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The Invisible Hook:
The Hidden Economics of Pirates
Peter T. Leeson

One of San Francisco Chronicle's 100 Best Books for 2009
Winner of the 2009 Best International Nonfiction Book, Week
Winner of the 2009 Gold Medal Book of the Year Award in Business and Economics, ForeWord Reviews

Paperback | 2011 | $16.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691150093
288 pp. | 5 x 8 | 8 halftones. 1 table.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400829866 |
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Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss--it's time to go a-pirating! The Invisible Hook takes readers inside the wily world of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century pirates. With swashbuckling irreverence and devilish wit, Peter Leeson uncovers the hidden economics behind pirates' notorious, entertaining, and sometimes downright shocking behavior. Why did pirates fly flags of Skull & Bones? Why did they create a "pirate code"? Were pirates really ferocious madmen? And what made them so successful? The Invisible Hook uses economics to examine these and other infamous aspects of piracy. Leeson argues that the pirate customs we know and love resulted from pirates responding rationally to prevailing economic conditions in the pursuit of profits.

The Invisible Hook looks at legendary pirate captains like Blackbeard, Black Bart Roberts, and Calico Jack Rackam, and shows how pirates' search for plunder led them to pioneer remarkable and forward-thinking practices. Pirates understood the advantages of constitutional democracy--a model they adopted more than fifty years before the United States did so. Pirates also initiated an early system of workers' compensation, regulated drinking and smoking, and in some cases practiced racial tolerance and equality. Leeson contends that pirates exemplified the virtues of vice--their self-seeking interests generated socially desirable effects and their greedy criminality secured social order. Pirates proved that anarchy could be organized.

Revealing the democratic and economic forces propelling history's most colorful criminals, The Invisible Hook establishes pirates' trailblazing relevance to the contemporary world.


"A brisk, clever new book, The Invisible Hook, by Peter T. Leeson, an economist who claims to have owned a pirate skull ring as a child and to have had supply-and-demand curves tattooed on his right biceps when he was seventeen, offers a different approach. Rather than directly challenging pirates' leftist credentials, Leeson says that their apparent espousal of liberty, equality, and fraternity derived not from idealism but from a desire for profit."--Caleb Crain, New Yorker

"[S]urprising and engaging . . . . [Leeson's] seminars must be wildly popular."--Stephen Sedley, London Review of Books

"Economist Leeson leads readers though a surprisingly entertaining crash course in economics in this study of high seas piracy at the turn of the 18th century. . . . Illustrated with salty tales of pirates both famous and infamous, the book rarely bogs down even when explaining intricate economic concepts, making it a great introduction to both pirate history and economic theory."--Publishers Weekly

"Mr. Leeson's book represents a serious attempt to use the tools of economics to make sense of the institutions of piracy. The book is another example of economic imperialism, the use of economics to make sense of real world phenomena that are outside the standard realm of economic science. It addresses an important force that did, and does, impact world trade. But as the skull and crossbones on its spine suggests, the book is also just fun. . . . [T]he book manages to be entertaining and informative. It is a fun read and provides parents with something to teach their children while looking for pirate treasure left long ago at the beach."--Edward Glaeser, Economix blog,

"The Invisible Hook is an excellent book by one of the most creative young economists around."--Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics blog

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations xi
Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
Chapter 1: The Invisible Hook 1
Chapter 2: Vote for Blackbeard
The Economics of Pirate Democracy 23
Chapter 3: An-arrgh-chy
The Economics of the Pirate Code 45
Chapter 4: Skull & Bones
The Economics of the Jolly Roger 82
Chapter 5: Walk the Plank
The Economics of Pirate Torture 107
Chapter 6: Pressing Pegleg
The Economics of Pirate Conscription 134
Chapter 7: Equal Pay for Equal Prey
The Economics of Pirate Tolerance 156
Chapter 8: The Secrets of Pirate Management 176
Epilogue: Omnipresent Economics 194
Postscript: You Can't Keep a Sea Dog Down The Fall and Rise of Piracy 197
Where This Book Found Its Buried Treasure A Note on Sources 207
Notes 213
Index 2

This book has been translated into:

  • Chinese simplified
  • Japanese
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Chinese (Complex)
  • Chinese (Simplified)

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