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If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of "Black Bart," King of the Caribbean Pirates Paperback – Jun 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (June 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602396248
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602396241
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 14 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #547,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top Customer Reviews

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa6b73330) out of 5 stars 86 reviews
51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6b89eac) 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.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6b89f00) 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.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6b8c354) 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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6b8c714) out of 5 stars Histories and Fairy Tales Jan. 27 2010
By WILLIAM H FULLER - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Richard Sanders' IF A PIRATE I MUST BE follows in the wake of two other very readable histories of pirating in and around the 18th century: Stephan Talty's EMPIRE OF BLUE WATER and Colin Woodward's THE REPUBLIC OF PIRATES. All three draw on similar historical sources, and their bibliographies overlap somewhat. However, this is not to say that the books are duplicative, for each focuses on a different aspect of the topic or concentrates on a different time frame of the era. The authors also give different emphases to their primary sources, Sanders drawing heavily on Charles Johnson's A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE ROBBERIES AND MURDERS OF THE MOST NOTORIOUS PIRATES, published in 1724, while Talty frequently cites BUCCANEERS OF AMERICA by John Esquemeling, published in 1684. The three books are complementary rather than redundant, and, while any of them can be read independently of the others, taken together, they paint quite a detailed picture of piracy on the high seas from the late 17th to the early 19th centuries.

Sanders' book concentrates on the rise and fall of a single member of these "gentlemen of fortune," (otherwise known as criminals, thieves, miscreants, and deserters), Roberts, whose original name may have been John and who later seems to have signed it Bartholomew, although "Black Bart" seems to been a posthumous sobriquet. By following the brief, three year, career of Roberts, we learn a great deal about mariners' practices of the era, including the fact that it was scarcely unusual for a person to move from service on a king's ship to that of a pirate. In truth, the act of involuntarily joining a ship's crew seems to have been more or less the same regardless of whether one was in government service or to have had a pirate for a captain. The British government used "press gangs" to draft sailors for its ships, while pirates "forced" sailors from captured ships into service on their own. Whether one was "pressed" or "forced" depended solely on the legal status of the ship commanding ones service.

Of course, not every new member of a pirate crew had to be "forced" since both merchant and military commanders could exercise extremely harsh discipline aboard their ships and since the chance for acquiring a bit of wealth could actually be greater in a pirate crew than in either merchant or government service. Pirate crews also tended to be relatively democratic, electing or deposing their captains, a privilege not allowed on "legal" ships. Sanders' book goes a long way in instructing the reader in such historical realities, and it does so in a most entertaining narrative. This book, and the other two I've mentioned, are excellent histories, not only because of the historically factual accounts they contain but also because of their authors' skills at relating those histories in a fascinating and captivating manner.

In short, IF A PIRATE I MUST BE reads like a novel with an intriguing plot but has the added value of being historical, or "true" if one prefers that word. I highly recommend it, as well as EMPIRE OF BLUE WATER and THE REPUBLIC OF PIRATES, to any reader who is interested in 18th century maritime history. And by the way, does Sanders' book give us the source for the "Dread Pirate Roberts" of whom we read in S. Morgenstern's "fractured fairy tale" THE PRINCESS BRIDE?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6b8c7f8) out of 5 stars Sanders has caught the flavor of the era with a history that is enjoyable and gripping to the very end of Black Bart's ignoble e Dec 22 2015
By Daniel B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shiver me timbers! Thar be a book worth the read! Arrr!

I had only a small idea what to expect when I picked up If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates" by Richard Sanders. A selection for my book club (known as the Manly Book Club by its members, but more on that another time), it had been described as containing some surprising insights into pirates that weren't commonly known. And this was true: I learned a lot about the men who sailed the seas of the early 18th century.

What's more, I found If a Pirate I Must Be an entertaining, page-turning, and well-written history. Sanders' history of Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts feels authentic, well-researched, and accurate. He relies on histories and accounts written at the time, including the journals of victims of the pirates, letters between colonial authorities writing to their masters in England beseeching them for relief from the marauders, and other documents of the period, including court testimony of pirates captured and tried.

Black Bart himself did not start out as a pirate, but his story mirrors that of many of the time. An aging sailor on a slaver ship, he was pressed into service when his slave ship was captured by pirates off of the coast of West Africa. Because of his experience as a seaman, he was a prize that an enterprising pirate crew could not pass up--and yet, his story is not unique. Pirates would frequently capture ships and force some number of the captured crew into their own, though often it was unnecessary. Slavers treated their own sailors more poorly than the slaves, because the slaves were worth more. Meanwhile, pirates would appear from over the horizon, capture and board the ship dressed in better clothing, and promise an equal share of gold and rum to any who joined their number. Their government was democratic, and even the captain was elected from among their number, losing his spot at just the vote of the men if they felt he was not guiding them to victory.

And yet, Bart did not go willingly. It would take some time before he would adopt his new place among the pirates, but not long before he was at their head. He would go on to rob the Portuguese treasure fleet off the shores of Brazil, lose all of it to deserters back in the Caribbean (where he would be near-marooned by his crew), and rebuild it all again to become one of the most prolific and successful of pirates of the era.

A few observations, then:

- Piracy, and pirates, looks a lot more like the depictions of Disney and Johnny Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean" than I would have expected, even down to pirates' sexual ambiguity. Indeed, Sanders history depicts Black Bart as being almost chaste compared to the rest of his crew, though he appears to have developed an extremely close relationship with one of the sailors/passengers of a ship that he captured, the only thing that appears to reflect a romantic relationship that he formed during his reign.

- No one lived long. Whether they died from disease, malnutrition, battle, or any of the myriad of other causes, people were dying fast. Sanders mentions the especially high mortality rate in West Africa, noting that an English doctor had moved his family to a fort to serve a British slaving company there and within just a few months the entire family of six was dead from disease. This appears to be a common scenario of the time.

- In addition to democracy, pirates were incredibly egalitarian and rule based. They drafted and signed articles for each crew to govern their enterprise. Rules included not bringing women on board, each member receiving an equal share of loot (the captain getting a double and the quartermaster and surgeon a share and half), and, on Black Bart's ships, no gambling.

- Punch. These men drank as much, or more, as you've seen depicted in the movies. In fact, [SPOILER ALERT] Bart's fall finally came when he split his crew to pursue what they thought they were pursuing a ship carrying sugar, necessary for making rum.

- The golden age of piracy, extending from about 1715 to 1725, was brief and seems to have been largely due to economic forces around the end of the Spanish - British War that ended directly before. At the end of hostilities, large numbers of men were released from service in the British Navy, and with nowhere else to go, and, no other training or experience, many turned to piracy.

- A lot of the piracy seems to be as much "wink wink nod nod" with merchants working in cahoots with pirates as it was pirates capturing unsuspecting ships. In fact, few appeared to actually have fought back against the pirates. Rather, most seemed to roll over as soon as Black Bart flew out the skull and cross-bones (and yes, they did fly some version of this...several versions, actually).

<em><a href="http://amzn.to/1JtPsO7">If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates"</a></em> is a fun, fascinating, and interesting story. It's an age lost to history, full of pirates distinctly different from those who capture tankers off the coast of East Africa today, probably built out of the economic and historic factors of the age. Sanders has caught the flavor of the era with a history that is enjoyable and gripping to the very end of Black Bart's ignoble end.


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