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The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd Hardcover – June 5, 2002

4.4 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Entertaining, richly detailed and authoritatively narrated, Zacks's account of the life of legendary seaman William Kidd delivers a first-rate story. Though Kidd, better known as Captain Kidd, was inextricably bound with piracy and has popularly gone down as a marauding buccaneer himself, Zacks (An Underground Education) argues that he was actually a mercenary backed by the English government and several New World investors to track down pirates and reclaim their stolen wares. The book is cogent and replete with supporting evidence without the heavy-handed feel of some scholarly work. What really sets the book apart is Zacks's gift as researcher and storyteller. He highlights the role of an undeniable pirate, Robert Culliford, in Kidd's tale and pits the two men against each other from the outset, constructing his book as an intriguing duel. Aside from the tightly constructed plot, Zacks also wonderfully evokes the social and political life of the 17th century at land and at sea, and he takes turns at debunking and validating pirate folklore: while it appears the dead giveaway of a skull and crossbones made it a rare flag choice, Zacks contends that pirates did often wear extravagant clothing and were as drunk, cursing, hungry, horny... and violent as myth would have them. Augmented by such details and driven by a conflict between Kidd and Culliford that keeps the pages flying, Zacks's book is a treasure, indeed.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

William Kidd is remembered as one of history's greatest pirates, and thousands of people have searched in vain for the treasure he supposedly left buried on a desert island. In this fascinating work of historical revisionism, Zacks argues that in fact Kidd was a privateer, commissioned by the British Crown to hunt down pirates. But his mutinous crew was dissatisfied with the slim pickings of buccaneer-hunting, and Kidd himself inadvertently fell afoul of the powerful East India Company, which tarred him as a criminal. Instead of being acclaimed a national hero, he died on the gallows, in 1701. Zacks's detective work here is thoroughly convincing. In addition, he sets the suspenseful tale of Kidd's downfall within its larger historical context, in a manner reminiscent, at times, of Defoe, vividly illustrating the brutalities of life on a seagoing vessel and the chaos of urban society at the end of the seventeenth century.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; 1st edition (June 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786865334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786865338
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #706,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on July 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Richard Zacks's "The Pirate Hunter" is a lively adventure tale with the kind of twists and turns that prove the old adage that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. Along the way, he sets the record straight and rehabilitates the reputation of Captain William Kidd, the late 17th Century privateer and gentlemen who set out to hunt pirates with noble backing and ended up branded as one. Kidd is a tragic hero of the first order. Honorable (at least, by the standards of the time), resolute and with an unshakeable faith in his own abilities, he was laid low by an incredible run of double crosses and sheer bad luck. Particularly touching were his devotion to his wife and his strong sense of duty, neither of which were ultimately enough to save him.
The book's other main character is the despicable Robert Culliford, an actual pirate who betrayed Kidd twice and whose fate was tied closely to the Captain. Culliford's villany stands in sharp contrast to Kidd, giving the story a strong counterpoint.
Along the way Zacks, who demonstrates himself to be a meticulous researcher, paints a vivid portrait of the lives of sailors and pirates during the period. Zacks's authentic descriptions of what it was like to be a real life pirate bears little resemblence to the modern literary and cinematic stereotypes. His prose is vivid and highly readable, and the book feels more like a novel than a work of history as a result. My only quibble is the Zacks occasionally gets a little TOO bogged down in the details, as evidenced by the narrative's 400 plus pages.
Nevertheless, overall "The Pirate Hunter" is an excellent read for those who enjoy nautical history tales.
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Format: Hardcover
Mention the name of Captain Kidd, and you can't help thinking of buried treasure, bloodthirsty tales of plunder, and general maritime mayhem. There was a real Captain Kidd, and he did sail among the pirates, but we all have the wrong idea about him, according to Richard Zacks, whose _The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd_ (Theia / Hyperion) sets the record straight. William Kidd was a master mariner who lived in New York, on Wall Street, no less, at the end of the seventeenth century. He had a wife and daughter. "He was no career cutthroat, no cartoon Blackbeard, terrifying his prey by putting flaming matches in his hair." Kidd was a respectable sea captain, who had enormously bad luck in his endeavors to hunt pirates for profit.
Kidd was no pirate, but a privateer, recruited by powerful Lords and merchants to rob from the pirates that had robbed from the merchants. He had a secret commission from King William III himself, who privately took a ten percent share of any profits that Kidd might come up with. Kidd sailed on _Adventure Galley_, a three-master built in England and launched in 1696 specifically for Kidd's mission, with a crew of 150. Many of the crew had been pirates themselves, and Kidd was putting himself in an uncomfortable management position. He had nothing but bad luck in finding pirates to rob, but even before he did so, rumors of his being a pirate himself had sprung up. After his crew mutinied, he tried to return to his home in New York, but discovered to his surprise that he was the most wanted man in America. He sneaked back towards New York, and in another unpiratical act, sought the help of his lawyer.
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By A Customer on June 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is a surprising treasure that brings to life more than just the shocking life of Captain Kidd. The biography also takes an up close look at the late seventeenth century on the high seas and in the major harbor towns. Digging into the documentation, author Richard Zacks contends that Captain William Kidd was not a cutthroat killing pirate; but instead he was a family man renowned as a New York sea captain. Thus, merchants and politicians like the governor of the New York colony hired Kidd to chase down pirates like Robert Culliford to reclaim the booty they stole. THE PIRATE HUNTER: THE TRUE STORY OF CAPTAIN KIDD is a fabulous historical biography that never slows down and worth reading for as much as learning the real record as for how well Mr. Zacks tells a nonfiction adventure tale.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Paperback
Richard Zacks takes obvious pleasure in challenging the conventional wisdom. The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd might be called the defense's opening statement in the trial of Captain Kidd for piracy before the tribunal of history. The accepted story says that Kidd was hired to hunt down pirates in the Indian Ocean, but instead turned pirate himself, murdered his gunner, robbed Indian merchants, consorted with pirate Robert Culliford, and tried to bribe the governor of New York, only to find himself turned in and hanged. But Zacks contends that Kidd stayed true to his mission of privateering in the Indian Ocean, that his capture of neutral vessels was entirely legal, that his purported attacks on East India Company convoys and peaceful coast dwellers never happened, that his killing of his gunner was manslaughter rather than capital murder, and that his failure to seize the only pirate he ever encountered was due to his crew's mutiny against his express orders to attack.

The frustrating thing is that this book is only the opening statement; we never hear from the witnesses. The book is full of passages that amount to "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you will hear testimony proving . . . ." And the illustrations, bibliography, and parts of the text suggest that Zacks probably has found the evidence somewhere to back up at least some of his assertions. But in the entire book there is not a single footnote, and almost never does Zacks reveal what source he is relying on for any particular claim.

I come to the book as a biased reader. I have studied the Golden Age of Piracy for almost ten years, and my long-formed conclusion is that Kidd was in fact a pirate, even though his trial was monstrously unfair in many ways.
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