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Pirates of Barbary: Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean

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Pirates of Barbary
Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean
By Adrian Tinniswood
Riverhead Hardcover, (2010)
ISBN: 159448774X

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - August 5, 2011

The Barbary Pirates were based in North Africa, and were the scourge of both the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. They were active from shortly after the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492 until about 1830, when the pirates were finally brought under control after repeated attacks from, and treaties with, various Western powers. In his book, Pirates of Barbary, historian Adrian Tinniswood focuses in on the 17th century, the period during which the activities of the Barbary Pirates reached their peak. In the course of this study, Tinniswood examines just who the Barbary Pirates were, how they plied their trade, and the political, religious, and economic factors that contributed to their actions.

While the Barbary pirates were not averse to acquiring property, their main focus was on capturing people - both on the sea and on land, to sell as slaves. Historically, it is said that most of the Barbary pirates were followers of Islam. Yet, as Tinniswood points out, a vast numberof the pirates where actually Christian renegades from England, Holland, and from throughout Europe. Many of these Christian renegades started their careers as privateers (basically pirates sanctioned by a government to prey upon enemy vessels), before turning to unsanctioned piracy. Many of these renegades eventually 'turned Turk' (i.e., converted to Islam) and went a-pirating, more out of avarice and a sense of adventure than for any religious or political purpose. Throughout this book, Tinniswood presents the history of the Barbary pirates both from the viewpoint of both Islamic and Christian pirates, and from their numerous victims. He also examines the similarities between the actions and motivations of the Barbary pirates and their modern counterparts in Somalia and throughout the world.

Pirates of Barbary is an exciting and informative book. It is sure to fascinate anyone with even a passing interest in pirates or piracy (either historical and fictional) or Middle-east or African history. This articulate book also examines the history of slavery and the slave trade that saw primarily white Europeans being sold into slavery in North Africa, at the same time during which Europeans were capturing and enslaving Africans. Tinniswood writes with the skill of a novelist, and with the accuracy of trained academic. An edifying and entertaining book from beginning to end, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reading a thrilling book, which happens to tell an all too real swashbuckling tale.

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