Richard Zacks,
The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd
(Hyperion, 2002)

In the grand pirating tradition, few names are more notorious than that of Captain Kidd, who -- as we all know -- plundered the Seven Seas mercilessly, stealing and murdering and leaving behind countless chests of buried treasure that are still being sought today.

Or -- not. Kidd, it turns out, got a bum rap. And, while pirates such as Morgan, Roberts and, of course, Blackbeard earned their dread reputations, Kidd was a fairly good man caught in a series of misfortunes for which he would pay the ultimate price.

I've read briefer passages about the true Kidd in other books, but none so complete or fascinating as Richard Zacks' The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd.

With meticulous research and a lively style of writing, Zacks paints a portrait of Kidd as a tragic and misunderstood hero. Kidd, happily married and well established in New York City as a prosperous merchant, could have lived a life of quiet contentment if his own ambitions hadn't driven him to seek a post with the British Navy. Instead, he found himself set up as a privateer and pirate hunter, with backers found among the powerful and wealthy of England and New England alike. But a series of misfortunes, along with Kidd's own stubborn pride and the heavy hand of the East India Co., turned his years-long voyage into a disaster.

Still, Kidd held firm to both his mission and his convictions, but mutiny and some unscrupulous peers -- particularly the traitorous pirate Robert Culliford -- led to Kidd being branded a pirate himself. Soon, he was the most wanted man in the world. And, despite honest efforts to present his case and clear his name, Kidd ended his life on the gallows.

It is clear from the text that Zacks admires Kidd and is predisposed to forgive him his many misjudgments, dismissing any possibility that Kidd might have wavered in following his strict moral compass. Still, painstaking research -- the book ends with an impressive bibliography -- proves Zacks to be a fair judge of Kidd's character and motivations.

This well-written tale is a fascinating look at one of maritime history's most notorious figures. Zacks sets the legends straight and presents Kidd as he likely was, not the way history -- along with countless treasure-hunters -- remembers him.

review by
Tom Knapp

6 September 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new