Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia

Macmillan Audio. Jan. 2023. 5:10 hrs. ISBN 9781250883544. $19.99. HIST
This posthumously published book by activist-anthropologist Graeber (The Dawn of Everything; Debt: The First 5,000 Years) questions whether Enlightenment ideals might have developed outside of Europe. A well-known anarchist, Graeber studied the ethnography of Madagascar and presents his findings to discuss social hierarchies, pirates, and alternative enlightenments outside of France during the period. Aside from swashbuckling sea battles, pirate culture was highly egalitarian for its day. Graeber’s studies of the Malagasy natives and the Zana-Malata people of Madagascar, the descendants of the pirates who made Madagascar their home base, are an insightful, if controversial, addition to anthropological scholarship. Narrator Roger Davis, who earned first-class honors in media and anthropology, puts his training to good use to lead listeners through 17th- and 18th-century Malagasy history. Davis pieces together contemporary accounts of pirate settlements, and his clear delivery helps listeners sort out the names and narratives of this romp through history.
VERDICT Graeber’s intriguing final work will have listeners wondering if the pirates of Madagascar established something revolutionary. Did their society experiment with ideas that would later be discussed in European salons? An excellent and thought-provoking addition to large public library and academic collections, but possibly too scholarly for smaller public libraries.
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