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Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age Paperback – April 15, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rediker (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), a historian of maritime labor, opens his immensely readable study of the "golden age" of piracy (1716-1726) with the spectacle of an execution in which a notorious pirate, unrepentant and seemingly unconcerned to be facing death, reties the knot of his gallows noose with defiant ironic humor. For Rediker, pirates were bold subversives who challenged the prevailing social order and empire building of the five main trading nations. Emphasizing the hardship, injustice and brutality the average sailor faced in his career, Rediker suggests that piracy offered a more egalitarian seafaring life, as well as opportunities for revenge on the ruling class. Rediker uses captives' accounts, among other sources, to show how pirates meted out their own system of justice, torturing captains reputed for their harsh treatment of sailors, yet sparing others known for fairness. He explores pirate dialects, rituals and symbols, and shows how pirates inverted social norms, creating a carnivalesque way of life that featured fraternal solidarity, a precapitalist share system and the wanton destruction of property. A chapter on picaresque women pirates reveals links between their iconic image and Delacroix's painting Liberty. Using statistics to show convincingly that by the 1720s piracy posed a real threat to global trade, Rediker describes how nations launched a military-legal campaign against piracy, with cannon battles and gruesome public executions. Rediker uses this apocalyptic close of piracy's golden age to explore its suicidal side. Although Rediker's short study does not tackle later myths of piracy, it provides penetrating background to our enduring cultural fascination with the seafaring outlaws. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The so-called golden age of Atlantic piracy was the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Lawless rebels, including well-known men such as William Fly and Edward Teach--as well as numerous social outcasts, debtors, escaped slaves, and various predatory personalities--used terrorist tactics to prey upon merchant ships from New England waters to the Spanish Main. Rediker's revealing and often surprising work views pirates and piracy within the context of the social, political, and economic milieu of the eighteenth century. He does much to deromanticize pirate life, for these were brutal, sometimes heartless men, and many of them were prime examples of a variety of social pathologies. Yet, as Rediker illustrates, pirates often did create a distinct subculture with its own set of values, codes of honor, and taboos. Rediker is most interesting and provocative in his comparisons between this subculture and the broader, "respectable" society that helped engender it. An informative look at a popular topic. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (April 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780807050255
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807050255
  • ASIN: 0807050253
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By David Stapleton VINE VOICE on June 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Where many books on pirates and piracy paint with a broad stroke, covering everything from the Greeks through the Elizabethan Sea Dogs to the last throes of the Golden Age, Marcus Rediker has focused in tightly on that last era or more precisely 1716-1726. Covering a variety of aspects, the author, guides us through the how and why of these last remnants of generations of piracy.

While the prose is readable and often entertaining, it is undoubtedly a scholarly work based upon extensive research (as witnessed by the numerous endnotes). I do not agree with all of Rediker's conclusions, but he has done a wonderful job of explaining how he arrived at those conclusions. The favorites are here, Blackbeard, Roberts, Bonny, Read among others. The author presents a certain admiration and sympathy for the majority of pirates while detesting the cruelties of the few.

The depth of the research will provide a few eye-openers for even the reasonably well versed hobby historian and a decent base for any budding pirate historian. The subject matter is also well indexed for future referencing. All in all a good read and resource.

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By ninjasuperstar on March 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Marcus Rediker wonderfully recreates the world of the late 17th- and early 18th-century pirates through a variety of historical sources and documents. He attempts to explain what a pirate was, who tended to be pirates, and why someone would go "on the account" (turn pirate) in the first place. Rediker explores the role of gender in piracy. Most pirates tended to be men, yet Rediker devotes an entire chapter to Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two of the few known women pirates. Race was likely not as important an issue to pirates as class, working conditions at sea, and respect for the labor force of professional sailors. Rediker also investigates the surprisingly advanced systems of government aboard successful pirate ships.

Rediker's style is relaxed and not at all pedantic. He has a great command of the topic and steers it expertly. Some readers may detect that the author sympathizes with the pirates too often. Yet Rediker is careful to explain that many pirates were indeed bad men while others were once state workers, and when they were no longer needed, they were dubbed pirates and villains of all nations. I recommend this book to those interested in the period and in the history of piracy. Rediker's other books are great as well, and you may want to look into Peter Linebaugh who sometimes collaborates with Rediker.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on September 9, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Villains of All Nations" by Marcus Rediker is an outstanding historical analysis of the Golden Age of piracy (1716 to 1726). Mr. Rediker presents his well-researched narrative in an accessible writing style that should appeal to a wide audience. The reader gains insight into the turbulent economic and social conditions of the 18th century Atlantic that gave rise to popular resistance and to the state-sponsored violent repression that all but eliminated piracy as a threat to continued capitalist accumulation. The author's vivid and intelligent text succeeds in helping us recognize that piracy was a far more complex and interesting phenomenon when one compares the reality with the simplistic and manufactured images that are often presented by the purveyors of popular culture.

Mr. Rediker does an excellent job of engaging the reader by using individual case studies to illustrate key points. For example, the author introduces us to Walter Kennedy who was one of thousands of poor, young and unmarried men who fled the brutal labor conditions onboard navy and merchant ships. As a pirate, Kennedy embraced a culture that was antithetical to the extreme privilege, hierarchy and discipline of the nation state; rather, Kennedy reveled in a multinational and egalitarian social order that sought unrestrained gratification as compensation for a lifetime of privation and misery. And like most, his taste of freedom as a pirate was short-lived but not regretted.

Mr. Rediker discusses the famous women pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who became legendary for their courageous displays of independence, sexual freedom and class consciousness.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R.W. Tucker on July 15, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Marcus Rediker has written what is easily the most fascinating account of piracy to date. Approaching piracy from the perspective of what can only be described as an ethnographer-historian, Dr. Rediker presents us with several mind-blowing proposals:
- Pirates had set up egalitarian societies, racially and sexually
- Pirates were, for all the bad rap they get, rather reluctant killers
- Pirates challenged a status quo that was fundamentally unjust

At first glance, it would appear that Rediker had a difficult job ahead of him. However, through careful research, he begins unraveling the mythology of piracy we receive through popular culture, and challenges our beliefs on each of those points in turn.

I literally cannot recommend this book enough. If you are interested in pirates in any academic sense, I refer you to this book.

Put down Defoe, before it's too late, and pick this one up. You'll thank me later.
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