Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David CordinglyUnder the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly

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

byDavid Cordingly

Paperback | May 9, 2006

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“This is the most authoritative and highly literate account of these pernicious people that I have ever read.”—Patrick O'Brian

“[A] wonderfully entertaining history of pirates and piracy . . . a rip-roaring read . . . fascinating and unexpected.”—Men's Journal

This rollicking account of the golden age of piracy is packed with vivid history and high seas adventure. David Cordingly, an acclaimed expert on pirates, reveals the spellbinding truth behind the legends of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Sir Francis Drake, the fierce female brigands Mary Read and Anne Bonny, and others who rode and robbed upon the world's most dangerous waters. Here, in thrilling detail, are the weapons they used, the ships they sailed, and the ways they fought—and were defeated. Under the Black Flag also charts the paths of fictional pirates such as Captain Hook and Long John Silver. The definitive resource on the subject, this book is as captivating as it is supremely entertaining. 

Praise for Under the Black Flag

“[A] lively history . . . If you've ever been seduced by the myth of the cutlass-wielding pirate, consider David Cordingly's Under the Black Flag.”USA Today, “Best Bets”

“Engagingly told . . . a tale of the power of imaginative literature to re-create the past.”Los Angeles Times

“Entirely engaging and informative . . . a witty and spirited book.”The Washington Post Book World

“Plenty of thrills and adventure to satisfy any reader.”The Philadelphia Inquirer
David Cordingly was for 12 years on the staff of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, where he was curator of paintings and then head of exhibitions. He is a graduate of Oxford and the renowned author of the definitive book on pirates, Under the Black Flag, as well as Seafaring Women and Cochrane: The Real Master and Com...
Title:Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the PiratesFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 0.7 inPublished:May 9, 2006Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:081297722X

ISBN - 13:9780812977226


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book A great look into pirates. It was very enjoyable.
Date published: 2017-12-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A good gift this pirate-mad summer A fascinating look at pirates and piracy, by a museum exhibit designer and scholar who knows them intimately. Clears up pirate controversies with relatively deft prose, and razor-sharp scholarship.
Date published: 2006-07-16

