The best books about the lives of pirates

Who am I?

I always had an interest in pirates, being a SoCal native who went to Disneyland every year, and history was always my favorite subject in school. I went on to grad school and decided to make piracy my subject. My Master’s was about how the novel Treasure Island changed perceptions of piracy. I then continued my studies and earned my doctorate at King’s College London in 2017 about public executions of pirates and their cultural/legal representations in the British-Atlantic World. Since then, I have been featured on numerous podcasts such as History Hit, History Extra, and You’re Dead To Me, and on documentaries such as BBC’s Britain’s Rogues, History Channels Oak Island, and Netflix’s Lost Pirate Kingdom while publishing both academic and popular articles before my first book.

I wrote...

Why We Love Pirates: The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever

By Rebecca Simon,

Book cover of Why We Love Pirates: The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever

What is my book about?

During his life and after his death, Captain William Kidd’s name was well known in England and the American colonies. He was infamous for the crime for which he was hanged, piracy. This book details the two-year manhunt for Captain Kidd. Captain Kidd was hanged in 1701, followed by a massive British-led hunt for all pirates during a period known as the Golden Age of Piracy. Ironically, public executions only increased the popularity of pirates. And, because the American colonies relied on pirates for smuggled goods such as spices, wines, and silks; pirates tended to be protected from capture.

The more pirates were hunted and executed, the more people became supportive of the “Robin Hoods of the Sea”―both because they saw the British’s treatment of them as an injustice and because they treasured the goods pirates brought to them. These historical events were pivotal in creating the portrayal of pirates as we know them today. They grew into romantic antiheroes―which ultimately led to characters like the mischievous but lovable Captain Jack Sparrow.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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!

By Mark G. Hanna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Analyzing the rise and subsequent fall of international piracy from the perspective of colonial hinterlands, Mark G. Hanna explores the often overt support of sea marauders in maritime communities from the inception of England's burgeoning empire in the 1570s to its administrative consolidation by the 1740s. Although traditionally depicted as swashbuckling adventurers on the high seas, pirates played a crucial role on land. Far from a hindrance to trade, their enterprises contributed to commercial development and to the economic infrastructure of port towns.

English piracy and unregulated privateering flourished in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean because of…

Book cover of Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

Why did I love 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.

By Marcus Rediker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Villains of All Nations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pirates have long been stock figures in popular culture, from Treasure Island to the more recent antics of Jack Sparrow. Villains of all Nations unearths the thrilling historical truth behind such fictional characters and rediscovers their radical democratic challenge to the established powers of the day.

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

Why did I love 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.

By David Cordingly,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Under the Black Flag as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book sets out to discover the truth behind the stereotypical image of the pirate. Examining the rich literary and cultural legacy of piratical icons from Blackbeard to Captain Hook, the author compares the legends with their historical counterparts and comes up with some surprising conclusions. In a wider overview of the piracy myth, he explores its enduring and extraordinary appeal and assesses the reality behind the romance, answering in the process questions such as: why did men become pirates; were there any women pirates; how much money did they make from their plundering and looting; what effect did their…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Daniel Vickers, Vince Walsh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Young Men and the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two centuries of American maritime history, in which the Atlantic Ocean remained the great frontier.

Two centuries of American maritime history, in which the Atlantic Ocean remained the great frontier Westward expansion has been the great narrative of the first two centuries of American history, but as historian Daniel Vickers demonstrates here, the horizon extended in all directions. For those who lived along the Atlantic coast, it was the East-and the Atlantic Ocean-that beckoned. While historical and fictional accounts have tended to stress the exceptional circumstances or psychological compulsions that drove men to sea, this book shows how normal a…


By Celia Rees,

Book cover of Pirates!

Why did I love 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.

By Celia Rees,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Pirates! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the bestselling and award-winning WITCH CHILD, comes another outstanding historical novel.

When two young women meet under extraordinary circumstances in the eighteenth-century West Indies, they are unified in their desire to escape their oppressive lives. The first is a slave, forced to work in a plantation mansion and subjected to terrible cruelty at the hands of the plantation manager. The second is a spirited and rebellious English girl, sent to the West Indies to marry well.

But fate ensures that one night the two young women have to save each other and run away to a…

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