I have just borrowed David F Marley’s new book The Daily Life of Pirates from the London Library. It makes fascinating reading for anybody remotely interested in piracy, because (true to the title) the author looks closely at many aspects of the lives of pirates in the “golden age”. As far as I know, nobody has taken this approach before.
The book begins with a chronology of piracy between 1650 and 1720. A short general history of the period follows, but the book really begins to pick up in the next, thematic section. Here the author looks in turn at: food; drink; lairs; plunder; weapons, ships and tactics; torture; religion; and flags.
It’s the detail that’s fascinating. For example, under “drink”, Marley tells the reader that the pirate stronghold of Port Royal — a substantial town with a resident population of 6,500 — had no supply of fresh water. Boats brought drinking water from the Jamaican mainland, and hawkers sold it from barrels.
Though there is much else to recommend in the book, The Daily Life of Pirates is not without its shortcomings. At least two passages are repeated virtually word-for-word in different chapters. This may just be evidence of sloppy (or non-existent) editing at the publishers, Greenwood Press. But it’s also rather baffling: this isn’t an especially long book, and it’s hard to see how an author of Marley’s calibre can have so lost track of his material as to make errors as elementary as these.
There is also the thorny issue of the price. It’s £41. I would love to buy this book, but unless there is a very much cheaper paperback edition I’m only ever going to be reading library copies.