“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” ― Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Pirate HunterIn the annals of piratical history, the name of William Kidd is prominent next to those of Edward Teach and Anne Bonney. In this excellent piece of investigative history, Richard Zacks makes it clear that, for all his faults, Captain Kidd got a bad rap, whereas a contemporary who was an unrepentant gangster of the high seas thrived.

Hired by four British noblemen at the instigation of a hustler named Robert Livingston to sail to the Indian Ocean to hunt pirates, Kidd wasn’t even out of the Atlantic before he ran afoul of one of the worst examples of a British naval officer, who promptly (and with the eager support of the East India Company) declared him a pirate. When, months later, Kidd’s crew mutinied and joined the aforementioned unrepentant gangster for a real campaign of piracy, Kidd’s subsequent actions to survive were interpreted by everyone in authority as further evidence of his crimes.

Mr. Zacks has a thorough grasp of both the history and the cultures in which his vindication of William Kidd takes place, referring to it in one instance as “a time of much religion and little charity.” He describes the world in which social position and money were as great an advantage as they are today with detail that is at once excruciating and as fascinating as the proverbial train wreck.

That Kidd’s story could be said to parallel that of any number of possibly innocent men currently held in our own prison at Guantanamo is telling. Held incommunicado, the proof of his innocence “misfiled” and not found until two hundred years later, his very hanging botched, Kidd still managed to cling to his honor and his dignity (with one or two lapses) in the face of political machinations and royal ass-covering. If you love history, and especially if you’re fascinated by the world of pirates, this is a book that belongs on your shelf.

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