Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates” as Want to Read:
Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  6,063 Ratings  ·  466 Reviews
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 oft ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published February 6th 2013 by Random House (first published 1995)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Under the Black Flag, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Sarah Yes, it is. I picked it up at Half Price Books in PB form. I'm pretty sure Amazon sells it in PB too.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Dec 26, 2007 Corrielle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I am a Pirates of the Caribbean fan. An obsessive fan, even. And so, because every obsession of mine eventually reaches a point where I feel compelled to do research, my Pirates fascination led me to this book.

This is a fine resource for anyone interested in the history of piracy. I enjoyed the book immensely. It has information on the Golden Age of piracy, famous pirates, and a comparison of fictional pirates with real ones. The author also explores the origins of various pirate movie standbys
For centuries, people have been drawn to stories of adventure on the high seas and peg-legged pirates in search of buried treasure. In his comprehensive pirate book (focused mainly on 18th century piracy in the Americas and the Caribbean), Cordingly covers everything from women pirates to pirate ships and weapons. Not for the faint of heart, this text exposes some of the hard truths behind piracy: consequences for captives, punishmens for arrested pirates, the hardships of life at sea.

This book'
Melissa McShane
Engagingly written, thoroughly researched and with plenty of endnotes, this turned out to be exactly what I was looking for in an overview of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. It's organized both chronologically and topically and has a lot of interesting stories. Cordingly's bibliography led me to such works as Captain Charles Johnson's extremely influential (and contemporary) account A General History of the Pyrates, the works of Peter Earle, and Nicholas Rodger's writings about the Royal ...more
Ava Strange
Jul 26, 2013 Ava Strange rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not that Under The Black Flag is really a bad book, I still hated it. I know that many readers will love it, but there were certain elements here that really annoyed me, and distracted from the fact that it’s detailed and well-researched.

For the most part I just plain found it very boring. This is for a few reasons, but the largest one is that it fails to really immerse you. It’s honest, well-rounded and as I said detailed, however there’s a lack of heart in there that withholds the opportunity
Mar 09, 2016 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I liked this. It is the 2nd nonfiction pirate book I've read within a few days of each other. I found most of this fascinating. The history of pirating was well researched and presented in an interesting way. There was some repetition, but that didn't bug me so much because I was enjoying most of it.

The West Indies was the place not to be if you wanted to avoid pirates. I also like how the author included modern day pirates into this book.

I did the audio and I thought the narrator did a great
Francesco Scarlata
Volume molto interessante. E' diviso in tematiche e ripercorre l'età dell'oro della pirateria per argomenti. Il fatto che non illustri la storia in maniera tradizionale può all'apparenza creare confusione, ma lo stile narrativo rende la lettura decisamente piacevole.
Dec 31, 2007 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Jeff by: Joe Scapalato, Joe Hennessey
I'm reading alot of reviews that claim this is more scholarly than entertaining. Rubbish. Only if you have the attention span of a goldfish will you not enjoy this captivating account of the golden age of piracy. Not only does the author stay true to history, but he covers the origins of romanticized pirate life and how much of it is actually reflected by reality. This is a most amazing work by a most amazing expert on pirates.
Feb 25, 2016 Vaishali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Dr. Cordingly is one of the world's most recognized authorities on historic piracy... so, great book!

Some interesting factoids:

* Captain Morgan sued publishers of a tell-all book, written by a former buccaneer portraying him as a bloodthirsty murderer.

* Ching Shih, China's female pirate, commandeered a confederation of 50,000 ships - larger than most countries’ navies.

* Black Beard raided Charlestown, and had it under siege for 5 days. He then marooned his own men on an is
nothing but nonsense and mundane trivia here: the thesis of this book seems to be that, get this, pirates were not the cool characters they have been portrayed as by literature, art, and media. No shit! Not discussed is much of anything of actual interest about the pirates lifestyles, motives, social organization, etc., which, when contextualized by the parallel institutions in society at large, is nothing short of fascinating. Perhaps try the new book about how pirates were both mere merchants, ...more
If you're interested in the difference between corsairs (Mediterranean pirates) and buccaneers (Caribbean pirates), or stealth gaming 17th century style, then this is definitely the book for you.

It's a dry read, but filled with valuable, concisely written information that disproves most of the beliefs one might have regarding a swashbuckling, romantic life on the seas.

