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The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf Hardcover – May 2, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (May 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015100403X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151004034
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.4 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,059,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Davis contemplates the New Orleans privateers Jean and Pierre Laffite, who loomed large in Gulf Coast waters—and in history—from about the time of the Louisiana Purchase and into the 1820s. Although adding little new research, Davis (Lincoln's Men), director of programs for the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, does an admirable job of recounting the brothers' true story, separating fact from clouded legend. The senior brother and brains of the operation, Pierre, was born in Bordeaux, France, around 1770. His half-brother Jean followed about 12 years later. By 1803 the brothers were in New Orleans and soon embarked on careers as privateers with a presence extending as far as Pensacola and Galveston. Davis is particularly strong in revealing the brothers as complex if ruthless businessmen who, while savaging the trade of Spanish merchants on the gulf, formed the foundation for a profitable syndicate. Their associates included leading citizens and government officials on the take. The Laffites themselves, however, became notorious only when they courted the Spanish and betrayed their allies. Davis tells their story eloquently and with some admiration, while at the same time acknowledging that the freewheeling Laffites spent as voraciously as they earned and squandered their empire, leaving nothing behind but their legend. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Most Americans familiar with Pierre and Jean Laffite associate them with their aid to American forces during the War of 1812. But the lives and exploits of these brothers were more complicated and interesting than a minor footnote of history. Davis, director of programs at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies and a teacher of history at Virginia Tech, has written an engrossing and exciting chronicle of these men and their times. Their story ranges from their ancestral homes in southwestern France to the Louisiana bayous, and it includes privateering, piracy, and espionage as France, Spain, Britain, and the U.S. vie for control of the Gulf region. Like other historians, Davis never quite gets a handle on the "true" character of the Laffites. At times, they seem to be brutal, ruthless buccaneers. At other times, they appear as entrepreneurs and savvy businessmen who skillfully navigate the borders of legality. Davis also provides an interesting glimpse at the culture of early nineteenth-century New Orleans, where a diverse ethnic and racial population fosters a rich social milieu. This is an excellent examination of interesting, tough men who knew how to survive in an interesting, tough age. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 22 customer reviews
This book simply got too bogged down in details and was poorly written.
Lehigh History Student
There is not much to recommend this book unless you are a total historian who needs information without much of a story.
K. Drews
The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf is another great book about Lafitte!!
D. L. Dodds

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jon L. Albee TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
Here's the bottom line on this book: If you're looking for a colorful folk tale of these characters, with all the atmospheric (and largely fictional) accoutrements, you're going to think that it's an "unreadable, tedious, overly detailed" bore.

If you want a well-researched narrative, one in which the author leaves no stone unturned in his search for authenticity, you'll like this book with all its warts.

This is a history book. It reads like a history book, with its emphasis on details, which brings our attention to facts that seek the more mundane truth of the matter. The life of the Laffites is so distorted by folklore that Dr. Davis has taken a hard line on archival detail and ambiguity.

He won't give you the answers to the questions he can't solve, and he won't give you the romantic picture of the setting he can't control.

This is a book for people more interested in history than pre-conceived imagery. Dr. Davis is a prolific author, and we know he has a tendency to crank out the words. That makes him subject to a few grammatical blunders from time to time, as he immerses himself in the subject matter. I will never criticize an historian for getting into his subject at the MINOR expense of a few mis-chosen conjunctions and misplaced commas.

For portraits of early American New Orleans and colonial Galveston, this book is a valuable contribution to the literature. I should mention that its annotation is extensive, as is its bibliography.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Pam Keyes on April 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In "The Pirates Laffite, the Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf," author William C. Davis presents an in-depth, thoroughly researched examination of the Laffite brothers' colorful lives, including new information about them discovered in archives of the United States and France. Davis separates the truth from romantic legend to reveal the Laffites as complex men adept at turning opportunities toward their advantage while skirting the edges of the law in the polyglot world of early 1800s New Orleans and the Gulf.

Written in an entertaining, chronological narrative style, this double biography is the most completely documented work ever written about Jean and Pierre Laffite. Most people are familiar with the legend of Jean Laffite and Galveston, or Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans, but Jean's elder half-brother, Pierre, has received scant attention from previous historians and other writers. In "The Pirates Laffite," Davis aptly relates how Pierre was the mastermind of the Laffite brothers' operations, and that the brothers worked closely together for most of their lives, including the Galveston period.

Their true story, based on archival documents, letters and contemporary newspapers, paints a compelling portrait of enigmatic men on the edge of the new frontier of the Louisiana Purchase, seeking to make their mark on the world.

This book also sensitively tells the fascinating story of the Laffite's free black mistresses and children, carefully recorded from information in baptismal records, notarial archives, and other surviving documents. The women were involved in the then prevalent system of placage with the Laffites as their protectors.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By JBB on December 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Pirates offers an interesting perspective of the period and the Gulf of Mexico. Most history is written about the winners. The Laffites are not winners, they are simply pirates operating under the ruse of being privateers. Davis portrays them as quintessentially fluid in their ability to change allegiances on a whim, or rather an utter lack of allegiance to anything other than their next deal. The smuggling of captured goods up into the bayou country is fascinating as is the acceptance of the brothers, their ilk and their trade by the citizenry of New Orleans (and the lower Mississippi River) for the inexpensive goods (and slaves)they provided.

Anyone interested in the early history of the US, anyone who liked David Niven's War of 1812, the intrigues of Aaron Burr and Gen. James Wilkinson, Andrew Jackson's efforts in the west of the early 1800s, or the numerous plots to wrest Texas from the Spanish during this period, will find this a must read. (Ditto for all who live or are interested in southern Louisiana.)
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Toxey M. Morris on January 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a physician graduate of Tulane, a former Naval Officer, a sailor, and a resident of the area. I found this book to be a treasure of information. Mr. Davis has done a remarkable piece of research, and his work reads like a textbook , done as seriously as any textbook of Surgery,and should stand as a reference for those interested in the area, the time, and its violent,colorful history and future, which persists into our century. I have given copies to others who study the history of that period. I have walked all those roads he names, and Mr. Davis is historically accurate, in my opinion. Enjoy the details of Gulf life.

Fair winds and following seas to you, Mr. Davis.

"Local knowledge prevails".
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23 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Charles E. Modica Jr. on September 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As all of the previous reviewers have said, this is a well researched book. The subject matter is almost intrinsically interesting - pirates, the history of a growing New Orleans, historical conflicts in Louisiana and the United States, et cettera. The book is well documented with careful footnotes, though at times (and especially at the outset) one is confronted with many uncertain but probable or possible pieces of history (perhaps this is to be expected, or at least understood as necessary, given the general lack of definitive or authoritative sources on the subject).

However, unlike other reviewers, I've found this text to be very poorly written and painful to read. The book is riddled with unclear and poorly written sentences ("Pierre Laffite probably visited there with his friends from earlier days when in New Orleans, though most likely he did not meet Marie Louise Villard there, but at one of Coquet's or Tessier's balls") and sentences in which the tense needlessly shifts from past to present and back again ("Pierre may not have entered into a formal placage arrangement with Marie Villard, for among other things he seems hardly able to afford the upkeep of a woman in New Orleans, but very soon she and Laffite began a relationship that would last for the next sixteen years"). Suffice it to say, Mr. Davis would have been well served by a better editor.

The history is engaging; the writing makes it painful.
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