Pirates Of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean by Adrian Tinniswood
|Pirates Of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean by Adrian Tinniswood|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Completely enthralling story of the many pirates of the Barbary states in the 17th century which avoids either demonising them or overlooking their crimes. Very impressively written.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: March 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
In the early 17th century the North African coast was a particularly dangerous place to sail near due to the prevalence of pirates there ready to plunder the cargo of ships. In this truly captivating account author Adrian Tinnisworth looks at these corsairs – focusing on Englishmen such as John Ward, who became so renowned that plays about him and Dutchman Simon Danseker managed to outsell King Lear!
While characters such as Ward, whose piracy horrified the English but whose conversion to Islam was viewed as being even more terrible, and Danseker the Devil Captain, who at one point not only let his hostages go but gave them money to make their way through Spain, Tinnisworth inspires envy. It must be easy to write about men as colourful as this! Well, perhaps not, but it's certainly extremely easy to read about them. The author's style is an absolute joy and his stories of attacks, based on eyewitness accounts, make this rather more thrilling than many fictional thrillers are.
He also proves an even-handed judge. While there's no attempt to whitewash the privateers here, there are explanations of what caused men to turn their hand to conquering the seas. Danseker, especially, is given an incredibly thorough examination in a chapter which lasts a scant 14 pages but seems to have so much information in it that I'd have sworn it was two or three times that long.
Of course, though, nothing lasts forever, and while England from the time of James I onwards had relatively little success curbing the excesses of the North African corsairs the Americans eventually managed rather better. This hugely enjoyable read starts to draw to a close in 1815 with the death of the last of the great corsairs.
Tinniswood's focus on the 17th century for the majority of the book pays huge dividends as it makes what was potentially an absolutely vast subject more manageable but the close in the early 19th is a welcome conclusion. Well, as welcome a conclusion as we were likely to get – I wasn't particularly keen on this one ever ending to be honest! Huge recommendation which will certainly have me tracking down more of this accomplished author's work.
For those like myself whose interest in piracy has been awakened by this book (reading about it at least, before anyone worries I'm going to take to the sea!) Tinnisworth also provides an excellent list of sources and a comprehensive bibliography.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: Another really thrilling historical study is The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare by Doug Stewart, which ranks alongside this as one of my favourite non-fiction books in recent memory.
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