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

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  5,690 Ratings  ·  437 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 often b ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 13th 2003 by Mariner Books (first published 1995)
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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.
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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 22, 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.
Vaishali Joglekar
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
Jan 04, 2008 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.
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
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
Sep 05, 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.
Nov 09, 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
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
Ana Díaz
Jun 10, 2016 Ana Díaz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
La verdad es que nos gusta creer en el universo de los piratas que, a lo largo de los años, se ha representado en las novelas, las obras de teatro y las películas de aventuras. Nos agradan los mitos, los mapas del tesoro, las riqueza enterradas, el caminar por la plancha, los decididos capitanes piratas con el machete y los pendientes y los marinos con pata de palo y loro. Preferimos olvidar las torturas brutales, las ejecuciones en la horca y la situación desesperada de quienes naufragaron en
Apr 15, 2016 Lindsey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, history
I really wanted to like this book. The author is clearly highly knowledgeable in the subject of pirates, at least those in the early 18th century Caribbean. His sources are well documented and explained with a critical eye that is wary of the power of propaganda.

Unfortunately, the first 2/3 of the book are so jumpy that it's hard to piece together a coherent picture of what was happening over time. While each chapter is topical, the text is approached more like the author is conversing in person
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
May 04, 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.
Dec 08, 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
Feb 19, 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
Oct 14, 2013 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
Sep 11, 2016 Chelsea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.

Under the Black Flag came to my attention because the boyfriend and I decided we wanted to go the Renaissance Faire in Annapolis this year, specifically for Pirate Weekend. Clearly, I needed to bone up on my pirate knowledge for this big event, so I started Googling for pirate books. Under the Black Flag had pretty good ratings and the library had it, so off I went!

In this book, Cordingly deals with pirate history as well as how popular
Larry Brunt
Two stars might be a bit harsh. This book is certainly informative. David Cordingly is a curator at the National Maritime Museum in England, so he knows his material and has access to the best primary documents. His knowledge is encyclopedic. My disappointment with the book is that it reads a bit like an encyclopedia, though, given the depth of his knowledge, perhaps a thin one. I found that it touched on many subjects that I jotted down in case I wanted to explore them more thoroughly--a testam ...more
Dan Norton
Short version: While at times exceedingly dry (looking at you chapter 9,) this book does a good job of providing a broad history of piracy. Read this book if are looking to either research pirate lifestyle or if you are looking for a broad background information about the subject.

Long version: The author wrote this book to explain pirates lifestyle to the uninitiated and contrast that lifestyle with the romantic image of pirates many Westerners hold today. To illustrate his points, the author pr
Sep 03, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 02, 2015 Jack Harding rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 28, 2014 Clark Hays rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

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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...

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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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