"Pirates of the Caribbean" only existed in the movies :)
Apr 02, 2017 paola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La figura del pirata è una di quelle più chiaramente impresse nell'immaginario collettivo: pappagalli, gambe di legno, tesori nascosti, uncini e Jolly Roger che sventolano, uomini bruti che incarnano - loro malgrado - un ideale di libertà.
Ecco, partendo proprio dalla figura "letteraria" del pirata, Cordingly sfata alcuni miti e racconta quella che è stata l'età d'oro della pirateria e lo fa usando tantissime fonti: dall'imprescindibile General history of the Pirates del capitano Johnson (che non
Matt Ficke
I was tempted to give this book a higher rating since it's actually an interesting subject, but it suffers from a flaw that occasionally pops up in popular summaries of a particular field's historical research in that the book ends up seeming like a slightly disconnected list of facts without much narrative or context (one chapter is literally "pirate ships and also some stuff about pirate movies".) I mostly ended up wanting to read the books listed in the bibliography.

So, pirates: starting in t
Faith Rivens
Feb 15, 2017 Faith Rivens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2017
An invaluable resource! As I'm in the midst of editing my YA pirate fantasy novel, I find that this book has provided me with even greater insight, much needed to help bring some realism to the whole thing. If you're interested in learning the more brutal truths beneath pirate lore, I highly recommend giving this book a try. Engaging and well researched, it is a must read!
Feb 16, 2010 Russell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to do my best not to talk like a pirate during this. David Cordingly's book is an excellent resource on privateers, pirates, corsairs and other ne'er-do-wells on the high seas. He has facts, figures, logs, details, records of trials, ship stats and other details from the era. I'm a sucker for the romance of the pirate. I know, the reality was one of hard men, hard drinkers, casual violence and brutality, foul robbers of the sea. But still, Pirates!

Cordingly digs up the reality, drags i
Sean Chick
Not a bad book if you want to know about Anglo-American pirates in the 1600s and 1700s (no surprise given the author is British). Otherwise it is quite limited. You won't see the Barbary pirates explained. Nor much on piracy in Roman times. Jean Bart is mentioned once and Jean Lafitte not at all. To be fair the book is more about the Pirates we (as in English speaking people) love best, and so it works best when discussing certain famous figures such as Morgan and Kidd. So perhaps it is best Cor ...more
Aug 18, 2008 Johan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I feel slightly bad about giving it only two stars, I liked it fine, it had some good stuff in it, but it's soemthing irritating about a book that is fluffed up to be a book when it just should have been a good long article. There are repetitions, stretchings and digressions...I guess the author was under editorial pressure to fill pages. Kindof a shame. Totally decent writing,intereseting subject, just too fluffed up.
This is a decent fact-based exploration of piracy, but it is a bit on the dry side. The most interesting parts for me were when he discusses various film, stage, and fiction portrayals of pirates and how those portrayals have fed into today's rather romanticized image of the 17th/18th century pirate. He also talks quite a bit about Treasure Island and how that novel in particular established a lot of now-popular pirate tropes (i.e., the wooden peg leg, a pet parrot, walking the plank, a treasure ...more
Jul 04, 2011 Sharyl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not often that I choose to read history books, biographies, or any other nonfictional endeavors, but every once in awhile my curiosity gets the better of me, and I interrupt my usual regimen of novels to satisfy the occasional craving.

David Cordingly's Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life among the Pirates is a well-written, comprehensive introduction to the history of piracy. Cordingly begins by addressing the popular images of pirates that authors and filmmakers have
Old review from 2006

Long have I sought a work wherein the word "piratical" appears as a descriptive necessity, and not humorous affectation. That, actually, is a lie. A very helpful bookseller at Diesel recommended this to me when I inquired after books cataloguing different types of ships, sails, and riggings one might encounter in a Patrick O'Brian novel. The book has nothing to do with such concerns, of course, but it does do the job of feeding my budding nautical history obsession. So far so
Gary Hoggatt
Pirates have fascinated us for centuries, but the popular depiction usually is far from the true history of these scourges of the sea. In Under the Black Flag (1996), David Cordingly looks at the reality of the golden age of piracy.

Cordingly covers most everything there is to know about pirates. Famous pirate captains, life among the pirates, tactics, treasure, ships, trials and executions, and the reasons for the end of the golden age of Caribbean piracy are all included. The focus is undeniabl
Apr 30, 2016 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was all set to give this a positive review for debunking many of the common tropes and legends about piracy. Then, I read this unfortunate passage in the afterword about why pirates are so popular:

[Pirates] are seen as cruel, domineering, drunken, heartless villains, but it is these very vices which make them attractive. A degenerate and debauched man is a challenge which many women find hard to resist. They want to give him the love they feel he is missing and they want to reform his evil wa
Althea Ann
Non-fiction book on pirates. Cordingly does a good job of showing that although the reality of pirate life was not as benign or romantic as today's consumer of piratical historical fictions would like to think, the truth is just as fascinating and interesting as the fiction.

