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Book Review: Blackbeard – America’s Most Notorious Pirate by Angus Konstam

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Angus Konstam has a long history of studying pirates and other seafarers in his prolific collection of books he has written over the course of his career.  His latest study, Blackbeard, is not only a tale of the “notorious” pirate, but also of the struggling colonial states and other pirates who haunted the Atlantic waters of early America.  Pirates have been recently popularized in the current trends of pop-culture and clearly Konstam wants to cash in on their hype.

Poorly written, erratic, and sometimes repetitive, Blackbeard is the biography of pirate Edward Teach (or Thatch or Drummond, Konstam is not sure). He attempts to trace the humble British beginnings of Blackbeard’s life, which are so obscure that no definitive proof of his upbringing can be uncovered.  He outlines the career of Blackbeard through his first apprenticeship under Captain Benjamin Hornigold to his demise off Ocracoke Island and his legacy thereafter.  Konstam’s approach is partially chronological, but often deviates from his point to such an extent that the reader becomes lost somewhere deep in an impertinent anecdote.

There is nothing deceptive about Konstam’s writing: He frequently tells the reader what he intends to do, using such phrases as “but more of that to come in the next chapter” and “but from what followed,” or “for what happened next” (73-75).  Most annoyingly, he uses many first-hand accounts in the form of paragraphs but does not explain their significance.  Oftentimes, these accounts had terms and spoke in a language which the layperson who knew little of seamanship would not understand.

Yet, Blackbeard may be a study that could be considered a good beginner's book for someone who wishes to learn more about pirates.  Aside from the long first-hand accounts, it is an easy, uncomplicated read.  Konstam loads his study with good information and has a very simple writing style that a wide audience could understand. The reader can tell that Konstam has an immense knowledge of pirates and piracy, but unfortunately he doesn't put it forth in an effective, concise study.

Konstam may have tried to ride the tide of the recent successes of pirate-related movies by producing a book upon the world’s most famous pirate.  While he is certainly erudite upon the subject, his study was not well written, not adequately researched and is not honest. Much akin to Blackbeard stealing booty from a mercantile ship, Konstam steals the reader’s time by producing a study that could be far more insightful and thought-provoking.

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About Matt Mitchell

  • Anna

    Wow, excellent review of this. A college professor told us to get this book and claimed it was “incredible.” Four chapters into I was complaining to a family member about how “poorly written it was” and “very repetitive.” I also added how is sequence was all over the place. I also thought it was extremely novice to use phases such as, “but more of that to come in the next chapter.” It personally drove me nuts.