A PIRATE OF EXQUISITE MIND: The Life of William Dampier: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer

Diana Preston, Author, Michael Preston, Author . Walker $27 (372p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1425-1

Dampier's adventures and observations ignited the imagination of a generation, but today his name is largely unknown. This exhaustive biography by Diana Preston (Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy ; The Boxer Rebellion ; etc.) and husband Michael won't make Dampier famous again, but it will give readers a clear understanding of one of the most well-traveled men in history. In the late 1600s, Dampier, an Englishman, circumnavigated the globe three separate times. The authors draw heavily on the books and articles Dampier published about his adventures, and they include the most mundane of details ("The buccaneers sailed on, pausing to bury at sea one of their number, who apparently expired of high fever exacerbated by hiccups brought on by a drinking bout at La Serena"). During his time as a buccaneer, Dampier launched dozens of raids on gold-laden Spanish ships, marched through Panama's jungles and mutinied many times. What distinguished him from an ordinary pirate, as the title indicates, was his sharp eye for observation. He was the first self-made naturalist to visit the Galápagos; his sketches of the region's turtles set the stage for Darwin's future visit. He also drew detailed maps of nearly every place he visited, charts that defined Western Europe's knowledge of the Americas and the South Seas. His theories about how wind patterns affect ocean currents are still used today. Indeed, Dampier's scientific and historical legacy holds up better than his swashbuckling escapades, which, though exciting, hold slightly less novelty. 65 b&w illus., maps. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (Apr.)

Forecast: This alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month, History and Quality Paperback Book Clubs should appeal to historians and pirate buffs, as well as fans of Patrick O'Brian novels and those enthralled by Pirates of the Caribbean. Like Humboldt's Cosmos (Forecasts, Feb. 9), it illuminates a largely forgotten adventurer. Booksellers might position the books together.

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Open Ebook - 512 pages - 978-1-4464-2918-1
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-425-20037-7
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-8027-1813-6
Paperback - 511 pages - 978-0-552-77210-5
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