Adrian Tinniswood is a masterly writer of history with a gift for slamming his readers into the thick of the action, as he demonstrated in his fine book on the Great Fire of London, By Permission of Heaven. Now he has tackled a subject thick with smoke and bright with daggers: the Barbary pirates. It is satisfactory to report that Tinniswood’s pirates – living hugger-mugger in the dens of Algiers and Tunis, Muslim corsairs sharing the streets with renegade Englishmen and Dutch outlaws – were as terrifying and successful as their engrossing reputation suggests.
Barbary piracy was part of a struggle for control over the western Mediterranean. The Ottoman Empire, centred on Istanbul, could never have hoped to achieve it on its own, so it took successful adventurers under its wing; they included the famous Barbarossa brothers from Lesbos, who, in the