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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

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  4,982 ratings  ·  373 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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Treasure Island by Robert Louis StevensonPeter Pan by J.M. BarrieBloody Jack by L.A. MeyerThe Princess Bride by William GoldmanPirates! by Celia Rees
13th out of 396 books — 575 voters
Secrets of the Realm by Bev StoutTreasure Island by Robert Louis StevensonMoby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleMaster and Commander by Patrick O'BrianTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
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34th out of 432 books — 292 voters

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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
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
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
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.
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 :)
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
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
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.
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
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
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
There are two distinct periods of history that, since I was a little kid, always struck me as the absolute height of human adventure. One of those is the history of WWII in the South Pacific, and the other is the golden age of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. As an adult, I now realize that both of these eras were in reality closer to the height of human misery rather than adventure, but there is something in them that continues to appeal to the kid in me. With WWII in the Pacific, it's th ...more
Jack Harding
Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates is an interesting look at the lives of buccaneers and pirates and the myth. Author David Cordingly delves into how pirates received their mythology by looking at works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Rafael Sabatini,Walter Scott, etc. Cordingly separates the high seas terrorists of the 17th and 18th centuries from their mythological counter parts while pointing out similarities. Cordingly gives a strong explanation behind why ...more
Clark Hays
Enjoyable myth- and romance-buster

Do not read this book if you hope to maintain even a shred of romantic notions connected to pirates. There is no Captain Jack Sparrow in this book, or ever. According to the author, pirates were a bunch of truly horrible people who were drunk most of the time and capable of doing horrible, atrocious things — murder, rape, torture, kidnapping — for the promise of treasure or loot, all of which was gambled and boozed and whored away in a matter of days.

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.
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.
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.
Samuel Marquis
Pirates As They Really Were

A brilliant overview of pirates and their intricate, egalitarian social system. As Cordingly makes clear, these men were not peg-legged, eye-patch-wearing cuttthroats and thieves but rather out of work merchant and Royal Navy seaman looking for a better life and escape from the tyranny of their 1% elite overseers, the merchant tycoons, captains, and investors back in London, Boston, and other major economic strongholds during the Golden Age of Piracy. They were merely
Kirsti (Melbourne on my mind)
3.5 stars. An interesting but not particularly in-depth look at the history of pirates. Focuses equally on fictional representations and history, and each chapter looks at a specific topic - battle, treasure, life on board ship, female pirates etc etc.

On the whole, it was enjoyable but it was first published in the mid-90s and then republished as is following the release of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. As a result, despite chapters dedicated to discussing the representation of pirates o
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Goodreads Librari...: Please add page number 4 13 May 27, 2015 11:38AM  
  • The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd
  • 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
  • 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 History of Pirates
  • If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates"
  • A General History of the Pyrates
  • The Buccaneers of America
  • A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier
  • The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers & Rogues
  • The Pirate Wars
  • Pirates Of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the 17th-Century Mediterranean
  • The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf
  • The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire
  • A History of Pirates: Blood and Thunder on the High Seas
  • The Book of Absinthe: A Cultural History
  • Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World
  • She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea
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...
Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways & Sailors' Wives Billy Ruffian Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean: The Adventurous Life of Captain Woodes Rogers Pirates: Terror on the High Seas, from the Caribbean to the South China Sea

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“Morgan was sent copies and decided to sue both publishers for libel.” 0 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.” 0 likes
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