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

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  8,034 ratings  ·  685 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 & often bloodie ...more
Paperback, 319 pages
Published May 9th 2006 by Random House (NY) (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.…moreYes, it is. I picked it up at Half Price Books in PB form. I'm pretty sure Amazon sells it in PB too.(less)

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Average rating 3.68  · 
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Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: recent
Like a lot of nonfiction, this book tried to cover a lot of material while also attempting to keep the reader engaged. It held my attention most of the time and it did allow me to realize there are pirate books I need to read, Treasure Island being the most notable. ...more
Quinn Strange
Jul 26, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
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
Corrielle
Dec 26, 2007 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
...more
The Colonial
Pirates have played a dynamic part of American lore and fascination since their heyday in the 17th century, and their appeal has been dramatized to this day in a swirl of myth, half-truths, and fantasy in order to create both a terror of the seas and an anti-hero alike. Nautical mastermind and historian David Cordingly brings the reader a history of the Golden Age of Piracy, complete with its erroneous misconceptions, as well as insight on the atrocities that were actually performed by these sea ...more
Lindsay
Jul 04, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Becky
A must read for any initiate to maritime or pirate history. Cordingly is an eminent authority in pirates and buccaneers, but his pedagogue does not prevent him from creating a precise, fun, and understandable book to the beginner. Even those who’ve already enjoyed numerous works would still find some new information, or new sources, in this work.

If you’ve ever wondered whether pirates really had a parrot keening for doubloons on their shoulder, or what the difference between corsairs, privateer
...more
J.M. Hushour
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Arrrrrr."

Pirates weren't just rapacious psychopaths given over to fits of whimsical violence, they were people, too. Cordingly's excellent volume attends to the romanticized view of pirates and tries to sweep away some of the myth so we can peer at the dirty-crotched reality. He does so in a thematic manner, so while he keeps to somewhat of a chronological history there is some jumping-around. The themes range from female pirates to marooning and torture, what exactly pirates did and the usual
...more
Jeff
Dec 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Melissa McShane
Mar 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Silvana
The editor of this book should be keelhauled. This is one of the most disjointed history books I have ever read. There is lack of narrative flow, one topic changed into another suddenly I felt like reading somebody's Wikipedia's search on pirate life copypasted into a book.

Sure, there are lots of fascinating information, but the fascination dies quickly often as well.

I also don't like the author giving a big chunk of the book about FICTIONAL pirates. Who cares? I thought the book - seen from t
...more
Glen
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
A book examining the pirates of the Spanish Main, and how they did not much resemble their fictional counterparts.

The book traces how the image of piracy entered popular culture. Like so much stuff, it was Lord Byron. Then we get Robert Louis Stevenson, and up to the Disney movies. The author makes a point of saying that pirates weren't as good looking as Errol Flynn. I have news for him. The vast majority of movie stars aren't as good looking as Errol Flynn.

The section on real pirates was prett
...more
Donna
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Johan
Aug 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Sean Chick
Feb 09, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Paul Haspel
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: piracy
Under pirate flags, the buccaneers of the late 17th and early 18th century raided many a ship and took many a cargo, and committed more than a few acts of murder and torture along the way. Yet of all criminals, pirates have arguably the most positive public image. How can this be? David Cordingly, who organized many maritime-history exhibits for the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, seeks an answer to that question in his book Under the Black Flag.

As Cordingly explains it, the exis
...more
Vaishali
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Eric_W
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
=====D
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
LPG
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
Ah matey,I wanted to like this SO MUCH, but alas, it just goes over the plain ship biscuit facts that anyone with any interest in Golden Age Piracy (I.e ME, your girl) has ready absorbed over podcasts and other books and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.

I don’t know what I’m looking for in a pirate history book anymore honestly. Something like a spiritual history of Pirates and Buccaneers? Like Maria Negroni’s ‘Dark Museum’ which was a little DELIGHTFUL slice of life on the Gothic, informed but not
...more
Anna
Jan 08, 2009 rated it liked it
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 :)
...more
Amy the book-bat
The book was interesting, but after a while it started to become monotonous. I liked the literary analysis and how literature and history came together on some aspects.
Paige McLoughlin
I saw the author talking about this book on C-span Book TV in 1997 back in the days of cable and picked up the book soon after. It is an entertaining history of the romance of pirates during the Golden age of piracy around 1690 to 1730 in the Caribbean. It has an interesting women's study twist. It seems although the world of sailors mostly excluded women pirates had some notable exceptions. Characters like Anne Bonney and Mary Read carried guns so they weren't Molls along for the ride but real ...more
catechism
Probably closer to 3.5 stars, but whatever. This is a good survey/intro to the Fact vs Fiction of piracy. "Here is a myth about pirates, and here are two places it might have come from but basically it's crap." It's not particularly deep and it has no narrative, but it's well-researched and would make a good starting point for people who, just saying, might be writing fanfiction about pirates. ...more
Nicole
Nov 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Constantly looking through this book for references for my wip
Matt Ficke
May 14, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Bria
Apr 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
I usually love history books but just could not enjoy this one.

The order of the historical topics just didn't flow very well and it was difficult to discern what point the author was trying to make. He focused so much on books written about pirates that this book would have been better if it was labeled as a 'popular culture summary on pirates' or 'trivia on pirates' or a 'critique on the literature and entertainment concerning pirates'

but it is not a history on pirates.

I enjoyed some of the top
...more
Faith Rivens
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
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! ...more
Russell
Feb 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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-
...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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