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Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean Hardcover – November 11, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Forget the pirates of the Caribbean: their Old World brethren were an altogether more colorful and fearsome lot, according to this swashbuckling study. Historian Tinniswood (The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England) revisits the kleptocratic heyday of the Barbary states--Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, bits of Morocco--which offered fortified harbors to pirates and in turn built their economies around the sale of stolen cargoes and captives. The buccaneers, who kidnapped whole villages as far north as Ireland and Iceland, were denounced as the scourge of Christendom. Yet most of the "Turkish" pirates Tinniswood highlights were British, Dutch, or Italian renegades who sometimes bought pardons and obtained naval commands from their native countries. The million Christians sold into bondage often converted to Islam and became pillars of the North African economy. The author makes this story an entertaining picaresque of crime, combat, and moral compromise; fierce sea battles and daring escapes alternate with corrupt hagglings as European governments vacillate between gunboat diplomacy and offering tribute for the release of their enslaved countrymen. Tinniswood gives us both a rollicking narrative and a rich brew of early modern maritime history. Illus., map. (Nov.) (c)
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From Booklist

For those who think of pirates as one-eyed rogues proclaiming “shiver me timbers” while flying the Jolly Roger, this interesting and exciting work will be full of surprises. Tinniswood has concentrated this account on the seventeenth century, when pirates based on the shores of North Africa consistently plundered European ships and seized captives, either enslaving or holding them for ransom. But these pirates were far from the freewheeling mold of Long John Silver or Jack Sparrow. They operated with the full support of the so-called Barbary States of North Africa—Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers. Those states owed nominal allegiance to the Sultan in Istanbul, and the government there saw piracy as a useful tool against the Christian West. Surprisingly, some of the most prominent pirates were English-born sailors who “turned Turk” and converted to Islam. Tinniswood shows a certain admiration for the dash and raw courage of these men, but he doesn’t minimize their ruthlessness or the suffering of their victims. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; y First edition edition (November 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159448774X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487743
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #593,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
We like historical pirates. We like them jolly; they make for a dandy ride at Disneyland, for instance, which has resulted in the films in which the unforgettable Jack Sparrow swashbuckles; before him, there was Captain Blood, and plenty of others. They were all rollicking fellows that might be good companions with whom to share a flask of rum and to sing sea shanties, and they might even pull off robbing a merchantman with enough panache that you would forgive them such a peccadillo. Probably the real pirates of centuries ago were less cuddly, and certainly the ones who continue to make headlines from Somalia have nothing in common with our image of Errol Flynn. We pick our media pirates from the Caribbean; the current ones from the Muslim countries in Africa are no fun. Those pirates weren't any fun three or four centuries ago, either. Adrian Tinniswood, who has written many books on diverse historical themes, was researching his current one, _Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests, and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean_ (Riverhead Books) when he realized history was repeating itself: "As I wrote of how a handful of men using small boats, scaling ladders, and sheer nerve had managed to hold the world to ransom in the seventeenth century, I watched on TV as a handful of men using small boats, scaling ladders, and sheer nerve were managing to hold the world to ransom in the twenty-first." As I write this, there are new pirate outrages, and whatever solutions the world is trying are failing. Tinniswood is writing about pirates in the past, and he mentions but does not dwell on the solution that previous centuries found for the problem: "...Read more ›
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on December 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Piracy has probably existed since the early days of commerce. In the seventeenth century, it has become an integral part of European history. But who were the pirates? What were their aims?
These are only part of the issues researched and told in this fascinating book. As the author puts it, the stories which make up his book are "tales of bravery, brutality and betrayal, tales in which heroes and villains changed roles in the blink of an eye, like the characters in some Cold War spy novel".
The geographical area in which piracy took place was mainly the Mediterranean, where Muslim pirates attacked ships, enslaved crews, plundered cargoes and held numerous captives in their respective areas or countries. Barbary piracy became a very threatening phenomenon, but it would definitely be a mistake to assume that only Muslims were to blame for it. Christians engaged in this business as well. Business? Indeed, since piracy meant very good business for many parties which were involved it it. Circumstance, history, ideology, the opportunity to strike back, the thrill that can accompany an act of violence-all played their part in the creation of a corsair culture along the Barbary Coast. So did profit.
One should remember that the Barbary Coast was Islamic and those who fell victims were Christians, thus piracy can be regarded as another ground for the "clash of civilizations", because the pirates were considered to be sea-jihadists, while the Europeans looked at them as Islamic tyrannts.
In general, citizens of Catholic Europe who had the misfortune to be taken by pirates had more chance of getting home than their Protestant counterparts, because there was more contact between Barbary and the Catholic nations bordering the Mediterranean.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By D. Ebert on February 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Western education skips or glosses over some chapters in our history. Here is an illuminating view of Mediterranean and Indian Ocean piracy, with it's participation of European players and its lasting effect upon world commerce. Written as interestingly as a novel, this is how history should be written.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert Lebling on March 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In the early 17th century, the Ottoman fleet competed for dominance in the Mediterranean with navies of European powers. Petty rulers of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and other North African ("Barbary") city-states paid lip service to the Ottoman Sultan but pursued their own power agendas. In this setting, Barbary pirates forged shifting alliances and captured vessels of many nations, seizing treasure and slaves.

The British and others tried to put a stop to the piracy, and their efforts make for fascinating reading. This book is refreshingly written with a strong narrative.

Among its surprises: many Barbary pirate captains were Europeans - British, Dutchmen and others termed "renegades" by their own countries. Some became Muslims, others did not.

Diversity was the hallmark of these entrepreneurs of discord. Pirate crews were mixed: North Africans, Turks and Europeans. Faith was not a controlling factor; yes, they were in it for the money.

[A version of this review appeared in Saudi Aramco World,Sep/Oct 2011.]
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sopranomom on April 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I will never look at pirates the same way again. Instead of the romanticism I used to attach to this subject, it actually gives me chills to imagine what it must have been like to live during that time.
Mr. Tinniswood writes an informative, apparently historically accurate narrative about what it was really like during the 17th century. I am enjoying this book read on CD and highly suggest it to anyone who is interested in the truth of European and Mediterranean piracy as well as slavery during the 1600's.
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