Books and Buccaneers: Read Like a Pirate
Q: Why is Captain Blood like the Long Island Rail Road?
A: They both change at Jamaica.
If you don’t get that joke, I suspect you haven’t yet had the pleasure of sailing out upon Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood: His Odyssey (with or without its sequels here and here) – or its sparkling 1935 film adaptation.
Talk Like a Pirate Day, a celebration of pirate-inspired silliness observed annually since 2002, is coming up on September 19. (Learn all about it here.) A quick search of our catalog alone yields hundreds of piratical titles from the grim and historical to the funny and fictional. I suspect that there may be more pirates in publications of the last hundred years than ever really flew the black flag or plundered the Spanish Main – and that’s not even mentioning these guys:
The Library’s pirate-adjacent holdings date back to 1693, with a rare book covering the New York colony’s Act for Restraining and Punishing Privateers and Pyrates – no mini-golf for those strict colonial types.
1699 saw the publication of this wonderful title by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin:
The history of the bucaniers of America; from their first original down to this time; written in several languages; and now collected into one volume : containing I. The exploits and adventures of Le Grand, Lolonois, Roche Brasiliano, Bat the Portuguese, Sir Henry Morgan, &c. / written in Dutch by Jo. Esquemeling one of the bucaniers, and thence translated into Spanish ; II. The dangerous voyage and bold attempts of Capt. Barth. Sharp, Watlin, Sawkins, Coxon, and others, in the South Sea / written by Basil Ringrose, Gent. who was a companion therein, and examin'd with the original journal ; III. A journal of a voyage into the South Sea by the freebooters of America from 1684, to 1689. Written in French by the Sieur Raveneau de Lussan: never before in English. IV. A relation of a voyage of the Sieur de Montaubon, capt. of the freebooters in Guinea in the year 1695, &c. The whole newly translated into English, and illustrated with 25 copper plates. London : Printed for Tho. Newborough at the Golden Ball in St. Paul's Church-Yard, John Nicholson at the King's Arms in Little Britain, and Benj. Tooke at the Middle Temple Gate, Fleetstreet, 1699, 1698.
Our buried treasures also include a 1724 edition of Daniel Defoe’s A general history of the robberies and murders of the most notorious pyrates, and also their policies, discipline and government, from their first rise and settlement in the island of Providence, in 1717, to the present year 1724 : with the remarkable actions and adventures of the two female pyrates, Mary Read and Anne Bonney : to which is prefix'd an account of the famous Captain Avery and his companions, with the manner of his death in England ... / by Captain Charles Johnson – and there’s a 1974 reading edition as well.
A quick navigation through the stacks yields booty such as
- David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates (1996)
- Peter T. Leeson, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates (2009)
- Steven Johnson, Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt (2020)
- Colin Woodard, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down (2007)
- Daniel Sekulich, Terror on the Seas: True Tales of Modern-Day Pirates (2009)
- Jay Bahadur, The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World (2011)
- John S. Burnett, Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas (2002)
- Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010)
- Edward Rowe Snow, Pirates and Buccaneers of the Atlantic Coast (1944)
- Marcus Rediker, Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail (2014)
- Stephan Talty, 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 (2007)
- Eric Jay Dolin, Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates (2018)
- Miles Harvey, The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch (2020) (Pirates in Michigan, of all places!)
- George Wycherley, Buccaneers of the Pacific (1928)
- Adrian Tinniswood, Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests, and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean (2010)
- Diana Souhami, Selkirk's Island: The True and Strange Adventures of the Real Robinson Crusoe (2001)
Davy Jones’ Cellar Pirates
- Robert Kurson, Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship (2015)
Possibly Heroic Pirates
- Robert H. Patton, Patriot Pirates: The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolution (2008)
- William C. Davis, The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf (2005)
- Winston Groom, Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans (2006)
Definitely Evil Pirates
- Ernest Obadele-Starks, Freebooters and Smugglers: The Foreign Slave Trade in the United States After 1808 (2012) - a Project Muse e-book
- Giles Milton, White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa's One Million European Slaves (2004)
- David Cordingly, Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives (2007)
- Edward Kritzler, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom - and Revenge (2008)
- I already mentioned Captain Blood; the prolific Rafael Sabatini also penned The Sea Hawk and The Black Swan.
- Here's Robert Louis Stevenson’s beloved Treasure Island in all formats and its recent sequel: Andrew Motion, Silver: Return to Treasure Island (2012)
- Our friends at New York Review Books recommend Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica, with an introduction by Francine Prose
- And it's always a good time to revisit Neverland - and listen for crocodiles - with J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (various editions here - this Captain Hook is by Trina Schart Hyman)
- George MacDonald Fraser, The Pyrates - you know the Flashman creator will bring high jinks to the high seas.
- Arturo Perez-Reverte, Pirates of the Levant
- Michael Hague, The Book of Pirates (2001)
- Richard Walker and Olyn Whelan, The Barefoot Book of Pirates (1998)
For the littler landlubbers
- Kathy Tucker and Nadine Bernard Westcott, Do Pirates Take Baths? (1994)
- Teresa Bateman and Michael Chesworth, Fluffy, Scourge of the Sea (2005)
- Brett Helquist, Roger, the Jolly Pirate (2004)
- Sid Fleischman and John Hendrix, The Giant Rat of Sumatra: or, Pirates Galore (2005)
- Natalie Babbitt, Jack Plank Tells Tales (2007)
- David McPhail, Edward and the Pirates (1997)
- Josh Funk and Michael Slack, Pirasaurs! (2016)
- Peter Sís, Robinson (2017)
- Leslie Kimmelman and Jorge Monlongo, Trick arrr Treat (2015) - if you want to jump straight from Talk Like a Pirate Day to Halloween!
For teenage lads and lasses
- Geraldine McCaughrean, The Pirate's Son (1998)
- Libba Bray, Beauty Queens (2011)
- Mackenzi Lee's uproarious soon-to-be-completed trilogy about the irrepressible 18th-century Montague siblings involves a multitude of pirates, especially in its middle volume, The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy.
There's even piratical poetry!
And, last but not least, I’m sure you wished for the Dread Pirate Roberts, in (Library member) William Goldman's oft-quoted The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.