Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life among the Pirates

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Overview

Pirates have become so much a part of story and legend that is easy to forget they actually existed in the flesh. Their roving lives left behind little in the way of historical record; thus our image of them is derived from a smattering of fact overlaid with three centuries of ballads, plays, epic poems, and films. But how does our conception of pirates compare with the reality, and why has such a romantic aura become associated with murderers and thieves? Pursuing that question, Dr. David Cordingly, former head ...
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Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

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Overview

Pirates have become so much a part of story and legend that is easy to forget they actually existed in the flesh. Their roving lives left behind little in the way of historical record; thus our image of them is derived from a smattering of fact overlaid with three centuries of ballads, plays, epic poems, and films. But how does our conception of pirates compare with the reality, and why has such a romantic aura become associated with murderers and thieves? Pursuing that question, Dr. David Cordingly, former head of exhibitions at England's National Maritime Museum, has mined a wealth of original sources - eyewitness accounts, court documents, national archives, and more - to create the most authoritative and definitive account of the great age of piracy since the 1724 bestseller The General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates. Under the Black Flag explodes many closely held myths and replaces them with a truth that is more complex and every bit as fascinating. Here are the real stories of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Henry Morgan, along with lesser-known but equally noteworthy pirates such as Henry Avery who captured an emperor's treasure fleet but died penniless and the cross-dressing women Anne Bonny and Mary Read. From the havoc of battle to the isolation of life at sea, Under the Black Flag makes tangible the day-to-day existence of pirates. How they attacked, how they governed themselves, what they wore, what ships they used, why they flourished in the years around 1720, and what brought their reign of terror to an end - all is revealed in this rousing and revisionist history.

For this rousing, revisionist history, the former head of exhibitions at England's National Maritime Museum has combed original documents and records to produce a most authoritative and definitive account of piracy's "Golden Age." As he explodes many accepted myths i.e. "walking the plank" is pure fiction, Cordingly replaces them with a truth that is more complex and often bloodier. of photos. Maps.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The image of the swashbuckling pirate tramps the sea decks of our imaginations-bold, brave, and rebellious-owing to countless versions of adventure classics like Treasure Island, Captain Blood, and The Black Pirate. But as Cordingly (coauthor of Pirates, Abbeville, 1992) points out in this well-written, instructive, and entertaining book, our popular view of piracy and pirates is far off the mark. The majority of 17th- and 18th-century Anglo-American pirates (the focus of Cordingly's study) were brutal men, given to drink, gambling, and casual violence. The author amply documents their viciousness in these pages. He highlights the contrast between our perceptions and the reality of pirate life and explains why piracy thrived in this period and how most pirates were hunted down and finally executed. While Cordingly breaks little new ground in this study and generously acknowledges his use of more academic works, his book is an insightful, concise, and thoroughly enjoyable portrait of the misnamed Golden Age of Piracy. For general readers. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/96.]David B. Mattern, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville
Kirkus Reviews
Cordingly, a former head of exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, presents a no-frills picture of the early 18th century buccaneer, revealing the basis of our romantic conceptions of pirates.

While piracy in that era was not a prescription for longevity, it brought lasting fame to its practitioners, their images are mythically enshrined in the works of Defoe, Robinson, Stevenson, and later in Hollywood epics. The origin of pirate careers was often rather prosaic: Many of the buccaneers of the Caribbean were poor laborers or out-of-work sailors from European navies; most got their start on merchant vessels. They preferred small, quick vessels to the three-masted ships portrayed in films, because smaller vessels could take refuge in narrow inlets or escape over shallow sandbars. Pirates were often a democratic lot; crews voted on their destinations and captains; they even had a primitive brand of medical insurance. While their reputation for cruelty can be documented, Cordingly asserts that often pirates killed only if merchantmen resisted and fought back. Not surprisingly, many ships were taken without a struggle. Cordingly also describes some of the fierce women buccaneers; the debauched and free-spending life at the great pirate ports, such as Port Royal, Jamaica; and the truly daring exploits of Frances Drake, Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and other luminaries. There's much interesting arcana, ranging from the design of pirate flags (the Jolly Roger was just one design among many) to the pets kept aboard ship (parrots and monkeys were popular). The golden age of piracy ended in the 1720s, when the European navies, for once not occupied in fighting each other, turned their attention to eliminating the sea marauders.

