Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Review
on November 9, 2015
Marcus Rediker’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea highlights the lives of the men who set out upon merchant ships in order to make a living during the first half of the 18th century. Professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, Rediker has created a study that does not focus upon the large picture of 18th century maritime history, but rather a social history of the men who comprised the backbone of the growing capitalist system. Rediker’s goal is to illuminate the struggle of the working class seamen and the brutal world they inhabited.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is certainly written with a Marxist view of history. The main focus of this work is the economic developments of the day and the conditions, wages, and lives of the working class. This is not the only book written by Rediker that takes an anti-Capitalist stance, as The Slave Ship shares similar traits. The title that Rediker chose is also telling because the “Devil” refers to the captains, who are representatives of the Capitalist system and the “Deep Blue Sea” represents the natural dangers that were ever present for the seamen. In Rediker’s opinion, the common worker was caught between two dangerous forces.
Interestingly, the sailors themselves had their own unique culture in which Rediker describes to the reader. The men had their own language (including many curse words) and even their own distinctive walk. By talking about their culture, Rediker is further narrowing the focus of his study from a merchant history to a social history focused on the working class.
Rediker gives a very different portrayal of life at sea than N.A.M. Rodgers gives in The Wooden World. Rodger’s set out to dispel myths of brutality and tyrannical captains, while Rediker does the exact opposite. Both men were writing about roughly the same time period, but they give very different account of life at sea. Rediker describes tyrannical captains and hellish conditions aboard the ships, while Rodger’s offers a more romanticized version.
Rediker views piracy as a direct response to the rising capitalist system and the tyrannical rule of the captains. He describes an almost Socialist system in which the pirates split and shared the bounty that they collected. According to Rediker, the captains of the pirate ships treated the members of their crew much better than those of the merchant ships. It was for this reason that they were able to maintain their position.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is an extremely well-written book and it does provide insight into the lives of the common seamen, but it is not perfect. Rediker’s anti-Capitalist bias can be seen through the work and brings to question some of his conclusions. Overall, this book does fill a gap in the existing maritime historiography and will remain an important work.