Image of Black Bart from General History of the Pyrates, one of the oldest pirate history books

13 Best Pirate Books for Swashbuckling History Lovers

Pirate history is a fascinating topic that has captured the imaginations of people for generations. If you’re interested in learning more about this colorful and often misunderstood subject, then keep reading for our list of the best pirate books.

From biographies to historical narratives, this list of the best pirate books ever written will give you a well-rounded understanding of piracy, its role in world history, and what life was like for real life pirates. While we won’t be talking about the dashing fictional pirates like Jack Sparrow or Captain Charles Hunter, these tales of real life pirates and their exploits pack a punch.

So put on your eye patch, sing a few sea chanteys, and get ready for some swashbuckling adventure!

1. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

Cover image for "Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates," one of the best pirate history books

If you’re looking for a pirate history book that’s both informative and enjoyable to read, I highly recommend Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly.

Cordingly is a pirate expert and he really brings the Golden Age of Piracy to life in this book. He covers everything from pirate flags and Jolly Rogers to pirate clothing and weapons.

And he doesn’t shy away from the darker side of pirate life, discussing topics like torture, mutiny, and marooning.

Whether you’re a pirate enthusiast or simply curious about this fascinating period of history, I think you’ll find Under the Black Flag to be a thoroughly enjoyable read and swashbuckling adventure.

2. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down

Cover image of "The Republic of Pirates," one of the best pirate history books

The Republic of Pirates is one of the most detailed and fascinating pirate history books I have ever read. Colin Woodard does an amazing job of bringing to life the world of the pirate havens in the Caribbean, and the shockingly true story of the democracy they created there.

In a world where European empires dominated the globe and bought and sold people like goods, pirates like Blackbeard, Black Sam, and Charles Vane created a radical society. They chose their leaders by vote, didn’t care what color a person’s skin was, and captured countless slave ships. While pirates weren’t angels, their egalitarian leanings and effective naval strategies had Spain and Britain sweating bullets.

Woodard also tells the story of pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet, and how he finally brought an end to the reign of the pirates. The book comes packed with information, but it is never dry or boring. Woodard’s writing is engaging and fascinating, and I could not put it down.

If you have a fascination with pirate history, or simply want to read a great book, I would highly recommend The Republic of Pirates.

3. Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates

Cover image of "Black Flags, Blue Waters"

For centuries, pirate stories have captured the imagination of people all over the world. But what is the reality behind these tales of adventure on the high seas?

In his book Black Flags, Blue Waters, Eric Jay Dolin set out to answer this question, providing readers with a detailed and fascinating history of pirate activity in the Americas. Dolin traces the origins of piracy back to the 1500s, when pirates first began to ply their trade in the Caribbean.

He chronicles the rise and fall of pirate kingpins like Blackbeard and Edward Low, and tells the stories of famous pirate ships like the Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Whydah Gally. He also brings to life the enemies that pirates made. From colonial governors, like John Winthrop, to third-party observers like a young Benjamin Franklin.

Throughout, Dolin brings history to life, painting a vivid picture of the Golden Age of Piracy. For anyone interested in a good pirate story, Black Flags, Blue Waters is essential reading.

4. The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire

Cover image of "The Pirate Queen" one of the best pirate history books

For anyone interested in pirate history, The Pirate Queen by Susan Ronald is a must-read. The book tells the story of Queen Elizabeth I and her pirate adventurers, and how they helped to lay the ground work for the British Empire.

When Elizabeth, later dubbed “the Pirate Queen,” came to power, England wasn’t exactly a world power. Spain and Portugal had divided up the world in 1493 and since made themselves fabulously wealth with empires that spanned from the Americas to Africa and Asia. The English monarch, by comparison, oversaw a small kingdom on the fringes of European society.

This all changed with Elizabeth. Through her cunning use of piracy (or “privateering” as she would have called it), Elizabeth cut into the extravagant wealth of her Iberian rivals. Sending her legally sanctioned pirates after Spanish and Portuguese ships, they looted a fortune for Elizabeth.

To do this, Elizabeth formed an alliance with some of the most famous pirate captains of the time, including Francis Drake and John Hawkins. With their help, she was able to install England as a leading maritime power.

The book is full of fascinating details about Elizabeth’s life and times, as well as the lives of her pirate adventurers. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in pirate history or British maritime history.

