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Book Review: Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates

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Book Review: Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates

Calico Jack Rackham

18th Century Woodcut, Artist Unknown

The Bottom Line

This 1724 book is a classic and a must-have for any serious student of historical pirates. It includes a set of contemporary biographies of some of the most important figures of the “Golden Age of Piracy” (roughly 1700-1725) as well as descriptions of trials, ships, battles and more. Many modern historians believe that Captain Johnson was actually Daniel Dafoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, and often this book is found under his name. Despite being the story of ruthless pirates and pitched sea battles, it’s a bit dry for the modern reader: this book is for serious pirate-ologists only.

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Pros

  • Contains excellent, detailed biographies of notorious pirates such as Blackbeard
  • Considered one of the most important primary sources about Golden Age pirates
  • The copyright has long expired, so parts of the book are available for e-reader download for free

Cons

  • Writing is dry for modern readers: many run-on sentences and confusing words and phrases
  • Not for casual fans of pirates or the Pirates of the Caribbean movies
  • Some modern editions only include the 1724 original and not Johnson's updates

Description

  • Contains biographies of many of the most important and interesting pirates of the time
  • Contains letters, court documents and other important historical primary sources
  • It has gone through many editions over the years: some have illustrations

Guide Review - Book Review: Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates

 

This book is well worth reading, if you have a sincere interest in pirates and don't mind eighteenth-century vocabulary and syntax. It's considered by many to be the "bible" of pirates, and the description is well-warranted: this book has fired the imaginations of young and old alike for centuries now. Johnson (or Dafoe, as many believe) was a good writer for his time, and in spite of the dated writing style, the excitement does come through occasionally.

It's not the sort of book you sit down and read all at once: the chapters are easily divided so that you can skip over less important pirates (ever heard of Captain Nathaniel North? Thought not) and get right to the big boys: Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, Edward Low, etc.

 

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