Book Review: “Pirate Hunters” by Robert Kurson

Posted July 8th, 2015 by Devin and filed in Review

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate ShipPirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Kurson’s “Pirate Hunters” relates the story of two shipwreck hunters, John Chatterton and John Mattera, and their quest to find a verifiable Golden Age pirate ship. While a true story, the nature of the search and the backgrounds of those involved make for fact that’s more enthralling than most fiction.

The quest in “Pirate Hunters” is for the Golden Fleece, the 17th century pirate ship of Joseph Bannister, a well respected British merchant ship captain that suddenly turned pirate later in life (broke bad, if you will) and raised hell all over the Caribbean, even fighting off two British men-of-war while his ship lay helplessly careened on a beach. While others in the past claimed to have found pirate ships from the “Golden Age” of piracy, none have been proven with certainty to have been pirate vessels. Chatterton and Mattera’s quest was to find the Golden Fleece and prove her identity conclusively.

While the book proper is about the search for the shipwreck, and the logistics, research, and the large amounts of money required to fund such a search, Kurson also weaves in the stories of both Chatterton’s and Mattera’s lives up to the time of the quest. We’re also told the story of the pirate Joseph Bannister, as well as an overview of piracy in general. The multiple narratives weave together exceptionally well, each section leading to the next in a logical and enticing manner.

The sections on the historical research, most often carried out by Mattera, really drew my attention. It’s interesting to see how hours of research in a library or archive hall can lead to real world leads on where to look for something no one has seen in over 300 years. Collecting those accounts scattered across continents in centuries old books, maps and scraps of paper lead to modern-day results.

Ultimately “Pirate Hunters” takes us through the entire operation to conclusion. If you don’t want it spoiled how things turn out, then when you hit the color photos in the middle of the book, DON’T LOOK AT THEM. Of course anyone can Google the name of the ship and find the ultimate fate of the expedition, but I didn’t know and wanted to keep it that way until the end of the book. Once over that hurdle, though, the story continues on to it’s riveting conclusion.

“Pirate Hunters” managed to both inspire me and leave me a bit melancholy. The excellent writing, the interesting stories of the hunters, the fantastic history of their subject, and the way it all came together, made for an outstanding read. Very inspiring. Conversely, underwater archeology has always been one of my “somewhere in a parallel universe this is my life” vocations, and to read of something this thrilling and engrossing did leave me a bit chagrined that I’ve never experienced it myself. But then many people have never hunted a shipwreck, and for us “Treasure Hunters” brings the experience pretty darn close.

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