5. If a Pirate I Must Be…: The True Story of Black Bart, “King of the Caribbean Pirates”

Cover image of "If a Pirate I Must Be"

In If a Pirate I Must Be…: The True Story of Black Bart, “King of the Caribbean Pirates”, Richard Sanders gives readers a detailed and fascinating look at pirate life through the true story of Black Bart, perhaps the most feared pirate captain of the age.

Sanders paints a picture of a pirate’s life that is both dangerous and brutal, yet also filled with camaraderie and adventure. Readers will learn about pirate culture and lifestyle, as well as the politics and economics that drove many men to take up with a pirate crew in the first place.

In addition, Sanders provides an in-depth look at Black Bart’s personal history, providing insights into what may have motivated him to become one of the most successful pirates of his day.

Whether you’re a fan of pirate history or simply looking for a well-written and engaging book, If a Pirate I Must Be… is definitely worth checking out.

6. The Buccaneers of America

Cover image of the "Buccaneers of America"

Many pirate history books have been written over the years, but one of the most influential is The Buccaneers of America by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin.

First published in 1678, the book chronicles Exquemelin’s time serving aboard a pirate ship in the Caribbean.

Originally born in France, historians now believe Exquemelin lived as a pirate for a time. As such, his writing provides a detailed account of pirate life, including raids and spending so much time at sea, as well as insights into the phenomenon of piracy itself.

The Buccaneers of America quickly became a bestseller in its time, and its popularity has only grown in the centuries since. Today, it remains an essential read for anyone interested in pirate history.

7. Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt

Cover image of "Enemy of All Mankind," one of the best pirate history books

If you’re interested in pirate history, then you’ll want to check out Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt by Steven Johnson.

The book tells the story of Henry Every, an infamous pirate who was active in the late seventeenth-century. Every was notable for his audacious pirate raids, including one in which he captured an Indian trade ship carrying a large quantity of gold and jewels.

In one fell swoop, this made him one of the most successful pirates of his time, and also one of the most wanted men in the world. But, Johnson argues, the consequences didn’t end there.

In the manhunt that followed Every’s daring raid, Britain laid the ground work for the pre-eminence of the East India Company and their own global empire. Because of one pirate crew, history changed forever.

8. Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

Cover image of "Villains of All Nations"

Marcus Rediker’s Villains of All Nations is one of the most comprehensive and well-researched pirate history books out there.

Covering the “Golden Age” of piracy in the Atlantic Ocean from the 1650s to the 1730s, Rediker draws on a wealth of primary sources to tell the stories of these notorious seafarers.

He paints a vivid picture of their lives at sea, describing everything from the everyday routine of a pirate crew to bloody battles with enemy ships. He also sheds light on the social and economic conditions that drove many men to turn to a life of piracy.

In doing so, he offers readers a unique insights into one of the most fascinating periods in maritime history. Whether you’re a pirate enthusiast or simply looking for a well-written historical narrative, Villains of All Nations is definitely worth checking out.

9. The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake: 1577-1580

Cover image of "The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake"

In 1577, Sir Francis Drake set out on a voyage that would take him around the world. Chasing pirate gold and glory, Drake and his crew sailed from England to the coast of Africa, then crossed the Atlantic and down to South America.

They then turned north, raiding Spanish settlements along the way before finally circumnavigating the globe and returning to England in 1580. Along the way, Drake inflicted serious damage on Spanish shipping and caused immense frustration for the Spanish crown. His voyage was a significant achievement, both for himself and for England.

And, according to Bawlf, Drake even made it as far north as Alaska – becoming the first European to reach its snowy banks.

Samuel Bawlf’s The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake: 1577-1580 is a fascinating account of this groundbreaking journey. Bawlf brings Drake’s story to life, providing readers with a detailed account of the perils and challenges faced by Drake and his crew. The Secret Voyage is an essential read for anyone interested in pirate history or the Age of Exploration.

10. A General History of the Pyrates

Cover image of "A General History of the Pyrates"

A General History of the Pyrates is one of the earliest and best pirate books ever written. The book was first published in 1724, and pirate enthusiasts have been devouring its pages ever since.

The book covers everything from the early days of piracy in the Caribbean to the Golden Age of Piracy and beyond. In addition to providing a wealth of information about pirate shipwrecks and famous piratical figures, the book also includes a number of first-hand accounts from aboard pirate ships. It even seems to be the source of the myth that pirates buried treasure!

