Top positive review
67 people found this helpful
A Knife Into The Underbelly Of Spanish America
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.