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Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates [Hardcover]

David Cordingly
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 20 1996
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. 16 pp. of photos. Maps.


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Though literature, films, and folklore have romanticized pirates as gallant seaman who hunted for treasure in exotic locales, David Cordingly, a former curator at the National Maritime Museum in England, reveals the facts behind the legends of such outlaws as Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, and Calico Jack. Even stories about buried treasure are fictitious, he says, yet still the myth remains. Though pirate captains were often sadistic villains and crews endured barbarous tortures, were constantly threatened with the possibility of death by hanging, drowning in a storm, or surviving a shipwreck on a hostile coast, pirates are still idealized. Cordingly examines why the myth of the romance of piratehood endures and why so few lived out their days in luxury on the riches they had plundered.

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pirates Ye Be Warned May 19 2004
By Baloo
Format:Paperback
Ahoy, reader, the pirates you know today from movies and stories are not too far from the originals, but are wonderful and romanticized caricatures of the buccaneers and corsairs of the 18th century. This we learn from the excellent book Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly, in which the author tells the stories of the lives of real pirates of old. Cordingly goes into great color and detail about the reality of pirates and their history.
In the first chapter, entitled Wooden Legs and Parrots, Cordingly describes the actual appearance of buccaneers and corsairs. From the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson we first accepted the image of pirates personified by Long John Silver and Captain Hook. Pirates were linked with, pirate maps, black schooners, tropical islands, and one legged seaman with parrots on their shoulders. Cordingly identifies peg legs, parrots, filth, and harsh captains wearing dashing clothes.
Who were these lavishly-dressed, smelly, unkempt, vagabonds of the sea? David Cordingly catergorizes pirates in two ways. Buccaneers were pirates from the Carribean and Corsairs were pirates from the Mediteranean.He also goes into depth about specific people such as, Bartholomew Roberts, Sir Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Henry Morgan, and Captain Kidd.
In to battle and back to the sea, this is the life of a pirate; David Cordingly elaborated well on this fact in his book Under the Blak Flag. By reading his book you can tell he is an experienced writer and a more-than-credible authority on pirates. He uses sources and quotes very well in this book, and organizes the main points rather well. His writing style is easy to read and you find yourself being caught up in his stories of pirate history and legend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Whenever historical figures such as pirates are so common in popular culture, I often wonder how accurate the representation is. This book engagingly answers these questions. Not surprisingly, there is some truth to the modern image of a pirate. For example, they often dressed with scarfs, lots of guns, and even kept parrots as pets. On the other hand, they were largely brutal criminals, not jovial, romantic figures usually portrayed in stories.
With such a fragmentary history, the big challenge is to present a coherent picture of pirate history. Cordingly doesn't always pull this off. I found the book disorganized in places, and some of the chapters have fairly loose threads holding the material together. A lot of the excursions into analyzing popular culture are not particularly insightful, and interfere with the strength of the book, telling the story of pirates.
Overall, a fun and interesting read on a criminal class that is well recognized, if not well known.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Under the Black Flag March 1 2004
Format:Paperback
Under the Black Flag entertained me. I really enjoyed reading this book. I was 17 when I read it. This was before Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean came out. After seeing the movie, I had to laugh because Disney did keep the real story behind a pirates life as G rated as possible. I recommend this to anyone who loves non-fiction books about pirates.
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Format:Hardcover
Much mythologized but little understood, pirates have for centuries been a dangerous fact of life for those living and traveling on the high seas. In "Under the Black Flag", David Cordingly has written a superb examination of the legends and realities of Pirates and Piracy. He concentrates primarily on pirates of the Western world during The Golden Age of Piracy, which lasted roughly from 1650 to 1725, although there are some notable exceptions made for Chinese and Barbary pirates. Cordingly has included privateers, buccaneers, corsairs , as well as regular old pirates in his study, as they are inherently related. The word "pirate" implies a crime, whereas privateers were licensed by their king to plunder and seize any ship belonging to a "hostile" nation. They were, in effect, legally sanctioned pirates. Buccaneers were pirates who operated in the Caribbean and South America during the 17th century and were descended from French hunters of the region. Corsairs, although addressed only briefly in the book, were pirates of the Mediterranean, most famously the Barbary Coast, who were authorized by their rulers to attack ships from Christian nations.
"Under the Black Flag" starts out by examining the mythology of pirates in Western literature and how the perceptions of fictional pirates compared with reality. Then the author moves on to explore the history of real pirates, starting with the quest for Aztec and Inca gold in Central America in the 16th century and moving on to the privateers of the 17th century -most famously Sir Henry Morgan- who plundered Spanish port cities in the Caribbean.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but organized too literally Feb. 15 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
My verdict: over-researched and under-written. It's a cascade of interesting facts, but time and time again the author seems to come to the brink of a good story only to turn away and wander off somewhere else. I wouldn't really mind the overwrought way the book's organized, except that the author doesn't quite pull it off--doesn't demonstrate the necessity for doing it the way he does, to my mind. Instead of telling the whole story of one event at once and then moving on to another, some of the facts about an event crop up in one chapter, other aspects of the same story appear later, then another aspect of it shows up even later than that. The effect is that the writing keeps circling around like a sea-bird with no place to land. There's no real suspense or sense of discovery or narrative power to the recountings of events, and it robs the writing of vividness; few of the places and people really came alive in my mind. The effect on me was that the writing seemed overly academic--or perhaps I should say offhand and dry rather than academic--and it made the book read slowly for me, even though I'm normally a stone sucker for tales of the sea and am well used to reading nonfiction.
Even the death of Blackbeard, which is inherently dramatic, is rendered nearly flavorless, but for the dying pirate's dashing last line. And the chapter on Captain Kidd, incredibly, peters out suddenly right before it ends. The author turns to a thorough digression, as if he had completely lost interest in the story just as it was reaching its climax. Later, you learn that the author has reserved the subject of executions for the book's last chapter, and Kidd's is duly covered, finally, but by then I was getting rather grumpy about it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Under the Black Flag - don't miss it
Author had good credentials and credibility was essential to me. Author's presentation was excellent; he kept me interested throughout. It should be a top seller.
Published 12 months ago by Penstemon
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally an interesting history book!
For anyone that's interested in the lifestyles of pirates, this is your book. This book is both a good read and informative. Almost everything you want to know is compiled here. Read more
Published on March 18 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reasoned Survey of Pirating in the 17th/18th Centuries
Under the Black Flag is a history of Pirates during the era when they entered the popular imagination. Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2004 by J. Collins
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine introduction into the realities of piracy
Cordingly has written a good introduction to the world of piracy. He effectively describes the reality of the harsh, cruel and often short-lives of the many pirates of the... Read more
Published on Dec 29 2003 by R. Johnston
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine introduction to the realities of piracy
Cordingly has written a good introduction to the world of piracy. He effectively describes the reality of the harsh, cruel and often short-lives of the many pirates of the... Read more
Published on Dec 29 2003 by R. Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Jolly Roger of a good book
Cordingly has done his homework on the subject of the pirates. The text is very informative, historically acurate, and an easy read. Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars A sweeping glance
The author does a wonderful job at taking a sweeping glance at the pirates and privateers of the Americas--especially of the Caribbean. Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2003 by "majnoon_"
5.0 out of 5 stars Aaargh, shiver me timbers, matey!
UNDER THE BLACK FLAG is the perfect read for anyone who, as a kid, dressed up as a one-eyed pirate and went around waving a cardboard cutlass saying, "Aaargh, speak up bilge... Read more
Published on July 2 2003 by Joseph Haschka
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