The book is well-researched, careful to state what is known, what is not known, and what is simply not likely. Adequate footnotes are given for all sources. (And unreliable sources are diligently explained to be such.) Chock-
Nov 07, 2015 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It quickly became apparent that the author was not a historian or even really an author, but a museum researcher who couldn't help himself. So the book is somewhat fragmented, lurching hither and yon to describe the daily life of pirates, then how R.L. Stevenson came to write Treasure Island, then Calico Jack and his two female pirates, then pirate tactics in running down small ships, etc.

But that being said, it was fascinating and highly readable, with lots of juicy historical tidbits. For exa
May 31, 2015 Rosalie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could have all the information in this book, but presented in a more engaging and immersive manner. It took me so long to finish reading because it felt like a textbook, with huge blocks of facts presented at once. It's good information, just hard to absorb or care about in this format.
I feel like the book suffered by the chapter divisions, so that instead of getting the whole story of a particular pirate at once, it's all cut up into its component parts. In one section we learn where t
Sep 27, 2011 Margie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pirates
I enjoyed this, though I skimmed and skipped through the last few chapters, as they got rather bogged down. I didn't feel the need to know the difference between a sloop with a mizzenmast atop the mainsail, and a ship with a blah blah blah. There's a chapter on trials of pirates which bogs down in details of who said what when, from transcripts of the trials. Again, not interested.

But the earlier chapters held my interest, and I learned more about pirates I've been interested in for a while (Ma
Jan 26, 2009 Jeff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
How can you mess up a book about pirates?!?! In almost every chapter he discussed true stories of piracy (and it was usually pretty interesting) but finished the chapter with a comment about some pirate movie made in the 1930's and how some actor didn't get the part because he at last minute was something or other. I couldn't believe it. I don't care about old movies and I didn't see how on earth he could have spent so much time talking about them. If he had cut out all of that crap the book wou ...more
How is this book as boring as it is!! Cordingly may be one of the best regarded pirate historians as I read in one review, but he manages to completely dance around everything interesting leaving you wanting more (in the bad way, not the good way), and also kind of wanting to strangle him. Plus, much of the book seems randomly placed, as if he was writing from notecards which he dropped at some point and didn't put back in order. Sadly disappointing.
While certainly a comprehensive look at the actual history of pirates and not just the lore, this book unfortunately takes a topic which should be highly entertaining and makes it a bit dry and slow. Perhaps it was the way in which chapters were ordered, perhaps it was the overly academic appraoch, either way this was not a fun (although informational) read.
May 01, 2016 Roger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Under the Black Flag is a fascinating account of the history of piracy. The only reason this book did not rate five stars is that it fails to mention Jean Lafitte. (Honestly a glaring omission.) Otherwise it is perfection-an engaging book about all the aspects of piracy (including a lot of angles I had never given any thought) and a comparison of pirate fact versus pirate fiction. This was a joy to read.

A relatively engaging and well-researched book on pirate history, but suffers from poor organization and alternates disconcertingly between embracing and refuting the romance of the pirate ideal. Also has some interesting general maritime and colonial history.

Recommended for readers very interested in the subject.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Please add page number 4 14 May 27, 2015 11:38AM  
  • The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down
  • Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age
  • The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd
  • The Sea Rover's Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730
  • The History of Pirates
  • The Buccaneers of America
  • A General History of the Pyrates
  • The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers & Rogues
  • If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates"
  • Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign
  • The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf
  • A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier
  • The Pirate Wars
  • A History of Pirates: Blood and Thunder on the High Seas
  • The Book of Absinthe: A Cultural History
  • The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea
  • Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean
  • Blackbeard the Pirate
David Cordingly is an English naval historian who is considered one of the leading authorities on pirates. He held the position of Keeper of Pictures and Head of Exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England for twelve years.

David Cordingly organised several exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum, including Captain James Cook, Navigator and The Mutiny on the Bounty. Perhap
More about David Cordingly...

Share This Book

“Morgan was sent copies and decided to sue both publishers for libel.” 1 likes
“Their activities reached a peak in the early years of the nineteenth century, when a community of around forty thousand pirates with some four hundred junks dominated the coastal waters and attacked any merchant vessels which strayed into the area. From 1807 these pirates were led by a remarkable woman called Mrs. Cheng, a former prostitute from Canton.” 1 likes
More quotes…