Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail by Marcus Rediker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The common man, whether he be a sailor, a slave, or a pirate is the focus of Marcus Rediker’s “Outlaws of the Atlantic”. Rediker shows how the lowest individual influenced not only the culture of their day, but shaped the world into what it is today.
Through seven essays Rediker looks at how the daily lives of individuals who worked the Atlantic’s waters, both willingly and unwillingly, and how their experiences affected their own time and ours. The first was the common sailor who informed “men of learning” who only went to the docks about the all the new places opening up to the European mind. The next was following the career of a individual sailor who left a memoir of his experiences, showing the ups and downs of an average sailor’s life. The sailor’s response to his life took many forms, some of which was social revolution in various forms. Other individuals who lived below decks were those who did not want to be there, either convicts or enslaved individuals, who responded to their predicament by trying to escape by either running away or willingly ending their life.
Throughout the book, the term “motley crew” is used by middle- and upper-class individuals throughout the time period of Rediker’s history. As the author explains, this was term used for a multiethnic crew of individuals. These motley crews were involved in many “rebellions” or violent protests against what they saw as unjust practices or laws, many of these were connected to the various protests of the late 1760s and early 1770s leading up to the American Revolution. As Rediker explains, the more well-known Sons of Liberty organizations were formed to present a better image than the low class and mixed crews.
The most informative sections of the book featured the life and public views of pirates. Rediker details how and why piracy occurred as well as the counterculture it fostered away from the expected one that English foreign and economic policy demanded. The most surprising element was how the Amistad Rebellion’s public reaction was influenced by the newly “romantic” image of the pirate in popular culture.
Upon finishing “Outlaws of the Atlantic” the reader has a better understanding of how the common man experienced the age of sail, either willingly or unwillingly, and how it still influences our world today. Rediker’s essays make the reader want to know more about certain events he covered because of his thorough research and writing style, and luckily for Rediker he has written some of the books those readers could be exploring to learn more about sailors, or pirates, or rebel slaves. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about how life was for the majority of individuals who call the sea home during the “Age of Sail”.
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