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The Pirate World: A History of the Most Notorious Sea Robbers, by Angus Konstam, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2019, $35

Vikings, corsairs, filibusters, buccaneers, sea beggars, privateers, diehards—by whatever name they were called, pirates have been with us since the dawn of history, and they show no sign of going away. Angus Konstam recounts the history of maritime outlawry as far back as the second millennium bc, going so far as to speculate that the mysterious “sea people” depicted in defeat against Pharaoh Ramses III on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs may have been the same raiders responsible for the downfall of Hellenic Mycenae and the Hittite empire.

The Pirate World traces the spread of piracy from the ancient Mediterranean to present-day Nigeria, the China seas to the West Indies, and the Baltic to Madagascar. The cast of characters includes such eminent figures as Julius Caesar and Pompey, as well as such colorfully disreputable characters as Henry Morgan, William Kidd and Edward Teach, aka “Blackbeard.” The not-so-gentle sex is not neglected, either. Numbered among the female filibusters was perhaps the most powerful and successful pirate of all time, Cheng Shih (aka Zheng Yi Sao), who was said to have controlled a fleet of 300 ships and 20,000 men. Konstam also addresses media depictions of piracy and how they deviate from reality.

Drawing from accounts of the earliest sea raids right up to present-day headlines, author Konstam recounts his swashbuckling tales in a lively narrative well supplemented with period illustrations and up-to-date maps. His book will appeal to anyone interested in the history behind the lore—and ye may lay to that, matey!

—Robert Guttman