Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Invisible Hook

Finished reading The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, which frankly I found pretty "meh". The book, like so many others, could have simply been run as a lengthy New Yorker-style article without a commensurate loss in the quality of the information conveyed. Indeed, large parts of the book struck me as simply filler or non sequiturs with only the most tenuous connection to pirating. To the extent real economic lessons are presented, they frequently should come as little surprise to anyone with a basic grasp of the subject.

That said, there were two things I did find interesting. The first is that members of pirate crews often placed advertisements in newspapers proclaiming that they had been captured and pressed into service by pirates. This was basically done as a form of insurance, as courts were generally more lenient with crew members who could prove they joined against their will.

The other was the sheer terror and violence the pirates visited upon those who resisted them (which was rational behavior -- the more fearsome one's reputation the more likely an opponent will give up without a fight, thus conserving resources and avoiding injury). The book describes one pirate captain punishing an opposing merchant captain, who threw valuables into the sea rather than hand them over, by cutting off his lips and broiling them in front of the man before killing him. Then there's this:
The French buccaneer Francois L'Ollonais added a special flair to his torture of several stubborn Spanish prisoners who refused to lead him to their hiding compatriots and money. L'Ollonais "being possessed of a devil's fury, tore the living heart out of his body, gnawed at it, and then hurled it in the face of one of the others."

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