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Book Review: The Pirate Hunters

March 6, 2017

23164968Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
Robert Kurson
Random House, 2015
(Library book)

This is the story of modern treasure hunters using everything they know about deep sea diving, shipwreck salvage, technology and history to search for the shipwreck of the Golden Fleece, sunk in the 17th century, the ship legendary pirate captain, Joseph Bannister. Bannister was legendary for his piratical exploits, especially since he was a law-abiding and prosperous British merchant, before turning pirate at the age of 30 or 40-something. And then proceeding to do things to stick it to the British navy, including stealing his own ship. This is also the story of what led two men to become treasure hunters, and to keep up the search for Joseph Bannister, despite it being a long process that led to setbacks like strained relationships, financial near-ruin, dead ends, and nearly lost hope.

This is exactly the sort of nonfiction I most enjoy: explaining a completely unfamiliar knowledge base in an intriguing way, with aspects of history, science, and personal biography woven together, and well-paced with suspense that kept me reading. It had exactly the right mix of Bannister’s history, with the two treasure hunters’ backstory breaking up the tempo of the search for the Golden Fleece. Given how the search unfolded with dead ends and frustrations, it was probably even more important to pull together the different threads and time frames, in a way that regulated the pacing nicely.

This book is also a fun look at pirate life and culture, more generally, sorting out the myth from the historical record. Drinking, wenching and pillaging aplenty, and living large in the pirate town of Port Royal. Trading great insults like “I come from hell and I’ll carry you there presently!” or “Damn your blood.” Yes, they taught parrots to talk, and used wood or hooks as prosthetics for severed limbs. Walking the plank, not so much.

What this book is not, is the book that my friend Russ recommended to me a few weeks ago. Russ recommended The Pirate Hunter, by Richard Zacks. Russ praised how well-researched and engrossing the book was, how easily he could picture the pirate’s life, nonfiction reading like an adventure novel. All about a more famous pirate, Captain Kidd.


I read the wrong pirate book by mistake. Whoops.

But I think it turned out to be an excellent mistake.


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