by Richard Phillips

Reviewer Rating:


I actually listened to this as an audiobook, and I recommend this format if you are interested in Richard Phillips' story. I heard an interview with the author on Fresh Air a while ago, and then saw the Tom Hanks, Hollywood movie version of the story, Captain Phillips. It is a great story, full of excitement and anticipation, and ends (sort of) happily, with Captain Phillips coming out alive. For an adventure and survival tale, this book is great.

What isn't great about it, is the way that almost no context is given in terms of why modern day pirate attacks occur, or the economic reality of the impoverished people who participate in such events. Phillips does mention (very briefly) the poverty and desperation of most pirates, but in the same breath he asserts his belief that the pirates are simply "lazy" and that "stealing is stealing." My problem with these statements is that they are incredibly oversimplified and they ignore the reality of what multinational corporations have done to the Somali coast (coming off the shore of Somalia and taking copious amounts of fish, wreaking environmental and economic devastation on the people living in these countries).

Phillips says that he has seen "lots of fish" in these waters, thus concluding the pirates are lazy and simply found an easier way to make money (piracy). I just don't buy this claim. I understand why he would not have a great impression of Somali pirates given what he went through and the way they treated him, but I don't think he paints an accurate picture of the circumstances of most Somali lives. It could be argued that the huge ships from other countries that take fish off the Somali coast are also stealing. Phillips' position on this and his lack of curiosity about the phenomenon turned me off. 

Also, readers should know there is a fair deal of controversy surrounding Phillips' version of the story versus many of the crew members who served aboard the ship with him. Many have come out and criticized the way he handled the takeover of the ship, and have even questioned his leadership prior to being attacked, saying he disregarded warnings about piracy in the area and took the ship too close to shore. Some do not like the way Phillips has portrayed himself (as a hero who sacrificed himself for his crew). Phillips does not address any of these questions in his book. Despite my criticisms of the way he discusses these issues, I still loved the book. 

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Very interesting observations re: " Phillips' view of the pirates. There are historical, political and economic precedents to the current situation in that region. That though would probably take up a few books to explain.

Thanks for commenting Josh! I agree that a comprehensive discussion of the historical, political, and economic precedents leading to modern day Somali piracy are beyond the scope of this book. If nothing else, I can thank Phillips for making me more interested in this fascinating topic!

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