These firsthand accounts of life among a pirate crew give readers a unique insight into the lives of the men who turned pirate. Whether you’re a pirate enthusiast or just curious about this colorful period of history, A General History of the Pyrates is a fascinating read.

11. The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd

Cover image of "The Pirate Hunter"

Captain Kidd was one of the most notorious pirates of his day, a swashbuckling figure who terrorized the seas in the early 1700s. But despite his notoriety, we know very little about Kidd’s life and career.

In The Pirate Hunter, Richard Zacks sets out to rectify that, telling the true story of the man behind the legend.

Zacks draws on a wealth of primary sources to paint a detailed picture of Kidd’s life, from his humble beginnings as a skilled and respected sailor and pirate hunter, to his final days as a pirate captain himself.

Along the way, we meet some of the colorful characters who crossed paths with Captain Kidd, including fellow pirate captain Blackbeard and King William III. And we learn about the politics and economics that drove piracy in those days.

The Pirate Hunter is a thoroughly researched and well-written book that brings to life one of history’s most fascinating figures and a truly infamous pirate. If you love pirate history, this is definitely a book you should check out.

12. Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution

Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution by Eric Jay Dolin is a captivating historical account that delves into the often overlooked yet crucial role of privateering during the American Revolution.

Dolin expertly brings to life the swashbuckling adventures of daring sailors and audacious captains who took to the seas to disrupt British commerce and weaken their stranglehold on the American colonies.

In this meticulously researched book, readers will learn about the rise of privateering as a viable strategy employed by the American rebels to combat the powerful British navy. Dolin explores the motivations of these privateers, the risks they faced, and the lucrative prizes they sought.

Often sailing in nothing more than merchant ships retrofitted with canons and other firearms, these privateers bolstered the Continental Navy’s microscopic numbers and won key victories at sea for the Americans.

Rebels at Sea is a captivating exploration of a lesser-known aspect of the American Revolution and for that deserves mention among the best pirate books out there. It is a must-read for history enthusiasts and anyone seeking an exciting and enlightening journey through the exploits of brave individuals who risked everything to secure America’s independence.

13. Born to Be Hanged

If you’re looking for a good pirate story than Born to Be Hanged: The Epic Story of the Gentlemen Pirates Who Raided the South Seas, Rescued a Princess, and Stole a Fortune by Keith Thomson is what you’re looking for. It’s thrilling and extraordinary tale of adventure, piracy, and audacity set in the exotic backdrop of the South Seas – and it’s 100% true.

This gripping historical account follows the exploits of a ragtag group of pirates, some gentlemen pirates and some true scally wags, who embarked on a daring voyage. Their goal: to plunger the treasure-laden Spanish ships in the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, they ended up defying empires, rescuing a Panamanian princess, and bringing a whole new meaning to the word “pirates.”

Through meticulous research and captivating storytelling, Thomson brings to life the fascinating characters and their swashbuckling adventures, like pirate captain Henry Morgan (yes, the rum guy).

You will no doubt be enraptured by the audacious raids of the pirate crew, their encounters with rival pirates, and their crazy plan to rescue a captive princess. Clearly, this was no bumbling pirate crew made up of castaways – this was an elite force.

Like all great history books, though, there’s plenty of steak behind the sizzle. Born to Be Hanged explores global political tensions in the late 1600s, the economic importance of the South Seas trade, and the character of men who rebuked social norms.

Thomson’s vivid descriptions of the exotic locales, treacherous battles across the seven seas, and daring escapades transport readers into the heart of the action, making the book an immersive and thrilling reading experience.

This is truly one of the most thrilling pirate books out there, offering a unique glimpse into the lives of these remarkable gentlemen pirates and their audacious exploits in the South Seas.

Why Read the Best Pirate Books on History?

The work’s I’ve included in this post about the best pirate books offer fascinating insights into what the pirate life was like, how crews and their captains got along aboard a pirate ship, and the that pirates and privateers have played in world history.

But, these books are also just plain fun! While you won’t find the tropes of fictional pirates, like a bumbling pirate crew doing the bidding of a debonair ne’er-do-well, these thrilling pirate books still tell a great story while delving into the true accounts of piracy.

From England’s attempts to damage the Spanish Empire to the tales of a respected sailor turned feared pirate captain, like the life of Bartholomew Roberts, these books will take you on a swashbuckling adventure.

By the time you finish one of these books, you may even find yourself wanting to sing sea chanteys in the shower (say that seven times fast).

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