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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 30 August 2015

"A Pirate of Exquisite Mind" by Diana and Michael Preston

This is a biography of William Dampier, the first person to circumnavigate the world three times, who landed on the coast of Australia 80 years before Captain James Cook and who became the best selling author who inspired the new genre of travel writing as well as Robinson Crusoe (being on both the expeditions which marooned Alexander Selkirk and which rescued him) by Daniel Defoe (whose biography is reviewed here) and Gulliver's Travels. He is also responsible for a host of words including avocado, barbeque, chopsticks and sub-species.

But he started off as a buccaneer. Sailing to the West Indies he began working on a sugar plantation but his wanderlust soon got the better of him. He spent time as a logger before signing on as a pirate. His career in piracy was pretty lacklustre; in his first voyage he sacked a couple of towns but kept missing the rich prizes and he returned to England (having rounded Cape Horn and crossed the Pacific) after twelve years at sea with little to show for his trouble. His second voyage, as a captain of a scientific vessel for the Royal Navy was equally unsuccessful. Only on his third voyage, demoted to navigator under the command of Woodes Rogers, did he help in capturing a Spanish Galleon which earned him some thousands of pounds, enough to pay his debts after he had died. In all, he did better as an author.

The Prestons tell his tale in great detail which sometimes slows the narrative. A great deal of time is spent on the first voyage (to be fair, it was the longest, it took twelve years). But Dampier did so much and discovered so much that it is difficult to see how any less detail would be possible. Certainly the book is action packed to the extent that I got a little lost a times. I would have liked to see some (modern) maps to show exactly where he was at which time.

This is is an interesting biography of a fascinating man and well worth reading.

August 2015; 461 pages

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