
Seriously, as soon as I was finished torturing myself I chucked this one directly into the trash so that there was one less copy of it in circulation.
The problems are so pervasive that the book is a total failure. For a popular history, the narrative writing is poorly executed and never engages the reader. For a work of any type of history, the research is poor (looking through the notes and bibliography many of the leading names in discipline are missing), and most troubling - THERE IS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER!!!! I understand it's meant to be a composite of the "typical" pirate, but NEVER under ANY circumstances should a fictional character of any type show up in a supposed work of history.
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on June 13, 2007
Narrative history, for better or worse, has become quite popular over the past several years. Unlike typical history tomes which are extensively referenced, narrative history reads more like fiction. This isn't necessarily bad if the history is accurate and if it presents some new interpretations of known fact.

Unfortunately, Empire of Blue Water is perhaps the most poorly researched "history" to date even by narrative history genre standards. No substantiating data is provided for Talty's contentions, many of his conjectures seem implausible and, halfway through the book, I've already found two gross inaccuracies. I've found little new information above and beyond what a couple of hours watching the History Channel on the same subject wouldn't provide. To make matters worse, Talty's writing style makes for a difficult read at best.

My impression is that this book is solely a marketing gimmick designed to take advantage of the current interest in Caribbean piracy as a result of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
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on May 6, 2008
I picked up this book based on backcover praise (Washington Post, NY Times), but was clearly deceived. The book is mediocre, shallow and incredibly childish in its view of historic events and international politics.

What is more striking is that the author seems to have been in contact with at least some sources and historic documents to be able to put together a good quality account. However, he does very little with that information, and instead is taken overboard by his manicheistic view of things, depicting a crowd of disgrunteld murderors and thieves as emblems of some free-trade democratic ideal. He can ramble on for dozens of pages on his own hollywoodesque interpretation of pirate life in Port Royal, and then condense Morgan's first ever expedition into Mexico in a couple of pages full of gross innacuracies, such as the detour he takes in approaching Villahermosa (which goes from 300 to 3700 miles in the space of a paragraph - not a bad trek for a bunch of pirates on foot!).

The only advice I can give is: save your time and money, go look elsewhere for a good reliable book on the subject.
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on September 25, 2015
The story of Henry Morgan and the dramatic change in the Caribbean between 1600 - 1700 is compelling, but the author can get somewhat repetitive whenever he attempts to put events in a broader context.
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