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Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates Paperback – May 9, 2006
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Though literature, films, and folklore have romanticized pirates as gallant seaman who hunted for treasure in exotic locales, David Cordingly, a former curator at the National Maritime Museum in England, reveals the facts behind the legends of such outlaws as Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, and Calico Jack. Even stories about buried treasure are fictitious, he says, yet still the myth remains. Though pirate captains were often sadistic villains and crews endured barbarous tortures, were constantly threatened with the possibility of death by hanging, drowning in a storm, or surviving a shipwreck on a hostile coast, pirates are still idealized. Cordingly examines why the myth of the romance of piratehood endures and why so few lived out their days in luxury on the riches they had plundered. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Widespread piracy began in the Western world in 1650 and ended abruptly around 1725. Cordingly, formerly on the staff of the National Maritime Museum in England, describes who became pirates (mainly volunteers who joined up when their ships were captured); what they wore (scarves or handkerchiefs around their head, just like in the movies); and how they were armed (literally, to the teeth). Pirates, says the author, were "attracted by the lure of plunder and the desire for an easy life." They were not the clean-cut heroes of the Errol Flynn films either, but cutthroat murderers. Some of the famous pirates are portrayed: Sir Francis Drake made his name by plundering silver on the Spanish Main; Sir Harry Morgan is famous for his ransom of Portobello to the President of Panama for 250,000 pesos; and Captain Kidd remains mysterious because of his buried gold and silver on Gardiners Island, near New York City. Fictitious pirates are also surveyed, such as Long John Silver and Captain Hook, and the allure they still have over us is explored. Even if you don't know a corsair (a Mediterranean-based pirate) from a buccaneer (a Caribbean pirate), this book will delight and inform. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Secondly, you really have to be infected with a form of pirate-mania to want to hear endless details about every "important?" pirate book, play, or movie ever made. For me, that was just over the top. Who cares about detailed plot lines, who the actors were, and endless minutia? To be fair, the descriptions of the book, as well as the reference to "The Romance" in the title, indicates that we have not been duped - this subject would be part of the text. Personally I had no use for it. But of course since each chapter is essentially its own self-contained college term paper, not having been built on a previous one in any great sense, you can just skip ahead. Or at least go to a place where it stops talking about the media-created "pirates".
These not-so-small nits aside, you really do learn, via the authors research of public records, what pirates were all about. The book is an easy read. It would be great to get into modern-day piracy, but that would be another book because there is no way to dovetail that with this work that describes what might be called the hey-day of piracy.
His iconoclasm was interesting, dispelling the myths that have arisen around pirates (pitched battles of ships exchanging broadsides, for example - most pirates were reluctant to do so for fear of damaging or sinking their prize, most merchant ships simply heaving to once the pirates made themselves known). Cordingly going so far as to provide explanations for many of these misconceptions - burying treasure (most of it was spent once ships returned to port), walking the plank and marooning (much easier to simply throw folks overboard), wooden legs. The seeds of truth that began these misconceptions and the way in which fictional pirates borrowed from one another (Defoe, Byron, Barrie, Stevenson) was fascinating, and gave me a new appreciation of Cpt. Hook and Long John Silver. His criticism and evaluation of pirate portrayals in film was also excellent.
In his conclusion, Cordingly explains the cognitive dissonance between who pirates were and how we imagine them today, writing "The passing of time has mellowed the harsh picture which is revealed in the depositions of seamen who were attacked by pirates ... the films of the thirties and fourties took the pirate stories of fact and fiction and added glamour. ... The fact is that we want to belive in the world of the pirates as it has been portrayed in the adventure stories, the plays ad the films over the years." While the truth is much more brutal and for many of the time, unpleasant, pulling the curtain aside makes for rich, fascinating reading. Highly recommended.