It took me three years to read this book. This was not a series of attempts, starting over again and again, having forgotten what I read before, but a single attempt, in which I laid the book down for months at a time and, taking it up again, resumed where I had left off.
This book was extraordinarily detailed. With those familiar with my progress in the book, I have joked that I would have found less information had I read the primary sources myself. Mr. Davis put such great effort into researching this subject, and presenting the truthful information he found, that I found it very easy to become bogged down in the minutia. The book also had a tendency to follow rabbit-trails, pursuing avenues of historical data that seemed largely irrelevant to the story of the Laffites.
On that account, the book became most exciting near the end, when documents became scarce and historical accuracy fell away, in favor of a few spare reports and a host of romantic fiction. While the details of tangentially related admiralty courts and Mexican independence movements had some bearing on the story of the Laffites, the real character of the brothers–and the adventures of their lives–seemed an afterthought. The relation of their deaths, in the next-to-last chapter, occurred mid-paragraph without any fanfare. The final chapter focused, in part, on the death of piracy in the Gulf; the remainder was about race relations in Louisiana, where Pierre Laffite’s descendants sought to deny non-white ancestry and forgot about the infamous brothers (except that they were pirates).
The summation of the brothers’ lives was both telling and, in a way, disappointing. The pirates Laffite were so careless with their money, so self-interested, and so unsuccessful (in spite of their many talents) that, according to the author, they had almost no bearing on the politics of the Gulf and, ultimately, died in poverty and failure. On the one hand, this is a reasonable warning against a life of self-interest and piracy, but on the other, it begs the question of why I should have spent three years reading about these men. (The real answer, of course, is that I should have buckled down and read through the book in a sensible amount of time, but I digress.)
If your interest in the corsairs of the Gulf is that of an academic historian, seeking more details on the politics, economics, and complexities of life in the early 19th century, then this may very well be your favorite book. For me, I appreciated the look at the realities of the last age of piracy, and I found much of the book informative, and even entertaining, there was far too much detail to keep me engaged as a reader. (Perhaps you will say that I should read a romanticized fiction of piracy that focuses on tall tales rather than real history, and perhaps you would be right, but I’m still glad to have read this book–I only wish it hadn’t taken so long.)
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