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on July 4, 2015
Peter T. Leeson spoke at my college when I was a freshman (six years ago now) and I went for an extra credit in my gen ed econ class. His talk was so memorable that even six years later, when I needed to research piracy and wanted a unique angle, I remembered him and purchased his book. It didn't disappoint!

THE INVISIBLE HOOK provides a very interesting look into the life of pirates, examining the role of economics in everything from self-governance to torture. While maintaining a conversational, often amusing tone, Leeson does a fabulous job of blending the (potentially dry) foundations of economics with the fascinating life and customs of pirates. Definitely would recommend to pirate lovers, and/or reluctant economics students!
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on January 8, 2010
As any reader of GURPS: Swashbucklers knows, the buccaneers of the golden age of piracy were a remarkably enlightened bunch, establishing on their ships a system of egalitarian, democratic civil administration.

Oh, you haven't read GURPS: Swashbucklers?

Well never mind that. What's important to know is that, despite their reputation as blood-thirsty cut-throat savages, life aboard a pirate ship in the Carribean was a damn sight more free and civilized than serving aboard a navy ship or merchantman in the same era.

Pirates operated their ships according to "articles of agreement," deliberated by and signed off by each member of the crew. These "constitutions" governed all aspects of shipboard life and how major decisions concerning the enterprise would be conducted. Pirate captains were elected by their crews and could be removed at any time for any reason. What's more, authority was not centered in the position of captain as it was in the navy or merchant service, but rather power was divided between several officials, probably the most important being the quarter-master (who divided the loot!)

Why did these pirate crews exhibit such modern tendencies toward democracy, separation of powers and equality - many years before actual governments did?

Leeson answers these questions by arguing that there are essentially economic reasons for these behaviours. Pirates were not any more enlightened than anyone else of their time. They were handicapped by all the same human flaws and foibles that everyone else was. What was different was their situation which allowed for different economic calculations.

For example, Leeson argues that the decentralized, egalitarian administration of pirate vessels was due to the "agency problem" in economics. Essentially, because merchant vessels were owned by an "absentee landlord" who was not on site, the ship owner had to rely on the services of an agent who could be relied on to be loyal, as opposed to diverse agents (crew) who would rob him blind. This required the loyal agent to be granted dictatorial power to keep the others in line.

Pirate crews, on the other hand, owned their own vessels. Thus, one pirate stealing would be stealing from his fellow shipmates. Therefore, Leeson argues, a decentralized administration could be much more effective as, essentially the pirates would police each other. This decentralization then further increased "pirate happiness" by reducing the ability of an authority figure to prey on his crew.

The Invisible Hook is a fun an interesting read. Both for its delving into a history not widely known beyond Jack Sparrow films, and for providing an interesting economic explanation for the behaviours of the participants which can be scaled up to provide lessons for society as a whole.
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on October 27, 2017
This has easily become one of my all time favorite books. I have a lot of respect for the way in which Leeson approaches the intellectual world. Like all economists, he understands the driving rationality and self interest of human action. However he doesn't hide this approach away in the ivory tower with confusing charts and pointless jargon about macro concepts. Instead Leeson takes these intellectual insights and applies them to things much more interesting. He explores the day to day incentives that pirates faced. He takes seriously the reasons for why they did the things hey did. Awesome stuff! It's both hyper rational and romantic. I recommend this book to anyone interested in economics, pirates, history or just anyone who wants to expand the way they look at the world.
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on August 14, 2016
This libertarian analysis of pirates (mainly their economics) is good, but would have been better at half the length. Pirate "Articles" (or constitutions) are a fascinating subject, as are pirate cruelties and where they got their ships - all discussed here. There is, however, a tendency to repeat with added or shifted emphasis; I found the book hard to get through for that reason.