Readers who do not mind a somewhat plodding pace will find a great deal that is surprising about the lives of these legendary men (and women).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156029902
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/13/2003
  • Pages: 320

Meet the Author

David Cordingly is the world's foremost expert on pirates. For many years the curator and head of exhibitions at the famed National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, he has written several acclaimed books on the subject of pirates. He lives by the sea in Sussex.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 22, 2010

    A Book Better than a Woman Scorned for which Fury Hell Hath No

    No piratey collection would be complete without this book. I enjoyed it so much that this book has found its rightful place next to my flintlock pistol, cutlass, and mahogany chest bursting with bits of shiny and other valuable swag. This book is an excellent, informative resource on piracy, offering an in-depth look into the lives of those cutthroat sea-rovers and drivelswiggers who practiced pillaging and plundering. If you're looking for an exciting pirate-themed book full of buried treasure, walking the plank, or pirate maps with an "X" marking the location of a glittering treasure, this book is not for you; however, if you desire an absolutely thrilling read that will suck you into the realm of piracy through hardcore facts and gruesome historical details, this book is a must-have. If you are really into pirates and their history, do yourself a favor and purchase this book. Cut out me tongue and leave me dancin' the hempen jig if I be tellin' a mishap!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Recommended to me by a BN employee

    I walked into BN and asked an employee for a book recommendation and they gave me this. I bought the book and for the first few pages thought that I had made a bad choice. After getting into the actual material though, I was stuck. The book is written from the point of view that we have been bombarded with a very romantic and fictional view of pirates in popular culture. David Cordingly attempts to bring our ideas back to earth and does so in singular fashion. He distinguishes between specific pirate "variations" and shows off an enormous amount of research into the movements of actual pirates and buccaneers. With his frequent use of humor and surprisingly lighthearted (for the subject matter) stories, the author has produced a work that will appeal to the casual reader as well as the serious scholar.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    The Pirate's Life

    A well-researched account of piracy and its impact on popular culture, it's fairly obvious that this book was written almost 15 years ago. At the same time, it's stunning to realize that, of all the depictions of pirates in modern culture, Disney (or Jerry Bruckheimer and co) actually got it more right than wrong. While I was disappointed that women's voices were barely heard (as pirates) or were dismissed (as victims), and the afterward was ridiculously misogynistic, I still enjoyed learning how pirates actually behaved and survived during their height. I would especially love an updated afterward that reflects that, just like terrorists of today, the pirates were products of desperate times and unfair systems, and reflect the current rise in piracy in the global climate.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2008

    More like a term paper than a vacation read...

    I love pirates and the fascinating stories that surround them, and Cordingly delivers a lot of interesting facts and alternate views, mostly about the buccaneers of the Caribbean. But he missed a chance to deliver it in an interesting way. The book is organized like a term paper, with chapters organized to deliver the facts he had gathered. Only the bravest non-pirate temperaments will make it to the end of this sometimes tedious plank!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2008

    Very Well Written

    This book was a excellent source of information on pirates and what really happened on board the ships. Very graphic and gruesome, not romanticized at all in that respect. It was not written for 'entertainment'! I am reading quite a few books on the subject right now, and it is the book I refer to for in depth explainations. Outstanding!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2007

    not what I expected either

    The book was definately not what I expected either. But all in all I still think that it was a good book. Just hard to follow

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2007

    Not what I had expected...

    I was expecting the author to present the material in a more entertaining way however, this book read more like a history book and was very difficult to finish.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    More academia than adventure

    The depth and breadth of research and detail in this book is phenomenal. However, the author never gets into a steady story and I found it generally difficult to read more than one or two chapters in one sitting. The book would make an excellent textbook or reference guide, but generally fails to entertain. If you like your Disney-fied images of pirates with parrots, peg-legs, and planks, stay away from this book. But if you really want to know what life on the high seas was like for these men (and women!), I doubt that any book is better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2008

    An informative read

    Under the black flag clears away a lot of the myth and legends of pirates while telling you were they came from and giving you the real story. Bravo!

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews

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