It flatters me somewhat to have had more than one request to have a list of nautical books I would recommend posted here at Triple P. Being of the writing persuasion myself, I’d hope that someone in my shoes would recommend my book (when it comes out that is) and I’m heartened to know that someone wants my opinion on such a very dear subject.
In the interest of simplicity, here’s the short list in three categories. A brief explanation of the book’s inclusion on the list accompanies the title (hopefully I can keep it brief; I want very much to sing about some of these).
These are books I use for research for my novels and for my fact-based writing including Triple P:
The Searover’s Practice, The Buccaneers Realm, The Pirate Hunters, all three by Benerson Little and published by Potomac Books. Little is not only an accomplished writer and researcher but a former Navy Seal as well. His insight into pirating is superb although his descriptions of much of the technical end of sailing and weaponry could be a little hard to follow without some background knowledge of both. While the first two books are personal favorites the last one was a bit disappointing for me. Any book about pirate hunting that 1) calls the Laffite brothers and their associates sorry excuses for freebooters, writing them off in one paragraph and 2) does not even bother to mention David Porter and his Mosquito Fleet is missing the boat. Pun intended.
The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf by William C. Davis published by Harcourt. I’ve said it before: this is far and away the best book ever published on the Laffite brothers. If there is a fault here it’s Davis’ overt “pro Pierre” stance by which he almost turns Jean into a knuckle-dragging thug good only for keeping the riff raff in line, but that may be a symptom of how very little attention history has given Pierre. Well written, exhaustively researched and a must for anyone interested in the Baratarians.
Under A Black Flag by David Cordingly published by Harcourt Brace. Cordingly’s book is the final word on Golden Age piracy, easily separating fact from fiction. The only drawback here is the author’s clear contempt for the rogues he’s writing about.
The History of Pirates by Angus Konstam published by The Lyons Press. There’s a lot of information here so the individual profiles of pirates are necessarily short but Konstam is an excellent writer and knowledgeable historian and his book is a great jumping off point for further research. As an added bonus, it is full of wonderful illustrations.
She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea by Joan Druett published by Touchstone. Druett is a sailor of the first order and her book is crammed with interesting historical tidbits about women at sea, from pirates to lighthouse keepers to prostitutes.
Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O’Brian by Brian Lavery published by Naval Institute Press. This is the definitive book on the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic wars and it is written without the unnecessary use of “sailor speak”. The illustrations are also gorgeous.
Empire of Blue Water by Stephan Talty published by Crown. The book that changed my mind about Henry Morgan, Talty’s biography is part history, part imagination and all swashbuckling good time. Excellent reading for any fan of adventure, history, buccaneers and/or the sea.
The Matty Graves novels by Broos Campbell published by McBooks Press. Written in the spirit of Marryat, Forester and O’Brian, but translated to America. Campbell’s novels follow the adventures of their narrator, Lieutenant Matthew Graves, USN, beginning around 1802. These are stay-up-all-night novels with strong characters, gripping action and accurate detail.
Anything by Frederick Marryat, C.S. Forester and in particular Patrick O’Brian. Marryat is, of course, the original. He entered the Royal Navy in 1806 under then Captain Thomas Cochrane and wrote of his adventures in a number of novels with great names like Mr. Midshipman Easy and Peter Simple. Forester created Horatio Hornblower and followed his exploits through 11 books. O’Brian, it goes without saying, wrote the Aubrey/Maturin novels and, in my humble opinion, nothing has matched them since.
The Pirates Own Book by Charles Ellms published by The Marine Research Society and online via Guttenberg. Rip roaring, old time pirate action full of spice and bloodshed. A book to lose yourself in.
For Kids and Parents:
What If You Met a Pirate? written and illustrated by Jan Adkins and published by Roaring Book Press. I love this book for the illustrations alone but the history is accurate, easy to understand and great for preschoolers as well as younger readers. The sketch of the guy on the head always makes me chuckle.
Eyewitness Pirate from Dorling Kindersley. As with all the Eyewitness books, great illustrations, good information and an easy to use format. My daughters have used this and other Eyewitness books for reports and papers more than once to great success.
Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stephenson available from various publishers. Seriously, if you and your children haven’t read this one it’s time for a trip to the bookstore. Like now.
Looking back on this list it is obvious to me that it is lacking, but that’s enough for now. Remember, real books with pages are not without benefit. Libraries and local bookstores and shelves in homes with real books in them lead to a life long love of reading and a memory of history. Those are two things the whole World could use, I reckon.
Header: Illustration by Howard Pyle for his Book of Pirates c 1896