Born To Be Hanged: The Epic Story of the Gentlemen Pirates Who Raided the South Seas, Rescued a Princess, and Stole a Fortune

Little, Brown. May 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780316703611. $32. HIST
Novelist Thomson (Once a Spy) follows a motley crew of English pirates on a voyage of plunder along the Pacific coast of South America in this rollicking historical account drawing on the contemporary journals of seven participants. Accepting a legally dubious “commission” from the chief of a local tribe, the 366 buccaneers—including naturalist William Dampier—trekked through the mountainous jungles of the Isthmus of Panama to rescue the chief’s captured granddaughter and raid the riches of Panama City. Spared the treacherous passage through the Straits of Magellan, the pirates proceeded to wreak havoc on Spanish ships and settlements throughout what were then known as the “South Seas,” scoring one improbable victory after another until stunned Spanish authorities finally fought back. Thomson fleshes out each audacious attack and narrow escape with wit and insight, delving into seafaring terminology and the customs of piracy as he relates the buccaneers’ brushes with mutinies, storms, and deadly flora and fauna. By focusing on the individuals who kept accounts of the adventure, Thomson humanizes the “Brethren of the Coast,” shedding light on their motivations, histories, and relationships.
VERDICT Every action-packed page is certain to thrill connoisseurs of piracy and seafaring history.
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