Sparrow's Reviews > Piracy: The Complete History

Piracy by Angus Konstam
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May 28, 11

bookshelves: reviewed, shiving-tour, non-fiction
Recommended for: people who want their dreams destroyed
Read from December 07 to 30, 2010

I’m just going to say what we’re all thinking: what the hell is wrong with this book? I don’t know about you, but I want my pirates to be more like this:

Sloth from Goonies in his pirate garb

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This book argues that pirates are actually like this:

Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner With Andre (most boring movie ever)

I read this book for a class on pirates that I took in Zanzibar. “Crimes of the high seas” is how the class was billed. It was like one of those freaking Jerry Bruckheimer movies where there’s more action in the preview than in the feature. I don’t know how I could have had higher expectations or how they could have been more brutally crushed. Maybe if we hadn’t spent two days watching The Amistad it would have been worse. I’ll let you in on the secret: pirates are outrageously boring. Tax assessors of the sea. Worse. I apologize to tax assessors. Pirates are more boring, according to this book, than doing taxes - just sitting there, slowly counting their gold coins and measuring the dimensions of their boats. Kill me now.

I mean, pictures! Pirates need pictures. And if you’re going to tell me the dimensions of every freaking pirate boat that ever existed, give me a diagram to tell me what it looks like, don't just use your words. UGH. And if the only other thing you want to tell me about is the exact inventory of all of their booty, at least lay it out like the Ikea catalog. With pictures!

This book is maybe out of print. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just an on-demand book, or something. They (I don’t know who “they” is, but I think it’s the universe) ran out of copies while we were buying them for class, so not everyone had the book. I don’t necessarily think that made any difference in terms of what they learned, though. This book should be out of print. Sorry, Angus Konstam. I believe that you know everything there is to know about pirates, but it turns out that pirates are more like really bland sausages than I’d expected. You should have hired Richard Donner to present the information to me.

I’m also kind of not sorry, though. One of the main points of this book is that pirates are not fun, like in pirate movies, but that they are actually boring instead. It is beyond me why you would write a book with that thesis. It’s like writing a kid book about how Santa Clause is actually Newt Gingrich. IF THAT’S TRUE, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW.

The other really crap thing about this book is that I was so excited about it before we went to Zanzibar that I put some really personal, irreplaceable, memory-type items in it as bookmarks. I think I thought something like, well, I’ll obviously want to read this whole book all the time on the trip, and every time I’m reading it, I’ll also look at this comforting memento. That did not happen. Then, after I took the final for the class, I was so brain dead and excited to never look at the book again that I put it on the pile of giveaway books as soon as I walked out of the class. I didn’t remember that the mementos had been in the book until I was in an entirely different city trying to find the mementos. I’m really, really bitter at this, and I’m blaming it on how boring this book was.

Sorry, Johnny Depp, you’re still hot, even as a pirate, but I’ve defected to Team Ninja.
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Kay (new)

Kay Good idea. Memorize all that stuff just in case it will come in handy.


Sparrow It's my reading assignment! And Half the Sky is my reading assignment for the human trafficking class! (Proving that the program is run by geniuses)


message 3: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! The ninjas welcome you! Hai-yah!


Sparrow Hai! yah!


message 5: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Your review is dead on! My favorite chapter was the one when he was talking about the evolution of pirates in literature and in the movies. The shortest chapter I think, but still. Too bad about your mementos! Blame the book, the class, the professor - there is plenty to go around.


Sparrow I'm glad you agree!! I do blame them. I know, that chapter was better than the others, but STILL! His point was still how lame pirates are! Ugh!

I will always know the three mile rule - and the rule as it relates to bays, even! But, that was more Nathan explaining it to me than the class or this book.


message 7: by Kristina (new)

Kristina I remember that rule - when Nathan was explaining it to us during the reading day, it made perfect sense. As opposed to everything that Judge Brown said, which never made any sense at all. (Though my favorite - if I can call it that - part of the class was the very end with modern day piracy off of Somalia.)

I prefer to keep my romanticized and rosy-hued perceptions of pirates, a la Jack Sparrow because life just seems so much better that way. I grant that Konstam wrote probably THE most comprehesive book on pirates ever and that the conclusion is that they were boring, but please, let us keep our fantasies alive!


Sparrow Gah! I responded to this, but the internet must have eaten it.

Was Somalia day the one with the ICTR guys? That day was pretty good, but I mostly remember Ashley and the ICTR guy having that tractor beam between them. I kind of wish we had spent most of the time on modern-day pirates.

