Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The World of Pirates

The World of Pirates

Philip Steele
For ages 8 to 12
Kingfisher, 2004   ISBN: 978-0753457863

Piracy has been a part of human history practically from the beginning. It has also played an enormous role in shaping our world in the most unexpected ways. In addition, some of the world’s greatest historical personalities were touched by piracy and privateering in some way; Julius Caesar was held prisoner by some Mediterranean pirates; Queen Elizabeth I of England had privateers and pirates in her employ (as did many leaders of all kinds), and the man who created the first real crown-sponsored English colony in the New World, Sir Walter Raleigh, was little more than pirate in his attitude to ships flying under foreign flags.

We begin at the beginning, looking at where piracy first appeared, in the Mediterranean. Then there were those most ruthless of pirates, the Vikings or “Northmen.” The word Viking actually means “sea raiding” and it is hard to imagine what Europe would look like today if the Vikings had not attacked England, France, Spain and many other countries besides.

Then there were the buccaneers and the “Brethren of the Coast’ who populated many of the islands in the Caribbean. There was a bitter battle in these parts between these pirate types and the powers-that-be, the latter resenting all the losses they received at the hands of these outcast, brutal, and lawless men who sought to create a new way of life for themselves. The coast of Africa also bred many corsairs who terrorized Christians especially. And, in the Far East, the Chinese had miniature pirate kingdoms with enormous fleets of ships.

Indeed it would seem that almost every part of the world had its pirates and privateers, many of whom were working hand in hand with kings, rulers, chiefs and other authority figures. Piracy was not just a way of life after all, it was also a business and the author of this wonderfully written and produced book makes this point very clear. Profit was always the bottom line.

Filled with full color illustrations and maps this is a captivating book which looks at every aspect of piracy. The author has chosen to include information about the ‘anatomy’ of a typical pirate ship, and the types of ships that were built over time. Thus we can really understand what sort of a life pirates lived, for after all, their homes and battlegrounds were for the most part on the ships that they sailed and stole.

In addition to the main pieces of text the author has added boxes filled will all sorts of pirate trivia and details about famous pirates such as “Blackbeard,” Henry Morgan, Jean Lafitte, and Madame Cheng, among others.

Finally the author includes a “Rogue’s Gallery” of famous pirates and privateers, a glossary, and an index.