The best books about the lives of pirates

The Books I Picked & Why

Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740

By Mark G. Hanna

Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740

Why this book?

This book is pretty recent, having been published in 2015. In my opinion, it is the best book ever written about Atlantic piracy. Hanna dissects pirates to examine who they were and why they became pirates. What is unique about this work, is that he argues that pirates were just as significant on land as they were at sea. Without pirates, there would be no rise of a British Empire in the American colonies. This book was released during the last year of my doctoral research and I probably would not have been as successful in its completion without Pirate Nests!


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Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

By Marcus Rediker

Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

Why this book?

Piracy has always been a threat in history and it was no exception that they were on the rise in the early 1700s. Yet there is something about the early eighteenth century that seemed to produce large, organized bands of pirates that the world had never seen. Rediker meticulously researches who were pirates and why they became so and how they came to be seen as early modern terrorists who must be stopped at all costs. Rediker argues that the British government poured every ounce of their resources to launch the “war on pirates” by using a dialectic of terror to bring them down. This is the book that launched my own interest in piracy.


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

By David Cordingly

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

Why this book?

This is an excellent book to read if you are interested in understanding how and why pirates became such infamous figures. I like Cordingly’s book because it is well-researched and extremely accessible for academic and general readers. Unlike many other pirate history book, he discusses how pirates became pop culture icons and the trends that led them to that status.


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Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail

By Daniel Vickers, Vince Walsh

Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail

Why this book?

While this book isn’t about piracy, it’s no less important to the field. Vickers explores the lives of sailors in the first two centuries of American history. He uses a plethora of primary sources to examine the lives of sailors and the factors that drove men to dangerous lives at sea. Not only that, Vickers takes great care to examine the early American maritime communities in New England and the mid-Atlantic to show just how important sailors were to the economy, their communities, and their families.


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Pirates!

By Celia Rees

Pirates!

Why this book?

This is a historical novel about a young English woman who, after the death of her father, travels to Jamaica to live on her family’s sugar plantation. While she is there, she realizes that her older brother plans to sell her off in marriage to a cruel fellow plantation owner and merchant. Together with her young, enslaved companion, who was attacked by the plantation overseer, the two young women run away and join a group of pirates. They sign the Articles and have piratical adventures around the world. I recommend this book because it is brilliantly researched and shows the circumstances under why some people might join piracy. The history is quite glorified, being a novel, but it is a fun way to look at piracy – especially female piracy.


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