Many years ago my elder brother, Dave, and I sat in a bookstore. I glanced over at his purchases and noticed that he had a nonfiction book about pirates in his pile. Never having known my brother to have the slightest interest in pirates, I remarked on the choice. He said with a half-smile, “Well, I don’t know anything about them, and what could be more fascinating than pirates?” My brother and I choose our books in much the same way; I too tend to be drawn to nonfiction covering subjects about which I know very little. So, as I was browsing for a new audio, I had to smile when I saw Stephen Talty’s Empire of Blue Water, because I remembered that long ago purchase and chance remark of my brother.
Set in the latter half of the 17th century, Empire of Blue Water tells the truth-is-greater-than-fiction tale of Henry Morgan. Morgan rose from Irish obscurity to forge a band of renegade sailors into a great pirate flotilla that sailed out of Port Royal, Jamaica, under a dubious alliance with England. This gathering of malcontents, cast-off from all acceptable society, has been credited with conquering the Western Hemisphere for England by repeatedly besting the Spanish on land and at sea, causing them to lose their foothold and eventually their control over the region.
Only one thing kept this from being a five star read, and that is the ending. Henry Morgan’s life took a very interesting turn in later years, and I felt that this section of the book was a bit rushed. Talty might have felt that it didn’t have quite the dramatic swagger of the rest of Morgan’s story, and so tried to minimize it, but I would have liked to have known more than he gave.
Dave was right. Pirates are fascinating. And Talty’s flair for telling a fast-paced, enthralling story brings them brilliantly to life. This is a nonfiction that functions perfectly in a audio performance. The writing is narrative, linear, and doesn’t require footnotes or illustrations to grasp. I definitely recommend this work of historical adventure to any who have an interest in the subject matter or, like my brother and me, want to learn something about a subject about which you know little or nothing.