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The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  662 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss--it's time to go a-pirating! The Invisible Hook takes readers inside the wily world of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century pirates. With swashbuckling irreverence and devilish wit, Peter Leeson uncovers the hidden economics behind pirates' notorious, entertaining, and sometimes downright shocking behavior. Why did pirates fly fl ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published 2009)
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3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  662 ratings  ·  93 reviews

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Mary Catelli
May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
A discussion of pirate practices and why they were sound rational decisions by economical rules.

Covers such things as the reasons for their strict pirate code, and why they elected their captains and quartermasters and divided power between them. The logic of the Jolly Roger, which had the effect of saving the lives of both pirates and merchant sailors. The dilemma of torture -- on one hand, the passive resistance of hiding booty could make seizing the ship unprofitable, on the other, a reputati
This book is far more interesting in its discussion of pirate history and culture than in its discussion of economics. The economics discussion is extremely rudimentary, and anyone with even a passing interest in the subject will not find it helpful. In addition, the author displays some biases in his own schools of economic theory.

Finally, the reliance on the rational actor was a bit extreme, and ignored important modern research about the way large groups of people act irrationally. Dr. Leeson
Michael Meeuwis
Jun 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Floating somewhere between three and five stars. I found this book delightful, but problematic--but also intriguingly problematic. Your tolerance for it may depend on how much tolerance you have for its tendency towards the economist-libertarian and for the cutesy. So, a "Management Seminar" offered by Blackbeard the pirate may not be your cup of tea--I was fine with it, if only in the sense that it made me happy not to have gone to business school. Leeson helped me to specify something present ...more
Feb 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
6 stars

Econ: Using the rational choice model to analyze pirate behavior is just too cool for words. He goes over a whole bunch of intro economic concepts but hey with pirates as the backdrop its just way more appealing. Also as Leeson says, much of pirate behavior is pretty inexplicable or apparently insane unless one applies the economic way of thinking. In the light of (Austrian) economics however, pirate social organization just seems to be the logical outcome of a particular set of unusual h
Mar 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
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May 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
The Invisible Hook offers a unique take on pirates, applying basic economic arguments to explain their behavior. Leeson has a funny and enjoyable writing style. People who appreciated books like Freakonomics and people interested in applying economic analysis to nonstandard settings may want to read it.

Unfortunately, the book is somewhat bloated. It originated in a few papers by Leeson, and there is not enough material here to extend into a whole book, and I sometimes felt like he was trying to
Trey Malone
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There are two ways you could happen upon this book. You could either (1) be interested in economics and want to know how it applies to pirates, or (2) be interested in pirates and want to know how economics can make sense of pirate behavior. I came into this book from option (1), and I think my experience suffered from it. Don't get me wrong - this was an EXTREMELY entertaining book, and I learned more than I ever thought I would about pirate customs and institutions. That being said, I think th ...more
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Peter T. Leeson spoke at my college when I was a freshman (six years ago now) and I went for an extra credit in my gen ed econ class. His talk was so memorable that even six years later, when I needed to research piracy and wanted a unique angle, I remembered him and purchased his book. It didn't disappoint!

THE INVISIBLE HOOK provides a very interesting look into the life of pirates, examining the role of economics in everything from self-governance to torture. While maintaining a conversationa
Benjamin Pacini
Aug 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. It was a rollicking good time.

To be fair, though, I'm also an econ nerd, so I think that freakonomics is a little too light on the regressions and heavy on the clickbait. In other words, this was a really fun book to read, but I'm the target audience, and your mileage may vary.

But if you want an interesting inspection of economics through the lens of pirates, this is a good one. Short read, too.
Before I watched Black Sails, pirates never held much appeal for me. Black Sails changed my whole idea of what historical, or historicist fantasy, fiction could achieve. It creates exactly the kind of intricate and compelling web of cultural, political, economic, personal, and ecological forces that I sort of had at the tip of my tongue but wasn't quite confident could be such a perfect fit for dramatic and adventurous drama. And the key to that whole web was piracy. The Invisible Hook dives int ...more
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a pretty dense book that covers only "golden age" piracy. I'm listening to it as an audiobook off and on, which is not ideal reading conditions, and yet I find that it is a wonderful thought-provoker on many levels and has sparked many interesting conjectures on long drives. The prose is often slyly hilarious, and I'm definitely glad I'm dipping into it. Not committing to finish it, but honestly, it doesn't feel like something I need to be linear about.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is wonderful in every way. Peter is an excellent author because he makes a concept like spontaneous order to digestible using a real-world example. Granted, as a reviewer, I am not extremely fixated on spelling and grammar. I was told there is at least one glaring error I totally missed. However, I don't care. This book is excellent.

