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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea


  • 17 b/w illus. 1 map 8 tables
  • Page extent: 340 pages
  • Size: 216 x 138 mm
  • Weight: 0.635 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 387.5/0941
  • Dewey version: 19
  • LC Classification: VK57 .R43 1987
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Merchant mariners--Great Britain--History--18th century
    • Merchant mariners--North America--History--18th century
    • Navigation--Great Britain--History--18th century
    • Navigation--North America--History--18th century
    • Pirates--History--18th century

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521303422 | ISBN-10: 0521303427)

  • Also available in Paperback
  • Published December 1987

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

$113.00 (C)

The common seaman and the pirate in the age of sail are romantic historical figures who occupy a special place in the popular culture of the modern age. And yet in many ways, these daring men remain little known to us. Like most other poor working people of the past, they left few first-hand accounts of their lives. But their lives are not beyond recovery. In this book, Marcus Rediker uses a huge array of historical sources (court records, diaries, travel accounts, and many others) to reconstruct the social cultural world of the Anglo-American seamen and pirates who sailed the seas in the first half of the eighteenth century. Rediker tours the sailor's North Atlantic, following seamen and their ships along the pulsing routes of trade and into rowdy port towns. He recreates life along the waterfront, where seafaring men from around the world crowded into the sailortown and its brothels, alehouses, street brawls, and city jail. His study explores the natural terror that inevitably shaped the existence of those who plied the forbidding oceans of the globe in small, brittle wooden vessels. It also treats the man-made terror--the harsh discipline, brutal floggings, and grisly hangings--that was a central fact of life at sea. Rediker surveys the commonplaces of the maritime world: the monotonous rounds of daily labor, the negotiations of wage contracts, and the bawdy singing, dancing, and tale telling that were a part of every voyage. He also analyzes the dramatic moments of the sailor's existence, as Jack Tar battled wind and water during a slashing storm, as he stood by his "brother tars" in a mutiny or a stike, and as he risked his neck by joining a band of outlaws beneath the Jolly Roger, the notorious pirate flag. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea focuses upon the seaman's experience in order to illuminate larger historical issues such as the rise of capitalism, the genesis the free wage labor, and the growth of an international working class. These epic themes were intimately bound up with everyday hopes and fears of the common seamen.


List of illustrations; Acknowledgments; Abbreviations; Introduction; 1. The seaman as man of the world: a tour of the North Atlantic, c. 1740; 2. The seaman as collective worker: the labor process at sea; 3. The seaman as wage laborer: the search for ready money; 4. The seaman as plain dealer: language and culture at sea; 5. The seaman as the 'spirit of rebellion': authority, violence, and labor discipline; 6. The seaman as pirate: plunder and social banditry at sea; Conclusion: the seaman as worker of the world; Appendices; Index.

Prize Winner

The American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Prize

The Organization of American Historians' Merle Curti Social History Award


" excellent up-from-the-lower deck study of deepwater sailors in the eighteenth century...the best working-class history I've read in years." Robert Schaeffer, In These Times

"...No one interested in the history of the 18th century can afford to ignore this book." Christopher Hill

"...A fresh and powerful analysis of the 18th century maritime world." Gary Nash

"...the style is lucid, the tone is assured, the documentation professional and economical. And the book is brought to a triumphant conclusion with two superb chapters on the seaman as the 'Spirit of Rebellion' and as a pirate...What distinguishes Rediker's work is his unwavering and unsentimental focus on the seaman's labour and experience in his cramped wooden world." E.P. Thompson, The Guardian

"...a book that undoubtedly will have an enduring value. Every student of early eighteenth-century maritime affairs should read Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." John D. Byrn, Jr., The Eighteenth Century

"...luminous study of a neglected segment of colonial society." Robert M. Calhoon, Historical Journal of Massachusetts

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