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Summary and book reviews of The Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks

The Pirate Hunter

The True Story of Captain Kidd

by Richard Zacks

The Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks X
The Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2002, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2003, 400 pages

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Book Summary

This masterpiece of historical detective work tells the story of the real Captain Kidd - a pirate hunter, not a pirate. A real page turner and an authentic pirate story for grownups.

Captain Kidd has gone down in history as America's most ruthless buccaneer, fabulously rich, burying dozens of treasure chests up and down the eastern seaboard. Over the centuries, novelists, relentless treasure hunters, and even historians have stoked his pirate legend. Robert Louis Stevenson, for one, placed "Kidd's Anchorage" on Treasure Island. But it turns out that most everyone, even many respected scholars, have the story all wrong. Captain William Kidd was no career cut-throat; he was a tough, successful New York sea captain who was hired to chase pirates. In 1696, he set out on a near-impossible mission to travel in a lone ship with a mutinous crew, heading 4,000 miles round the tip of Africa to track down a handful of die-before-surrender pirates and then bring back their treasure to the governor of New York and other secret backers.

His three-year odyssey aboard the aptly named Adventure galley pitted him against arrogant Royal Navy commanders, jealous East India Company captains, storms, starvation, angry natives, and, above all, flesh-and-blood pirates.

Through it all, Captain Kidd found himself facing a long-forgotten rogue by the name of Robert Culliford, who lured Kidd's crew to mutiny not once, but twice.

Through painstaking research, author Richard Zacks has pieced together the never-before-told story of Kidd versus Culliford, of pirate hunter versus pirate. Culliford climbed from Caribbean cabin boy to pirate captain, once capturing a ship in the Indian Ocean loaded with gold and several dozen wives and daughters of the local Moslem nobility. He divvied up both the gold and the women. This was an era of tall-masted sailing ships and lords in full wigs; the drama on land played out in the smuggler's haven of New York City and in Cotton Mather -- dominated Boston and in edge-of-empire London.

Across the oceans of the world, the pirate hunter, Kidd, pursued the pirate, Culliford. One man would hang in the harbor; the other would walk away with the treasure. The Pirate Hunter is both a masterpiece of historical detective work and page-turner, and it delivers something rare: an authentic pirate story for grownups.

Excerpt
The Pirate Hunter

In a cold jail cell in Boston in Massachusetts Bay Colony on November 16, 1699, a weather-beaten man with hard scarred features unbuttoned his trousers. Two men stood nearby; one wore a skullcap. The prisoner, tanned on his face and arms only, lifted his shirttail, exposing himself. Back then, men didn't wear underwear per se but rather tucked long shirts afore and behind, hammocking their genitals.

When James Gilliam lifted his penis to view, the two observers caught a whiff of the man's recent recreation. The night before, as the governor later quaintly put it in a letter to the Board of Trade, Gilliam had been "treating two young women some few miles off in the country." Colonial authorities accused him of being a member of the crew of Captain Kidd, then the most notorious pirate in the nascent British Empire, and of hiding his treasure on Gardiners Island alongside Kidd's ample horde. Two witnesses, in addition, identified Gilliam as the pirate who ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Providence Journal
Crammed with splendid details and historical ironies.

The New Yorker
Zack's detective work here is thoroughly convincing.

Time
Enthralling . . . Captain Kidd practically swaggers off the pages of this rich, riotous bio.

Booklist
A lively, educational, thoroughly spellbinding trip back in time.

Publishers Weekly
Entertaining, richly detailed and authoritatively narrated, Zacks's account of the life of legendary seaman William Kidd delivers a first-rate story.

Kirkus Reviews
Exciting, well told, and befitting the wild life of a pirate.

Author Blurb Stephen Harrigan, author of The Gates of the Alamo
. . . a varnished 17th century world . . . Brimming with authority, eccentricity and grisly detail, it is everything a pirate book should be.

Author Blurb Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers
Here at long last is the Kidd story rendered for adults.

Author Blurb Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family, National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction
Zacks artfully leads the reader through . . . 17th-century villainy, switching all the while between gravitas and wit.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders
For Richard Zacks, history is . . . a raucous, pungent romp through greed, corruption and excess. In The Pirate Hunter, truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's a lot more fun to read.

Author Blurb James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets
. . . a richly detailed nautical thriller . . . combines exciting escapism with thought-provoking history.

Author Blurb Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
. . . Read it for the history or read it for the adventure -- you won't be able to stop.

Author Blurb Catherine Clinton, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Yale University
. . . a wild ride, filled with enticing and documented detail . . . a riveting and offbeat historical adventure.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders
In The Pirate Hunter, truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's a lot more fun to read.

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