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  • Writer's pictureJulie Mackin

Ahoy There Matey

A two-for-one review while I am in my sea-going era

A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks by David Gibbins

Stats: 4.5

52 Book Club Challenge - #8 - Features the Ocean 

Thank you to NetGalley 

I saw this on NetGalley and I thought it would be an excellent book for the “Features the Ocean” prompt on the 52 Book Club Challenge, so I grabbed it. I wasn’t sure how it would go, if maybe this might be too ambitious a project and if the author would be trying too hard to make a grand historical theory using various shipwrecks. Gibbins is an archaeologist and he brought that expertise to the various wrecks by placing them within their time and place in history, all to great effect. He is also a novelist which came through in his ability to weave a story about the people associated with the various ships.

This was just a fascinating way to look at history, especially in terms of economics. Until the advent of the standardized modern railway, shipping was the fastest, and most profitable, way to move goods. Even in our own time, I am not sure we fully appreciate how much comes to us via cargo ships. So looking at shipwrecks, and the impact such wrecks could have, is illuminating. But the thing I liked most about this book, and what I think Gibbins did extremely well, was bring to life the people that inhabited these boats. The discussion about the SS Gairsoppa, a British ship from India that sunk in World War II, highlighted the multicultural nature of the crew and how they were run to accommodate different religious beliefs; for example, the cooks on board vessels were generally Portuguese sailors from Goa, recruited because they could prepare food for both the Indian Muslims and the Christian British. And when Gibbins highlights the wreck of the Tang Chinese ship, the focus is on the trade between China and the Arabian states, a fascinating trade route that gives insight into the world around the Indian Ocean from the 700s to the late 800s with the added bonus of examining the classic stories in Arabian Nights.

I think this book, much like Colin Woodward’s history of the Caribbean pirates, will be of interest to the lay reader; no knowledge of archaeology is necessary. Instead, a reader that brings a curiosity about the wilder world who would like a well-written, big-tent overview of world history will find this a wonderfully entertaining read. My only sadness is that since this is an ARC, there were no photos and I would have loved to have seen images of some of the items discovered on the wrecks, so I will be doing some googling!

The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodward

Stars: 4

Pop-Sugar 2024 Challenge - Prompt #6 - A book about pirates

Mini Review

If you loved Starz’s show Black Sails, which was out a few years ago, and you have an interest in the actual history behind the story, this is the book for you. Woodward brings a historian’s eye to the golden age of Caribbean pirates with a detailed look at the rise of piracy in the region and to their ultimate ends. His book demonstrates how fine the line was between privateer and pirate during the 1700s as the European nations fought each other all across the globe. It also highlights the less romantic aspects of piracy: the brutal treatment of the peoples that were sold into slavery, the impressment of freemen into naval services, and the potential for economic devastation for those left at home. The blurb for the book talks about the heroic republic and the democracy of the pirates, and their base in the Bahamas did have some elements to freedom, but I would argue that whether they were pirates, privateers, or merchants,  these vessels were helmed by men who were trading in various types of human cargo and it is a bit hard to celebrate that.

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