Read from the Book

1   Wooden Legs and Parrots   Robert Louis Stevenson was thirty years old when he began writing Treasure Island. It was his first success as a novelist, and although Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Master of Ballantrae are considered finer works by many critics, it is the book with which his name is indelibly associated. The first fifteen chapters were written at Braemar among the Scottish mountains in August and September 1881. The late summer weather was atrocious, and Stevenson and his family huddled around the fire in Miss Mcgregor’s cottage while the wind howled down the Dee valley and the rain beat on the windows. There were five of them staying there: Stevenson’s parents, his American wife, Fanny, and her twelve-year-old son, Lloyd Osbourne, who was Stevenson’s stepson. To pass the time, Lloyd painted pictures with a shilling box of watercolors. One afternoon Stevenson joined him and drew a map of an island. He was soon adding names to the various hills and inlets. Lloyd later wrote, “I shall never forget the thrill of Skeleton Island, Spyglass Hill, nor the heart-stirring climax of the three red crosses! And the greater climax still when he wrote down the words ‘Treasure Island’ at the top right-hand corner! And he seemed to know so much about it too—the pirates, the buried treasure, the man who had been marooned on the island.” In an essay which he wrote in the last year of his life, Stevenson revealed how the future character of the book began to appear to him as he studied the map. It was to be all about buccaneers, and a mutiny, and a fine old Squire called Trelawney, and a sea cook with one leg, and a sea song with the chorus “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”   Within three days he had written three chapters, and as he wrote each chapter he read it out to the family, who, apart from Fanny, were delighted with the results and added their own suggestions. Lloyd insisted that there should be no women in the story. Stevenson’s father devised the contents of Billy Bones’ sea chest, and suggested the scene where Jim Hawkins hides in the apple barrel. During the course of the next two weeks Stevenson had a visit from Dr. Alexander Japp, who was equally enthusiastic and took the early chapters along to the editor of Young Folks magazine. He agreed to publish the story in weekly installments, but after fifteen chapters Stevenson abruptly ran out of inspiration and could write no more. The holiday in Scotland came to an end, and he moved south to Weybridge, where he corrected the proofs of the early chapters and despaired at what still remained to be done. Stevenson was the victim all his life of a chronic bronchial condition which racked him with coughing fits and hemorrhages. These frequently threatened his life and led to constant travels in search of a healing climate. He had not been well in Scotland, and it was therefore planned that he should pass the winter with Fanny and Lloyd at Davos in Switzerland. They traveled there in October, and the change of scene worked wonders. “Arrived at my destination, down I sat one morning to the unfinished tale; and behold! it flowed from me like small talk; and in a second tide of delighted industry, and again at a rate of a chapter a day, I finished Treasure Island.”   When it was first published in weekly installments in Young Folks magazine (from October 1881 to January 1882), it failed to attract any attention, or indeed to sell any additional copies, but when published separately as a book in 1883, it soon proved popular. The Prime Minister, Gladstone, was reported to have stayed up till two in the morning in order to finish it, and it was widely praised by literary critics and by other writers. Henry James thought it a delightful story, “all as perfect as a well-played boy’s game,” and Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “I think Robert Lewis Stevenson shows more genius in a page than Scott in a volume.” G. K. Chesterton particularly admired Stevenson’s evocative style: “The very words carry the sound and the significance. It is as if they were cut out with cutlasses; as was that unforgettable chip or wedge that was hacked by the blade of Billy Bones out of the wooden sign of the ‘Admiral Benbow.’ ”   Treasure Island was intended as a book for boys, and has an immediate appeal as an exciting adventure story; but like Robinson Crusoe and Alice in Wonderland, it has been enjoyed by adults as much as by children. The subtle observation of character, the vivid imagery of the language, and the disturbing undercurrents running beneath the surface of the story have fascinated readers and provoked endless study of the text. The story was adapted for the stage, and every year in London and elsewhere well-known actors and less well known parrots are auditioned for productions. There have been at least five films based on the story. In 1920 a silent version featured a woman (Shirley Mason) playing the part of Jim Hawkins. The 1934 version had Jackie Cooper cast as Jim and Wallace Beery as Long John Silver. In 1950 the Walt Disney corporation sponsored a lavish production with Bobby Driscoll as Jim and Robert Newton giving a definitive performance as Long John Silver. Orson Welles played the same part in the 1971 version, and in 1990 Charlton Heston played Silver and his son played a somewhat older than usual Jim Hawkins.   Thanks to Stevenson’s illuminating letters and essays, we know a great deal about the various sources which inspired him during the writing of the book, as well as the models for some of the principal characters. The catalyst was the treasure map, but he also drew on his memories of the works of Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allan Poe, and Washington Irving. He took the Dead Man’s Chest from At Last by Charles Kingsley, and admitted his debt to “the great Captain Johnson’s History of the Notorious Pirates.” Interestingly, he was scathing about Captain Marryat’s The Pirate, which he thought was an arid and feeble production.   The dominating personality in Treasure Island is, of course, Long John Silver. He is better known than any of the real pirates of history and, together with Captain Hook, has come to represent many people’s image of a pirate. He is tall and powerful and has a wily character which alternates between jovial good humor and utter ruthlessness in the pursuit of gold. His left leg was cut off after he had been hit by a broadside when serving as quartermaster of Captain Flint’s ship off Malabar. He does not have a wooden leg but carries a crutch, “which he managed with great dexterity, hopping around on it like a bird.” In Captain Johnson’s General History of the Pirates there is a memorable description of “a fellow with a terrible pair of whiskers, and a wooden leg, being stuck around with pistols, like the man in the Almanack with darts, comes swearing and vapouring upon the quarter-deck.” It is possible that Stevenson had this figure in the back of his mind when he came up with Long John Silver, but he always said that his sea cook was based on his friend W. E. Henley, a writer and poet who made a considerable impression on everyone who met him. Lloyd Osbourne described him as “a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled out like music. Never was there such another as William Ernest Henley; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one’s feet.”   Henley was the son of a Gloucester bookseller and contracted tubercular arthritis as a boy, which crippled him and led to his having one foot amputated. He traveled to Edinburgh to see the eminent Professor Lister about his condition, and while in the Scottish capital he was introduced to Stevenson. Henley had little talent as a writer, but he became a forceful and independent editor of several magazines and anthologies. In a letter to Henley from Switzerland shortly after completing Treasure Island, Stevenson wrote, “I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot John Silver in Treasure Island. Of course he is not in any other quality or feature the least like you; but the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”9 Stevenson later expanded on this and explained that his aim had been to take an admired friend and to deprive him of his finer qualities, leaving him with nothing but his strength and his geniality, and to try and express these traits in the person of a rough seaman.  

Editorial Reviews

“This is the most authoritative and highly literate account of these pernicious people that I have ever read.”—Patrick O'Brian“[A] wonderfully entertaining history of pirates and piracy . . . a rip-roaring read . . . fascinating and unexpected.”—Men's Journal“[A] lively history . . . If you've ever been seduced by the myth of the cutlass-wielding pirate, consider David Cordingly's Under the Black Flag.”—USA Today, “Best Bets”“Engagingly told . . . a tale of the power of imaginative literature to re-create the past.”—Los Angeles Times“Entirely engaging and informative . . . a witty and spirited book.”—The Washington Post Book World“Plenty of thrills and adventure to satisfy any reader.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer