11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates (Hardcover)
Many pirate books seem to recycle the same historical facts, or to make intriguing, but poorly supported claims about sea banditry. Peter Leeson avoids doing either. This book broadens our understanding of pirates in innovative and convincing ways. The many surprising insights into pirate life make this book well worth its cover price.
For example, the book explores the political checks and balances that existed aboard pirate ships. Leeson shows how pirate ships were democracies that prevented tyranny by dividing power among a ship's officers. The US Constitution would come suspiciously close to emulating this system 80 years later. While Leeson doesn't make the argument, its intriguing to wonder whether American Democracy was shaped by the example of successful buccaneers.
The book also sheds light on many pirate paradoxes. I've always wondered why Pirates created such sadistic reputations. To me, it seemed this would make merchant crews fight harder to avoid capture. After you read the book, you'll understand why that's not true (it involves the Jolly Roger flag system). You'll also understand why the crew of the Black Pearl would not have needed to mutiny against Captain Jack Sparrow, and be able to spot other inaccuracies in pirate related pop culture.
I would give this book five stars except for one annoyance: in the last chapter, Leeson completely stops explaining pirates and begins preaching laissez faire capitalism. Greed has lead to significant advances in material luxury. But it has also created a system that erodes community, increases inequality, and depletes natural resources. Leeson's argument against government regulation is the most strange: Since pirates regulated smoking near gunpowder to increase their profits, businesses should be left to self regulate as well. Surely a business will self regulate when profits are involved, but why would it tackle things like fair treatment for people with disabilities (Leeson's example)? Pirate crews addressed this issue because they were worker democracies, but Leeson dismisses *that* concept in chapter 8 section 2.
The first seven chapters encourage a probing and analytical mindset. Its difficult to reverse course and accept a sermon in the final pages. The Invisible Hook would be much better if it ended by examining the role of violence within economies. How did Spanish galleons get loaded with gold in the first place? Who did the pirates emulate when they made their own wars as "free princes"? The right to take by force seems at the heart of piracy ...and legitimate government. This similarity is alluded to in the epigraph by Lord Byron, which got my hopes up. It seemed anti-climatic not to explore it.
I heartily recommend this book; just be prepared to fend off an intellectual boarding in the final pages.