Agreed about the fantasies! We wants them!

But, also, was there any swashbuckling in this book? I don't really feel like you can hav the most comprehensive book on pirates without swashbuckling. I prefer Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter's Companion


message 9: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Ah yes, Ashley and Joe. I can see how that would be distracting. The first day we did Somalia was the ICTR boys day. And then we did Somalia the day afterwards, but I think it was New Year's so nobody was really paying attention.

Haha, that Pirateology book looks awesome! Swashbuckling is key, but I also like Patriot Pirates: The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolutionbecause it talks about the role of privateers in the American Revolution which is pretty darn cool. You know, John Paul Jones saying "I have not yet begun to fight!" and that sort of thing. Pirate heroes. (Though the book is written in an annoying manner - the author is the grandson (I think) of Patton so he goes all condescending on you sometimes.)


Sparrow Yeah, I think by the time we got to Somalia, I had mentally abandoned that class. They were just one more boring, distressing version of sea-faring accountants to me.

Ha! That sounds like an amazing book for you! But, privateers are objectively awesome.


message 11: by Kristina (new)

Kristina One of the very few things I remember from that entire class, and the Somalia days in particular, is that whenever the Russians capture pirates, they always take their food, water and weapons and then release them at sea. Not quite legal, obviously, or attentive to human rights and whatnot, but very expedient and well, Russian.


Sparrow I have no memory of that, but it does seem strikingly Russian. Not too concerned with rule of law, those folks. But, yes. I guess that's one way for the pirates to learn their lesson.

One of the few things I remember is thinking, every day, that class would have been more interesting if he had on his fake parrot and an eye patch. I also remember Ashley drawing all of the ships that he drew on the board. Good note-taking skills. (This is making it sound like I mostly watched Ashley through the whole class, which is true, but, in my defense, she did sit right in front of me.)

Also, do you remember when he made us critique the class?! SO AWKWARD!


message 13: by Kristina (new)

Kristina I remember that class when he talked about all the ships and I took like 7K pages of notes before I realized that I was being an idiot and that I would never EVER have to know that. I totally know what you mean about Ashley sitting right in front of you - after the first 3.5 seconds of the class, what else can you do except stare around the room to keep yourself occupied for the next 59 minutes 56.5 seconds? I used to watch Alex, who sat right in front of me (convenient, I know), and in so doing, came to several interesting conclusions. One of which was that he looks just like my late uncle, which was totally creepy and threw me off so completely that I forgot to take notes. And then of course, it was really practical to sit behind him when he took out Mama Smarsch's trail mix to feed us.

Oh yeah, that oral critiquing was a bad idea. Honesty and tact were competing for for dominance in my answer and I think neither won out and I just sputtered something like "what everyone else said." It will be interesting to see how he teaches next time.


Sparrow Do you think they'll let him teach it again? I know Sydney and Vito recommended against the idea. Maybe if he only taught the cases and not this book? Definitely too much reading.


message 15: by Kristina (new)

Kristina I think he is teaching it again. At least, the website says the course is being taught and I can't imagine it would be taught by anybody else. Even if he teaches just the cases, he better learn how to organize! He didn't go over half the stuff we read and the rest of the class was spent talking about cases we weren't assigned.


message 16: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Wow, your review is worthless and completely unnecessary. The book is about the HISTORY of piracy. Not the lore of piracy. Just because you don't like what they were actually like and want to think about fake pirates when you hear the word doesn't mean the book was bad or off-point.

What you did would be like reading a book about ancient Greece and then getting upset because Zues didn't really come down from Olympus and punish people. Don't want an accurate book? Read The princess bride or something. There's no need to bash on a quality book because you don't like the subject


Sparrow I admire your passionate defense of history being boring. This book still sucked, though.


message 18: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Lol boring is an extremely relative term. Also, the reason you think the book "sucks" is because you wish that pirates were more like they are in the movies. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the book or the history of pirates. If you don't like the book, that's fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. What you shouldn't do, however, is lower the rating of the book just because it wasn't as fake as you'd like it to be. But anywho, I don't care enough to respond to anything beyond this. Have a nice day and, hopefully, write more useful reviews in the future :-)


Sparrow This book is so far on the boring side that I don't think the word "relative" applies. The other thing I think about this is that one of my favorite classes in law school was civil procedure, so I can fully geek out on jurisdiction, and crime is usually at least somewhat interesting. AND I love fishing and boat stories. So, I would think crime and jurisdiction + boats would be interesting. I have to believe that is possible or else what do I have to believe in?


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