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A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampierby Diana Preston
"As to [Dampier's] literary talent, the liveliness of the travel writing in which he embedded his biological and physical insights was perhaps the greatest of his gifts to future generations. Diana and Michael Preston, with their painstaking scrutiny of original sources (including Dampier's unpublished drafts) have at least been able to give East Coker's Pirate of Exquisite Mind the biographical monument he deserves." Richard Shelton, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement)
Synopses & Reviews
The first major biography of the explorer — and pirate — who inspired Darwin, Defoe, and Cook.
Charles Darwin called his books "a mine of information" and took them aboard the Beagle. Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe used his experiences as inspiration in writing Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe. Captain James Cook relied heavily on his observations while voyaging around the world. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him a genius and "a man of exquisite mind." In the history of exploration, nobody has ventured further than Englishman William Dampier (1651-1715).
At a time when surviving a voyage across the Pacific was cause for celebration, Dampier journeyed three times around the world, sailing more than two hundred thousand miles in his lifetime. As a young man he spent several years in the swashbuckling company of buccaneers in the Caribbean, learning to survive in their bloodthirsty, uncertain world. Later, his bestselling books about his experiences were a sensation, and his observations and insights influenced generations of scientists, explorers, and writers.
Dampier has more than a thousand entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, and he introduced hundreds of words into the English language, including barbecue, chopsticks, and kumquat. Yet while the exploits of Cook, Ernest Shackleton, and a host of legendary explorers have been widely chronicled, those of perhaps the greatest are practically invisible today — an omission that Diana and Michael Preston have redressed in this vivid, compelling biography.
Dampier's powers of observation were astonishing. He was the first to deduce that winds cause currents and the first to produce wind maps across the world, which surpassed eventhe work of Edmund Halley. His insights when on land were equally acute: For example, he introduced the concept of the "sub-species" that Darwin later built into his theory of evolution, and Dampier's description of the breadfruit was the impetus for Captain Bligh's voyage on the Bounty. Dampier was the first Briton to reach Australia, 80 years before Cook, and he later led the first formal expedition of science and discovery, to Australia. He was celebrated by the leading politicians, scientists, and society figures of his day.
To depict Dampier's life, the Prestons retraced his footsteps around the world. Interweaving Dampier's colorful prose into their narrative, they have brought the same immediacy to his life and times as Dampier brought to his own reading public. A Pirate of Exquisite Mind restores William Dampier to his rightful place in history — one of the pioneers on whose insights our understanding of the natural world was built.
"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 Galpagos; 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Nonfiction veteran Diana Preston and husband Michael convey Dampier's life in punchy, declarative sentences, strained only by the sheer plentitude of his doings." Kirkus Reviews
Darwin took his books aboard the Beagle. Swift and Defoe used his experiences as inspiration in writing Gullivers Travels and Robinson Crusoe. Captain Cook relied on his observations while voyaging around the world. Coleridge called him a genius and “a man of exquisite mind.” In the history of exploration, nobody has ventured further than Englishman William Dampier. Yet while the exploits of Cook, Shackleton, and a host of legendary explorers have been widely chronicled, those of perhaps the greatest are virtually invisible todayan omission that Diana and Michael Preston have redressed in this vivid, compelling biography.
As a young man Dampier spent several years in the swashbuckling company of buccaneers in the Caribbean. At a time when surviving one voyage across the Pacific was cause for celebration, Dampier ultimately journeyed three times around the world; his bestselling books about his experiences were a sensation, influencing generations of scientists, explorers, and writers. He was the first to deduce that winds cause currents and the first to produce wind maps across the world, surpassing even the work of Edmund Halley. He introduced the concept of the “sub-species” that Darwin later built into his theory of evolution, and his description of the breadfruit was the impetus for Captain Blighs voyage on the Bounty. Dampier reached Australia 80 years before Cook, and he later led the first formal expedition of science and discovery there.
A Pirate of Exquisite Mind restores William Dampier to his rightful place in historyone of the pioneers on whose insights our understanding of the natural world was built.
About the Author
Born and raised in London, Diana Preston studied Modern History at Oxford University, where she first became involved in journalism. After earning her degree, she became a freelance writer of feature and travel articles for national UK newspapers and magazines and has subsequently reviewed books for a number of publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. She has also been a broadcaster for the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and has been featured in various television documentaries.
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