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

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  4,200 ratings  ·  336 reviews
For this rousing, revisionist history, the former head of exhibitions at England's National Maritime Museum has combed original documents & records to produce a most authoritative & 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 & o...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published May 9th 2006 by Random House (NY) (first published 1995)
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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...more
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'...more
Melissa Proffitt
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
Jan 04, 2008 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars
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.
Ava Strange
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...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 :)
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...more
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
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.
Tom Schulte
I was talking to a colleague;both of us are history buffs. we got on the subject of the classic age of pirates. as we parrotted the old saws I have heard of democratic pirates and a general, romantic view of them as almost folk heroes I decided it was time to read this book that had been on my shelf so long. I find so often scholarship dismantles popular notions, and that is the case here. also fact is often stranger and thus more interesting than fiction. that holds here. the violence and quasi...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
I found it rather fascinating as a summary of pirating in the 17th and 18th centuries. The book was well researched and did a good job of distancing the reader of the notion of pirating as we commonly know it today presented in movies and literature. The best parts of the book lie in his detailed accounts of Henry Morgan and Captain Kidd. In rehashing these most notable pirates you begin to understand what actually being a pirate was like in the 1600s and 1700s. I definitely left the book with a...more
Under the Black Flag is a lighthearted, slightly irreverent history of pirates and piracy. While discussing piracy across the world, it tends to focus on the Caribbean and Atlantic basin pirates more than anywhere else. As such, much of the history involved discusses people like Anne Bonney, Blackbeard, and Captain Morgan. How the majority of pirates were English and how they operated in and around the Caribbean attacking mostly Spanish shipping. While the comparisons to and explanations of even...more
John Mowery
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
An authoritative account of pirates focusing the classic period from around 1650 to 1725. David Cordingly wrote it, in part, based on an exhibit he curated for a maritime museum in England called "Pirates: Fact and Fiction." Although it does not read like an exhibit book, more a genuine work of historical nonfiction, it still has some of that feel--with chapters on subjects like women pirates, pirate ships, pirate treasure, pirate islands, etc.--in each case with some sorting out of reality from...more
As David Cordingley quite emphatically illustrates in this entertaining romp through the 'Golden Age' of Anglo-American piracy, there was very little romance to the life of a pirate. The classic image of the pirate captain, all aristocratic airs, flowing Carolingian locks and frock coat, ruling dictatorially over his crew of his jolly tars, owes very much more to Peter Pan and Treasure Island than it does to reality. Whilst there was a 'pirate code', most pirate ships were in fact proto-democrac...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.
Fantastic!!!! A person could know everything about pirates, if they listened to David. This book has some of the lesser known freebooters such as Jon Gow, Benjamin Horngold, and Philip Lyne. It also has pirates you'll know like Blackbeard, Mary Read, and Anne Bonny. There's even a whole chapter on William Kidd. Read this book, and ye shall never sail the high seas again!!!!
Evan Leach
This is an entertaining, breezy read on the history of piracy. The book's focus covers the entire globe, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean to the Far East. It's not particularly deep or engrossing, but if you're looking for a good introduction to the subject this book will do the job. 3.5 stars, recommended.

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.
Robert Magness
A bit dry at times with the load of facts, but interesting nonetheless when it comes the accuracy and detail of the age of piracy. Now...back to the fiction where it's a bit more romantic at times.
firstly, I read this book through Audible which made it much easier to get through, personally. That being said the style of it reminds me of everything I loved about history classes.
secondly, to any who have not read this book yet: this is not a book about day to day history. this book is about the fantasy versus the reality of pirate life.
third: I /loved/ this book. I recommend it to everyone who has an interest in how the pirates actually operated in their times.

The author does a gr...more
Under the Black Flag is a solid overview of the history of pirates. Author David Cordingly discusses the average life of a pirate by giving short summaries of the more famous pirate captains (Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, etc.) as well as accounts given by lesser known pirates, and survivors of pirate attacks. The book goes on to point out how pirates have gained an element of romance through popular literature, plays and movies that they never had during their reign of terror on the high seas.

Adam Ross
This was an absolutely captivating book. Cordingly is a leading historian on the pirate phenomenon and in this book he examines both the myth and the facts concerning pirates. He is happy to puncture some legends - pirates rarely if ever made people walk the plank, for instance - and confirms popular conceptions on the other (the familiar picture of the pirate with a bandanna, pistols on his belt, and a parrot on his shoulder is common enough to be based in reality). He looks at everything from...more
Thanks to Treasure Island and Peter Pan when someone mentions "pirate" a certain swashbuckling image is conjured up, perhaps Errol Flynn rescuing some handsome maiden. Unfortunately most of that mythology has little basis in fact. Walking the plank, for example has no historical basis according to David Cordingly in Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates. Pirates rarely had the time; anyone who resisted was hacked to pieces and thrown overboard. Extreme violence...more
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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
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