The Pirate Menace, by Angus Konstam

Good, bloody, myth-busting history packed with colourful personalities.
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Few other outlaw groups in history have left such an enduring legacy as the seafaring pirates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In The Pirate Menace, Angus Konstam explores how, when, why, and where the world’s most infamous (and many lesser known) pirates plied their trade. Along the way, he investigates whether their complicated historical reputations – were they bloodthirsty villains or noble outlaws serving an alternative moral value system? – arose.

Written with flair and narrative drive, The Pirate Menace sweeps across continents, oceans and colonies, revealing the political power dynamics which gave rise to crime in the sea lanes. From Hispaniola to the North American colonies to the coasts of Africa, Konstam is able to reveal how piracy became a part of the emerging global economy, with pirates on some occasions being virtually the collaborators of territorial barons and governments who felt themselves under threat from external enemies. The lives of pirates, too, are revealed – from Henry Jennings and the violent Charles Vane in the Bahamas to the notorious Edward Thatch. Along the way, myths are busted, the arduous manner of life at sea is revealed, and a slew of “Well, I didn’t know that” facts are provided (not least that it was Edward Thatch – not Edward Teach – who became Blackbeard!).

Yet this is not just a history of pirates and their litany of crimes (some real, some mythologised, some exaggerated) but of their opposite number, pirate hunters. Through examining the resistance to piracy and the early media narratives used to whip up opposition to crime at sea, Konstam demonstrates how the dominant powers, exercised through men like Alexander Spotswood, sought to entrench protectionism. Their methods, as the book shows, were no less bloody than the pirates they sought (Vane’s end, chained out at sea so that his corpse might be bleached in the sun alongside his fellow renegades, being particularly gruesome).

The Pirate Menace is very much aimed at general readers with an interest in – and perhaps some knowledge of – the conflicts and power politics of the day. For the uninitiated, the lavish illustrations and maps provided will serve as wonderful guides to period and place, yet the book will appeal also to lovers of historical crime and punishment; indeed, it will appeal to anyone who enjoys good, bloody, myth-busting history packed with colourful personalities, thrilling adventures, and dramatic conflicts.

The Pirate Menace: Uncovering the Golden Age of Piracy is out now and published by Osprey. Steven Veerapen is a historian of the period and the author of The Wisest Fool.