Argh! It do be Talk Like A Pirate Day, mateys! Okay, that’s quite enough of that, but the statement still stands. Today is Talk Like A Pirate Day, which makes this a perfect time to discuss books about pirates.
It’s really not surprising that people find pirates fascinating. Not only are they part of world history, but they’ve also become a significant part of world pop culture. Many of us have grown up reading books and/or watching movies that include pirates, such as Treasure Island, Pirateology, Peter Pan, and the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. It’s also not uncommon to see children (and adults) dressing up as pirates for Halloween.
But there is a difference between the pirate stories we grew up reading and the actual history of piracy. If you enjoy reading about pirates, here are some great books to check out…
Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates, by David Cordingly, discusses the reality of pirate life and how it differs from the fictional accounts many of us have been familiar with since childhood. While there are a few exceptions, Cordingly primarily focuses on pirates who operated in the Western world during the time period that is often referred to as the “Golden Age of Piracy,” which he identifies as beginning in the 1650s and ending around 1725.
One of the things I really like about this book is its readability. Under the Black Flag is packed with information, but it is presented in an interesting way that makes you want to continue learning more. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of pirate life, including “Wooden Legs and Parrots,” “Storms, Shipwrecks, and Life at Sea,” and “Sloops, Schooners, and Pirate Films.”
My favorite section of this book is a chapter called “Women Pirates and Pirates’ Women.” In this section, Cordingly relates the stories of women pirates such as Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Grace O’Malley. He also talks about female pirates whose stories are less well-known than those of Bonny and Read.
If you’re interested in learning more about the reality of pirate life, Under the Black Flag is a great book to start with. Cordingly is definitely well-versed in his subject, and this particular volume frequently appears in the bibliographies of other non-fiction works about pirates (including the next two books in this post). It is important to note that this book does include descriptions of torture and violence, some of which are fairly graphic.
The Pirate World: A History of the Most Notorious Sea Robbers, by Angus Konstam, is a comprehensive look at the history of piracy. Unlike many of the books referenced in this post, Konstam does not limit himself to focusing on the “Golden Age of Piracy,” but ultimately addresses the history of piracy from the 14th Century BC through the modern era.
This book includes tons of information about pirates, corsairs, and privateers who sailed all over the world. In addition to telling the stories of many famous historical pirates, the author also discusses some of the ways in which pirates have been portrayed movies and books, making note of how fact and fiction have become blurred in popular culture. The Pirate World also includes beautiful images of paintings, maps, and photographs.
While I did not find The Pirate World to be the easiest of reads, due to the large amount of information contained within its pages, I did find it very interesting. The Pirate World is organized similarly to a history textbook, with captions describing each image that is included, timelines, and side notes regarding different aspects of pirate life. This book is a great reference resource, and (just like Under the Black Flag) would definitely be a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in studying the history of pirates.
The Pirate Next Door: The Untold Story of Eighteenth Century Pirates’ Wives, Families and Communities, by Daphne Palmer Geanacopoulos, is very different from the first two books on this list. The book focuses on a topic that is not always discussed in detail in other books about piracy, specifically the wives and families of pirates.
While the author mentions having “uncovered at least eighty married pirates” in the course of her research, she chose to focus specifically on the stories of four famous pirate captains who operated in the New England area during the “Golden Age of Piracy” (Geanacopoulous 105). These pirates include Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy (who was unmarried), Paulsgrave Williams, William Kidd, and Samuel Burgess. In addition to stories of these pirates’ exploits, the author discusses the roles played by their wives, mothers, sisters, and children.
The Pirate Next Door is a fairly quick read, not only because the information it contains is very interesting, but also because it is a rather short book. The book is only 110 pages from introduction to conclusion. The writing itself is very academic in nature and includes examples of letters written between pirates and their wives, and between pirate widows and the friends of their deceased husbands. Some of these letters are somewhat difficult to comprehend because of the style in which they were written, but I really appreciated being able to see these letters in their original styles.
If you are interested in learning more about the role of women in the lives of pirates, The Pirate Next Door is definitely worth checking out.
Pirate Queen: A Story of Zheng Yi Sao, by Helaine Becker, tells the story of a woman who became a powerful pirate queen in the area of the South China Sea.
The book is written from Zheng Yi Sao’s point of view, telling her story in a first-person narrative. While I want to classify Pirate Queen as non-fiction, it may be better described as historical fiction, simply because there are some places where the author had to, as she states in the author’s note at the end of the book, “fill in the gaps.” According to Becker, there is not a tremendous amount of information available about Zheng Yi Sao, including her name prior to marriage. Though the book was created based on a relatively small number of sources, it tells a compelling story about a very strong woman.
One of my favorite things about this book is the artwork. The book was illustrated by Liz Wong, whose work is absolutely beautiful. There were many times while I was reading Pirate Queen that I found myself pausing just to admire the artwork for a while. The illustrations include a lot of detail.
Whether or not you have children who are interested in pirates, Pirate Queen is a great read. I came across this book while searching for stories about female pirates, and actually purchased this title not realizing that it was a children’s book. But I’m really glad that I took the opportunity to get Pirate Queen and read it, because Zheng Yi Sao’s story is fascinating.
If you’re interested in the history of piracy, Talk Like A Pirate Day is a perfect opportunity to check out some of the great non-fiction books that have been written on this subject. It’s also a good time to enjoy a fictional pirate story or movie. Personally, I’m planning to spend the evening watching one of my favorite pirate movies, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. However you choose to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day, I hope you have a wonderful time.
Next week’s POPSUGAR Reading Challenge update will be returning to its normal Saturday morning post time. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me here on The Unapologetic Bookworm throughout the next week for book reviews and other new content. Please be sure to drop by on September 22nd for a very special Book vs. Movies post in honor of Hobbit Day.
Have a great weekend, everyone!