Monday, July 9, 2007

Ahrrr, me hearties!

Pirates are so darn hip these days (thank you, Johnny Depp), that it seems a shame to dull their excitement with a scholarly look at the history of piracy and the social conditions that led to the expansion of their numbers. So instead of plowing your way through a bunch of tedious footnotes and ibid references, sit down with Stephen Talty's new book - 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. It's kinda cute that he titles his book with the same long, rambling descriptive title (almost a table of contents) that authors in the 17th and 18th centuries seemed to favor. His story begins with a disastrous attempt by the English during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, the 'Great Protector', to conquer Spain's New World colony on Hispanola. Supposedly, this would have choked off the flow of riches out of South America, England would have taken over South America, and who knows where we would all be today. But of course, the best they could do was take Jamaica, which eventually became home to the Queen of Pirate Cities: Port Royal. Unofficially, and sometimes officially, sanctioned piracy on the Spanish trade vessels flourished, and the English pirate bands eventually attracted the adventurous, the desperate and the criminal. Thus, decades of shlocky Hollywood movies were born. How could you not like a story with such a happy ending?

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