Peter takes you through the realities of the world of pirates. The economic choices they made and the reasoning behind it from a practical standpoint. Eve
Moira Kloster
Jun 21, 2010 rated it liked it
It's a very readable introduction to economics and "rational choice theory". Who'd have thought Blackbeard was simply doing the best cost-benefit analysis on how to pay his motley crew? As an account of pirate practices, it's interesting and objective. However, Leeson seems to want this to show that if even pirates make rational choices, then rational choice theory is all we need to understand people. That's not so obvious, though he does try to account for why the recent Somali-based pirates ar ...more
Dec 03, 2009 rated it liked it
This book examines the behavior of 18th-century pirates through an economic lens, demonstrating how many of their seemingly bizarre behaviors were actually quite logical given the unusual conditions they worked under. It also illustrates how pirates pioneered concepts like democracy and racial integration, not for noble reasons, but because they made economic sense.

It's a fascinating read, although it occasionally feels a bit padded. Each chapter ends with a summary, and then much of this materi
Daniel Jonsson
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well-written and interesting. It is heavily based on Austrian economics, and uses that as a basis for analyzing how the pirates behaved. However, me being already familiar with Austrian economics, it felt like the book was a bit too elementary and dragged on for a bit too long. I found the historical facts about the pirates very interesting though, and I think it would have been better if the author had toned down the economic discussions and reasonings.
May 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
Not a very good book. Basically, pirates practiced economic thought. This isn't a new revelation. Nor, as the author tries to say, is this a different form of economics. Adam Smith didn't make up Economics. He, in a sense, helped discover it. Economics always existed. Thus, it is obvious that pirates practiced economic thought. If you know basic economics and anything about pirates, than you could make these connections on your own.
Abby Goldsmith
Supercilious. This author simplifies and underscores every point until you wonder if his intended audience consists of mentally handicapped first graders. Sound economic theory and history, packaged in an irritatingly condescending manner. I would recommend this for middle school kids, but I suspect most kids get sick of being talked down to.
Max Mindock
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Solid pop culture read. Enjoyed the pirate stuff more than economics. Def intended for general audience.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A real pleasure to read this book. It teaches you that pirates was just a name and were ahead of time in their economics
Nicholas Conrad
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Overall the book does manage to be both entertaining and educational. Perhaps embarrassingly for a profession economist, the weakest parts of the book are when Peter 'steps back' from pirates and tries to explain the economic principals he's applying to pirates in a modern context. This is both far less interesting, and done somewhat ham-fistedly.

There is also a tenancy with academic authors to structure their chapters as essays, with a 'tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; tell
a hooded figure from your friendly neighbourhood dog park
The book had me until it launched into an abrupt and uncalled-for argument against Burg's ideas and then dug itself in even deeper with the entire section on women pirates, never even trying to tackle, say, the treatment of disability aboard (which would have been actually super interesting through the economical lens!). Too bad, bc otherwise this would have been a good transitional book from popular fiction to a more informed perspective of golden age pirates.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it
It was a fun read. At times, it was repetitive and could have used a good editor. Not many new economic insights and other reviews are correct that the author seems to have to work a little too hard to make Pirates seem fully rational. But it is a set of readings from which I can choose assignments that may be a little more intriguing than some standard economic papers..
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Who would have thought there would be a book about pirates like this!

Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Vote for Blackbeard
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Alright. Very shallow though and kind of a free market fundamentals masked with some pirate stories.
James Glackin
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The most enjoyable book on economics I have ever read!
Munthir Mahir
Aug 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Built on a cultural backdrop of an era that vividly juxtaposed the early beginnings of radical changes in the concepts and practice of government and freedoms (civil, political and economic). As the book mentions the piratical societies were the pioneers, by decades, of the practice of our current forms of freedoms, governance and government. The author proposes a theory that explains how these changes and practices came about through a single unifying logic of self interest whether in the form ...more
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
From the generally good reviews this book received I began it expecting some nuance in Leeson’s approach to analyzing the phenomenon of late 17th century and early 18th century pirates, yet I was quite disappointed by what I found. Leeson warns us in the preface that he is no historian, so one should perhaps not harp on the unsophisticated approach to writing something that at times approaches an economic history, but I was genuinely surprised at the mechanical approach by which Leeson invoked b ...more
Jul 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
This is an interesting, quick, and not particularly well-written book. It could easily have been 5 stars, but the author plays into a lot of popular journalism tropes, trying to be overly-cutesy in a way that just makes me groan.

A good example of how this actually can be somewhat distracting is when he introduces the rational choice model. Leeson feels the need to bring up the assumptions that underlie the rational choice model. Unfortunately, the fact that he's trying to write for a general aud
Jun 04, 2015 rated it liked it
This book grew out of an academic paper, and its origins are very apparent in the "finished" product. The info and conclusions in it are very interesting, and it definitely gives a much richer view of the pirate life, but it suffered a few annoying flaws.

The most notable flaw is the overuse of fractured quotation, which clunkifies the narrative immensely. Every time I encountered quotations, I felt "quite irritated at how this broke up ideas" and "even though it may have been necessary in acade
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