sheenaghpugh: (Do somethin' else!)
Review of Pirates of Barbary by Adrian Tinniswood

I thought I had enough pirate books, till I saw this one specifically dealing with the Barbary pirates of Algiers, Tripoli etc. It's well researched and scholarly but also written in a delightfully lively style - see this sardonic little piece on everyone's dream job - not...:

"The governorship of Tangier was not a passport to success. The Earl of Peterborough was recalled to England after 11 months, amidst allegations of corruption and incompetence. His successor, the Earl of Teviot, managed a year in office before being killed in a Moorish ambush. During a bout of diarrhoea the Earl of Middleton, who took up office in 1668, got up in the middle of the night, fell over his sleeping manservant and broke his arm; he died two days later. The Earl of Inchiquin was recalled in disgrace after allowing the Moors to overrun the outer defences, though he managed to calm the King's anger by giving him a pair of ostriches. The Earl of Ossory fell into a fit of depression on hearing of his appointment as governor and succumbed to a fever before he could even leave England."


Always keep a pair of ostriches handy for awkward moments. This book is full of unforgettable characters, rich historical ironies, absorbing personal stories and just sheer style, both Tinniswood's and that of his (anti-)heroes. Did you know Samuel Pepys, at very short notice, was ordered to go to Tangier to help supervise its evacuation and destruction? Or that the French mortar-bombed Algiers, in the teeth of a threat, which was carried out, to blow an elderly French priest from a cannon? And don't forget Sir Robert Mansell, to whom no modern mortgage-flipping, duck-house-building MP could hold a candle...

"Sir Robert Mansell stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries in his relentless pursuit of public funds which were not his to spend. In 1604 he obtained the post of treasurer to the navy and clung on to it for all it was worth. He fitted out his own ship at the crown's expense, then hired it to the crown at an inflated rate, while simultaneously using it to carry private cargo. He routinely demanded bribes from naval suppliers as a condition of paying their bills. He ran a lucrative business buying timber and supplies, selling them to the navy at a handsome profit and, as treasurer, authorising the purchases himself. And when, in spite of his best efforts to stop it, the 1618 commission enquiring into abuses in the navy began to examine his dealings, he resigned, mislaid his accounts and handed the commissioners a £10,000 bill for his travelling expenses, which they could not pay. Instead they quietly dropped the investigation."


My own favourite is the harassed Thomas Baker, neglected but kindly English consul in Tripoli, but he's only one in a bewildering tapestry, at a time and cosmopolitan place where people called Hassan Rais, who made a living by importing Christian slaves, frequently turned out to be someone called Rowley from Bristol. You can never have too many pirate books.
sheenaghpugh: (Do somethin' else!)
I'm simultaneously diverted and annoyed by the book I'm reading, Necropolis: London and its Dead by Catharine Arnold. Diverted, because it's the sort of subject I love and who wouldn't be fascinated to find out that "occasionally, scholars from St Paul's and other grammar schools would meet in St Bartholomew's churchyard for learned debates, but these inevitably degenerated into street fights and had to be discontinued" or that the Chelsea pensioners' graveyard contains Christina Davies, veteran of Blenheim and Ramillies, who had a volley of three shots fired at her funeral?

Annoyed, because I keep seeing how it could be better written.
rant commences )

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December 2011

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