The History of Pirates. By Dr. Angus Konstam. The Lyons Press. 192 lavishly illustrated, oversize pgs. $35
It won't have escaped the attentive reader that all of the books that I've been reviewing have been written by local authors. Once again, our seemingly inexaustable supply of literateurs has produced a text both scholarly and entertaining.
"The History of Pirates" is the latest in a series of maritime history books launched in the imagination of Angus Konstam. Beginning in the ancient Mediterranean and concluding in the eye patches and body paint of Fantasy Fest, "Pirates" is at once comprehensive, entertaining and deceptively scholarly.
The famous and obscure are profiled in all their piratical ineffability. True to their legend (and somewhat despite themselves) these pirates are a very real measure of the civilization's tenuousness. When the fragile compromises and self-restraint that define "civilized" behavior break down, pirates thrive. Herein we find that such a glorified figure as the redoubtable John Paul Jones was, in fact, considered by the English to be a Scottish pirate his Bonhomme Richard a prize for raids upon the British.
Then there's "`Calico Jack' Rackham & The Female Pirates." The women, Anne Bonny and Mary Reade, literally exposed as women upon their capture, avoided Calico Jack's rendezvous with the hangman by mysteriously becoming pregnant while incarcerated! There's Captain Kidd, a classic "fall guy" for the intrigues of the British establishment, and Henry Morgan's ten year sack-fest of the Caribbean.
One after the next, wave upon wave of freebooters left their mark from ancient Egypt, through the Vikings, and our romanticized 17th Centurions to today's Uzi toting South East Asian murderers.
Dr. Konstam examines the evolution of the pirate ship, the "truth' behind the prevailing folklore, the "Pirate Code of Honor" and the enduring fascination of it all. Filled with illustrations, maps and charts, "The History of Pirates" achieves that rare combination of fascinating scholarship. (Perhaps this is inevitable when one deals with such subjects as Jean "L'Olnnais" who "ripped open one of the prisoners with his cutlass, tore the living heart out of his body, gnawed at it, and then hurled it in the face of one of the others.")
It's all there booty, mixed allegiances, duels, derring-do and quick careers.
Konstam, formerly of H. M. Tower of London and Mel Fisher's Maritime Historical Museum, born in the Orkney Islands and educated in Aberdeen, St. Andrew's and London, has managed to produce a book that appeals to the (Capt.) Kidd in everyone.
A companion volume on "Shipwrecks" is also available. Related volumes to follow all in all, the perfect collection for some Yuletide "Yo, ho, ho!"