Under the Black Flag has been on my radar since way back in 2012. It may have even been on it before, but that’s when I joined Goodreads and am now able to track when I put things on the to read list. While certainly a comprehensive look at the actual history of pirates and not just the lore, the book unfortunately takes a topic which should be highly entertaining (there’s a reason I wanted to read it after all) and makes it a bit dry and slow.
I feel a bit bad rating this a two star book, it’s probably really a 2.5, but not a 3. There are things that Cordingly does well – he spends time analyzing the books, movies, and plays which helped shape our pop culture ideas of piracy – that are informative and easy reading. I have a feeling that some of these portions came directly from the museum exhibition that this book grew from. And I have a feeling the same thing can be said about the ultimate drawback of this book: that at some point in every chapter the reader is nearly drowned in a whirlpool of facts and minutiae. Working in the field I know it’s a mistake that exhibit writers make just as often as text book writers, they put in ALL the information. Every detail they can, because you don’t know what is going to catch people’s attention and you need to write for EVERYONE.
What it really does is litter a good book with about 75 pages of repetitions and detours which make the book a dry read. But, if you can make your way through the text it is filled with valuable, succinctly written information that gives insight into the real world of pirates across many oceans, and not the ideas you might have regarding a swashbuckling, romantic life on the seas.
Surely not a perfect book, but it fulfills its mission statement. I would however only suggest it for those in a history lesson mood. And it should be noted that this book was originally published in 1995, so it is starting to feel a bit dated.