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Why Do Pirates Love Parrots?: An Imponderables Book

( 3 )


Are you the type of person who stays up nights wondering how they get the paper tag into Hershey's Kisses? Or why portholes are round?

Even if you don't lose sleep over such matters, you have to admit that such questions are, well, worthy of consideration.

Here, from David Feldman, creator of the Imponderables? series, are the latest questions on the minds of his devoted readers and fans. No question from his readers is too small or obscure for...

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Are you the type of person who stays up nights wondering how they get the paper tag into Hershey's Kisses? Or why portholes are round?

Even if you don't lose sleep over such matters, you have to admit that such questions are, well, worthy of consideration.

Here, from David Feldman, creator of the Imponderables® series, are the latest questions on the minds of his devoted readers and fans. No question from his readers is too small or obscure for Feldman to tackle. From the return of red M&Ms (they are back, if you've missed it) to new-car smell, the answers to life's little mysteries are dissected in these pages.

Although it's all done in great fun, there is also an educational edge to the answers, as Feldman ferrets out top experts in diverse fields to come up with his entertaining answers. And their answers may surprise you—from the detailed physics involved in why cans of Diet Coke float but regular Coke doesn't, all the way to why they put crinkly paper into pairs of men's socks (but only one sock, not both).

Complete with drawings by longtime Imponderables® illustrator Kassie Schwan, and a special section updating answers to questions in previous books in the series, this eleventh book of Imponderables® is sure to entertain the thousands of Feldman fans who have purchased over 2 million copies to date. Prepare to be delighted!

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641927812
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/19/2006
  • Pages: 362
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

David Feldman is the author of ten previous volumes of Imponderables®. He has a master's degree in popular culture from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and consults and lectures on the media. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Why Do Pirates Love Parrots?

By David Feldman

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 David Feldman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060888423

Chapter One

Why Did Pirates Love Parrots?

Our image of the colorful parrot astride the peg-legged, patch-eyed pirate might come from cartoons and comic strips, but the inspiration was surely Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, published in 1883. The beloved pet of cook Long John Silver, the parrot squawks "Pieces of eight!" with annoying regularity, and becomes the "watchbird" for the pirates after the miscreants take over the treasure hunters' fort on the island.

Stevenson admitted that he borrowed the idea of the parrot from Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. After being stranded on the island, Crusoe knocks a young parrot out of a tree. He teaches the bird to speak its own name ("Poll"), "the first word I ever heard spoken in the island by any mouth but my own."

But did pirates really carry parrots on their ships in real life? The evidence suggests yes. Kenneth J. Kinkor, director of project research at the Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab and Learning Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, told Imponderables that "Many pirates kept parrots and other animals, as many sailors did." Kinkor says that parrots were most common among the Central American pirates who spent some time ashore, logging in places not under directcontrol of Spain, such as Belize, that possessed large parrot populations.

David Cordingly, former curator of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England wrote in his book, Under the Black Flag,

It was common for seamen who traveled in the tropics to bring back birds and animals as souvenirs of their travels. Parrots were particularly popular because they were colorful, they could be taught to speak, and they were easier to look after on board ship than monkeys and other wild animals.

Call us cynical, but pirates never struck us as the most sentimental of men. Perhaps some parrots were kept onboard as pets or mascots, but might there have been other, less humanitarian considerations? In the most-often cited contemporaneous account of the pirate world, Captain William Dampier's A Voyage Around the World, written in 1697, Dampier claims that his band of privateers (pirates who are authorized by a country to commandeer ships sailing other states' flags) ate parrots along with other birds, while cruising off of Venezuela.

No pirate would get fat from eating parrots, so our bet is that the primary purpose of carrying parrots was financial. In his research on pirates, David Cordingly found government records from Elizabethan times indicating that pirates gave parrots to well-placed employees of government officials, presumably as bribes.

But other folks were willing to put down hard cash to buy parrots. Dampier discusses his shipmates buying "an abundance" of cockatoos and parakeets, presumably to sell or trade. Pirates had a ready venue to sell their booty, for there were established bird markets in London and Paris in the eighteenth century, and exotic birds from the New World presumably were attractive purchases for the wealthy and status-seeking. Indeed, Cissie Fairchild wrote an entire book, Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Paris, about the bustling trade in exotic animals (the Sunday bird market still exists on the Île de la Cité in Paris).

Pirates might have admired the colors of parrots, been amused by their mimicking ability, and have been satiated by their succulence. But love? Only money can buy a pirate's love.

Submitted by Tina Ritchie of Oceanside, California. Thanks also to Travis Cook of Cool Ridge, West Virginia.


Excerpted from Why Do Pirates Love Parrots? by David Feldman Copyright © 2006 by David Feldman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Posted March 2, 2009

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    I love these imponderable books

    This is the second one I bought. They sit in my bathroom and on my coffee table. Everyone who comes over always reads them and says, "wow, did you know...". If you always wondered about something you have never heard the answer to then this book would be great for you. Also, the price I bought it for on here was a steal!

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