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If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of "Black Bart," King of the Caribbean Pirates [Paperback]

Richard Sanders
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 2009
He drank tea instead of rum. He banned women and gambling on his ships. He never made his prisoners walk the plank, instead inviting them into his cabin for a friendly chat. And during the course of his extraordinary two-and-a-half-year career as a pirate captain, he captured four hundred prizes and brought trade in the eastern Caribbean to a standstill. In If a Pirate I Must Be..., Richard Sanders tells the larger-than-life story of Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart. Born in a rural town, Roberts rose from third mate on a slave ship to pirate captain in a matter of months. Before long, his combination of audaciousness and cunning won him fame and fortune from the fisheries of Newfoundland to the slave ports of West Africa. Sanders brings to life a fascinating world of theater and ritual, where men (a third of whom were black) lived a close-knit, egalitarian life, democratically electing their officers and sharing their spoils. They were highly (if surreptitiously) popular with many merchants, with whom they struck incredibly lucrative deals. Yet with a fierce team of Royal Navy pirate hunters tracking his every move, Roberts' heyday would prove a brief one, and with his capture, the Golden Age of pirates would pass into the lore and legend of books and movies. Based on historical records, journals and letters from pirates under Roberts' command, and on writings by Roberts himself, If a Pirate I Must Be... is the true story of the greatest pirate ever to sail the Caribbean.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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5.0 out of 5 stars ARRRRRGH! Aug. 25 2010
Format:Paperback
My wife got me this for Christmas one year and I finally had time to read it the following Christmas...and it was one of the most entertaining reads of that year. Hollywood plays up Pirates with 20% fact and 80% fiction, but this book is the total opposite; 90% fact and 10% factually based reconstruction. This is a book for people who want an actual 'serious' book on historic pirates (i.e. Black Bart, the most sucessful pirate of all time) and includes a great bibliography for further reading about real, historic pirates.

Sanders is a great writer; I thoroughly enjoyed his style and found that it was an easy read without being simplistic or dry. He describes the various characters vividly and incorporates a quick pace to make it through much of what could be 'dry' history without becoming boring. I read through the book in two easy days and it was an amazingly engaging read.

If you are interested in pirates (and who doesn't have a LITTLE curiosity about them) and want to learn something about historic pirates (as opposed to read something fictional), this book is a great springboard into the rich and flamboyant history of the golden age of piracy. It's thorough enough for anyone who is doing historic research and entertaining enough for a casual reader who's only satisfying curiosity. Highly recommended!
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breaks the Hollywood Stereotypes of Pirates Aug. 9 2007
By Janice Ebeling - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Throw out everything you think you know about pirates. What did a real pirate captain look like? Certainly not Jack Sparrow. Captain Hook is probably a closer visual.

This is not a novelization, but a historical account of Bartholomew Roberts, the most successful pirate in history. Don't expect some dry history book here, this is fascinating! Sanders includes excerpts of actual accounts, stories and letters from the era.

He paints the full picture of why men turned to piracy - the ship captains' authority was total, and many were very cruel, but none so much as the slave ship captains. These men treated people with such brutality that human life was worthless to them, and they treated their sailors almost as poorly as the slaves. There are accounts of sailors begging food from the slaves - when food and water ran short, the sailors were deprived before the slaves. After all, the captains made no money on the sailors.

It's no wonder when a pirate ship showed up and the captain said, "who wants to be a pirate?" that men eagerly joined the crew.

What struck me as most amazing was the democracy of piracy. The captain and all the officers were elected. The crew voted on destinations. The quartermaster balanced the captain's power.

This book is excellent, a must read for anyone who is not only interested in pirates, but the history of colonies in the Caribbean in that era.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid, fast-moving account of a classic pirate April 18 2007
By Bruce Trinque - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Move over Johnny Depp, "Black Bart" Roberts was the Real Deal dread Pirate of the Caribbean. Active for less than three years (his career was brought to an abrupt end by a Royal Navy grapeshot), Bartholomew Roberts (his birthname was apparently "John Roberts" and the more romantic "Bartholomew" adopted only when he became a pirate -- and the "Black Bart" label is a 20th century invention) was the most successful pirate of the classic golden age of piracy, circa 1720, capturing around 400 vessels (most of them very small). Roberts's typical prey was not wealthy Spanish galleons, but rather small merchant, fishing, and slaving craft, and it was not gold and silver and jewels being sought so much as food, supplies and especially new recruits (some men eagerly joined their pirate captors; others, like Roberts himself, were initially forced to join, but later converted into willing participants). Sanders's account makes clear the bonds between piracy and the slave trade. Slaving vessels were frequently targets of pirate attacks (Roberts was an officer aboard a slaver off the African coast when captured and forced into piracy) and it can be assumed that most pirates had experience aboard such vessels.

Sanders's "If a Pirate I Must Be ..." is a vividly written account of Roberts and, through his story, the larger world of piracy in the early eighteenth century, a story shorn of romance and for that reason all the more gripping.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant tale Aug. 12 2007
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In this well written and brilliantly told tale the exploits of `Black Bart' Bartholomew Roberts are told amidst the history of the early 18th century. This is much more than a pirate story. This is stories a vast array of characters and places from Newfoundland to the coast of Africa and Devil's islands. In his time Black Bart was one of the most feared pirates, but not as famous as Blackbeard. He was born in Wales in 1682 and began his career as a pirate in 1719 after having worked as a third mate on a merchant vessel. In the fall and winter of 1719 he made his way as a pirate captain to Brazil and then to the Caribbean, suffering a mutiny and losing a ship in the process. By 1720 he had regained his power and moved to Newfoundland, raiding shipping along the way. From September 1720 to April 1721 he became the scourge of the British and French Caribbean. 1722 found him and a much enlarged crew off the coast of Africa, where he had originally become a pirate.
In truth his career only spanned three years, but it is a story that is far richer than those mere three years. This book is a short history of so many things, from sickness in Britain's slave-colonies of Africa, to Devil's island, to the emergence of white settlement in the Caribbean. Many astounding stories and mini-histories can be found in this volume, from stories of utopias among brigands, to the vanishing Caribs of the Caribbean, the use of slaves aboard Pirate vessels, and the rampant homosexuality and promiscuity among men and pirates in the period. One small oversight is the lack of a map.

A brilliantly told story, if most history were written like this than it would all rival fiction in the stories that would be told.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thumping good read May 27 2007
By Military history buff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you're looking for pictures of pirates, try Pirates: Predators of the seas, which has great illustrations. If you're looking for an incredible read about what it was like in pirate times, this is the book for you. Highly recommended!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding! June 16 2007
By Paul B. Haven - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Sanders brings to life one of the world's most intriguing pirates, with his vivid prose and groundbreaking research. This original portrait challenges every cliche we have about pirate culture. For anyone who is interested in what life was really like aboard a pirate ship, this book is a must read.
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