(On a side note, what's shown here is that even very libertarian criminals "against all flags" have to fly one... and underraise a government, limited or not. Doctrinaire libertarians of the unarchist persuasion, take note.)
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on July 18, 2012
For some reason in my readings about pirates,I knew of a bunch of the stuff in here. That is, I knew the story but not the details. You get lots of details in this book and I think these things are pretty cool. Some of it not unlike Freakonomics where a study was done which showed drug gangs operated much like many large corporations. For example, I knew captains were elected, but had no idea they (pirates and crew) received disability payments for OTJ injuries. The biggest reason to get tired of this book is the same stuff seems to repeat-(yes, yes, the captain is elected, can we learn something new). However if you grew up loving pirates (Jack Sparrow-not Somalia), and think that knowing how they functioned is cool, buy this book.
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on January 7, 2014
I LOVE this book. It combines two of my favourite things; pop economics and history. It's also surprisingly uplifting when you read that pirate ships sometimes had 'laws' against things that didn't *directly* effect the running of the ship such as capital punishment for rape. Great economics primer too. The only downside is that there are some explanations of economic theories that you may already know about such as externalities and signalling. I shall be using the info to help review a pirate board game that my uncle is designing.

Definitely give it an Aaaaaaaaa+
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on September 20, 2009
The Invisible Hook by Peter T. Leeson gives an in depth look at a very misunderstood group of people, pirates. Leeson has done extensive research on pirates in an attempt to provide an accurate portrayal of how these people lived. He debunks many of the myths of pirates that have become popular largely due to Hollywood movies and other works of fiction. For example, pirates were significantly more democratic and would avoid fighting with merchant ships whenever possible. Also, the idea of the captain having supreme control while living a lavish lifestyle is a myth according to the research done by Leeson.

This is far from an ordinary history book giving a chronological timeline of events. Instead, Leeson is able to put their history within a framework of economics. This allows for a much greater explanation about the motivations behind the pirate lifestyle. The title of the book is a play on economist Adam Smith's theory of the Invisible Hand, which states people are guided to self-interest. Pirate life, as argued by Leeson, is primarily led by profit seeking. They make decisions that are rational in order to maximize their take of the plunder.

It is a very well researched book. It is obvious that the author spent the time to accurately detail pirate life, rather than just taking people's current perception as fact. Leeson does a good job at explaining economics in a way a normal person could understand. The biggest downside of the book is his tendency to repeat himself. It became apparent that Leeson was having difficulty filling an entire book (it is a relatively short book as it is) so he tends to go over topics previously covered. In addition every chapter has an unnecessary summary of what you just read that seems like it is just there to fill some pages.

Overall it was a very good read. The topic is so different from most other books in the economics genre. It allows the reader to grasp a better understanding of economics without reading boring textbooks and staring at supply and demand graphs.
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on September 30, 2009
This book produces what it promised ... an analysis of pirate behaviours and practices from a fairly pure economic perspective. Leeson writes in a fluent and accessible style and injects about the right amount of historical data. Too little would have made me feel like I ought to have read up on the golden age of piracy in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries before I started on this book. Too much may have made the book drag on a bit. He has chosen the events carefully to support his arguments and keep the interest level from flagging. His research appears to have been comprehensive. Although he is an self-confessed pirate tragic, he keeps the voice he uses in the book clinical enough to be convincing rather than romantic. The pirates were rogues, robbers and driven by greed but not usually gratuitously violent or vicious. It's an informative and entertaining book which I enjoyed.
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on July 5, 2016
I thought this was a good example of academic writing that doesn't get too heavy. It treats relatively complex issues of economic theory and shows how they work in pirate societies. I was really fascinated by this and would recommend it to anyone interested in pirates or economics.
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on January 28, 2011
I loved this book. I enjoy economics as a hobby, I find it's a beautiful tool for understanding some of the complexities of the world.

But this gem, is one of a kind. I love pirates as well (Praise His Noodles), and a book that combined economics and pirates was a great find.

The book takes the historical data on pirates, compares it to some of the legend and lore that get mixed into our idea of what the golden age of piracy was, and puts the lens of economics over it.

I learned a lot about pirates & history, and really enjoyed the entire book. I would very much so buy other books by this author.
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