Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review - The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin

A true history: a great power ignores the signs of the small attacks of Islamic terrorists whose power is growing. Then a nation is shocked by a daring, well-planned attack on a much larger scale. The U.S., Al Qaeda, and 9/11? Nope, this story takes place nearly 400 years earlier when Barbary pirates from Algiers seize more than 100 men, women, and children from the Irish fishing village of Baltimore and cart them off to slavery in the Ottoman Empire.

In The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates, Des Elkin takes upon himself the task of tracking down the facts of the long-ago Sack of Baltimore in 1631, and it's a fascinating history. Although little is known of the fate of most of the individual villagers who were carried into slavery, Ekin expands his story to include accounts from a wide assortment of Europeans who were carried into slavery during the 400 years when the pirates of the Barbary Coast roamed the seas.

Before I read this book, all I had known of this was a bit of the history of the Barbary War during Thomas Jefferson's administration and the later outbreak just after the War of 1812. So I was especially grateful to gain a broader appreciation for just how long the pirates of the Barbary states -- especially Algiers -- had been a thorn in the side of Europe.

Ekin does a good job of incorporating the original stories of many Europeans who were carried into slavery in Algiers, and also mixes in a few captive stories from North America. Some of the accounts make for truly gripping reads. And beyond the broad scope of history, there's a fascinating history to just why pirate captain Morat Rais may have chosen the Baltimore for his raid. I recommend reading this one right to the final sentence.

Summary: A fascinating history of an incident that I hadn't heard of before, and a well-written history that gave me great insight into a really interesting period.

Amazon: The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin.

How acquired: Picked it up on a whim in the bookstore at the Dublin, Ireland, airport a couple of years ago when I saw the title and subtitle, then the back-cover blurb sucked me in. (However, I didn't get around to reading it on the plane, and then it languished unjustly in my to-read pile until now.)


  1. I have never said, "Picked it up on a whim in the bookstore at the Dublin, Ireland, airport." Remind me to ditch these kids and get out of the country sometime. Canada does not count.

    It sounds like a great read. Pesky pirates.

  2. It was fun to type that sentence. That was when Mike and I were coming back from that rugby trip to Ireland.

  3. Ah Ha! Someone else has been reading about pirates! I'll perhaps borrow this from you sometime soon?