Nigel Cawthorne,
A History of Pirates:
Blood & Thunder on the High Seas

(Arcturus, 2003; Chartwell, 2006)

Title notwithstanding, there is little blood or thunder to be found in Nigel Cawthorne's A History of Pirates.

The book focuses primarily on the Golden Age of Piracy that flourished in the Caribbean in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It conjures names that are bold and colorful in the imagination, the best known among them including Capts. Blackbeard, Kidd, Morgan, Rackham and Roberts. However, A History of Pirates: Blood & Thunder on the High Seas doesn't live up to its ambitious and thrilling title.

Almost entirely bereft of illustrations, this volume takes an exciting topic and presents it in endless pages of gray text. The writing is dry, reducing stories of adventure and mayhem to dull recitations. It also fails to deliver on its promises; for instance, after telling readers about a pirate noted for his cruelty, the narrative labors on for several paragraphs detailing the pirate's history -- without a single example of cruel behavior.

A History of Pirates is so unexciting that I took a break midway through to read another pirate book -- Richard Zacks' excellent The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd -- just to recapture a little enthusiasm.

It also doesn't help that A History of Pirates is riddled with typographical errors.

If nothing else, Johnny Depp and Disney have conspired to reignite the public's fascination with pirates. This book, with its bold name and cover, will probably draw a great deal of attention from folks who want to learn more -- but, unfortunately, Cawthorne is likely to dampen his readers' interest with this lackluster presentation of the facts.

review by
Tom Knapp

23 August 2008

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