I'm 169 pages into the 600-page "A General History of the Pyrates," (the modern book with soft covers, not the original letterpress edition with all the f's), and finding it very uneven. This newsy book is most often cited as a work by Daniel Defoe, who wrote enormous amounts of stuff very quickly and never revised, although nothing I've read by him ever shows any weakness whatsoever.
Amazon.com credits Defoe with the authorship of "Pyrates," but the reference article at Wikipedia raises the possibility that publisher Nathaniel Mist wrote it.
Either way it's lively as hell, and what I've learned from it so far is that these desperate men (and a few women), colorful and romantic according to our modern portrayals of them, were drunken, sleazy, illiterate, mostly sadistic, violent gangsters. They often eased into the life by first becoming privateers, an arrangement in which known thugs obtained government licenses to engage in legalized piracy, as long as they didn't attack their own king's vessels, and the king got his cut of the action.
When the license was eventually withdrawn, and it invariably was, these professional robbers and cutters of throats usually continued their chosen profession without benefit of a license, and no longer restrained themselves from attacks on their own country's ships.
The worst pyrate was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. He was such a villain that when the brave Leftenant Bobby Maynard went after him without a single cannon, just pistols and cutlasses, and did a David-and-Goliath turn by cutting off Blackbeard's head and hanging it from his bowsprit, I found myself cheering inwardly.
Pirates are perennially marketable in any era's pop culture, and "Pyrates" was a commercial success, as was Daniel Defoe's most famous book, the historical novel "Robinson Crusoe." However his masterpiece, a work Virginia Woolf described as "one of the few works in English that is indisputably great," was his account of an abandoned child who became a part-time prostitute and petty thief, Moll Flanders.
Although it was written as quickly as any of his other productions, "Moll" sustains an amazing intensity from beginning to end, and the writing gets both feet off the ground and flies. DeFoe was, I think, wrestling within himself over the thorny question of who was to blame for Moll's criminal life. Was she herself responsible? Defoe portrays her as a morally weak and spiritually bankrupt voluptuary who never, after her first youthful infatuation, gave a thought to anyone but herself.
Or was her turning toward crime and the seamy London underworld as a part-time sex worker and full-time pickpocket forced upon her by a callous, stratified, male-dominated, hypocritical society, an environment in which a poor woman with no family connections, no dowry with which to snag a well-off husband, and no friends in high places had no other way to live?
My reading of the novel is that DeFoe was never able to answer his own question.