project: Diamond Demon

 I finished a book on pirates, shut the back cover, and the opening scene for this started rolling on the inside of my forehead. No, I had not yet seen Pirates of the Caribbean. Rather, I had been a sucker for pirate movies from my earliest days, and it finally all came together. I had enough sailing background, and dug in deeper on the period stuff.

So this list really is choke ship books, as it needs to be.

One of my biggest questions was in setting the time period. When was there a whole lot of piracy by many nations? After a certain period, the Caribbean is policed by the British or the Americans. I wound up constructing out of the encyclopedia a timeline of wars, then added in from my pirate sources. This let me refine what ships would be used, even the shifting alliances back when my female lead was born. Often a lot of your 50 books will be research refining from the general to the final choice of year.


John Esquemeling; Basil Ringrose; The Buccaneers of America, with The Voyage of Capt. Bartholomew Sharp; 1678; reprinted by Dorset Press, 1987.

 1). A general history of the time, not over 200 pages.
I hopped articles in my 1959 Americana. Before PotC, remember. Start with Wikipedia, "17th century" then hop links from there.

2.) An "everyday life" book of the period.
Hippolyte A. Taine; The Origins of Contemporary France, v.1, The Ancien Regime; 1875, trans. 1880 (preface notes 1881). This is the France where my protagonist went away to school

3.) General transportation:
It's pirates. It's almost all on board ships. So I went first to Attilio Cucari; Sailing Ships (Rand McNally color illustrated guides)

4.) General costume
Costumers Manifesto is a free online resource for this. It let me check past Boucher in detail. (François Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, Harry N. Abrams, NY.) Actually, Costumers Manifesto had pretty much all I needed.

5.) Specific transportation:
Ships: Robert Gardiner, editor; Cogs, Caravels and Galleons; The Sailing Ship 1000-1650 ; 1994; Conway Maritime Press, London.

6.) Etiquette, and I don't mean morals for maidens.
Castiglione's Book of the Courtier still applies as the etiquette book for all Europe. Table manners in this story are largely a matter of not getting in the way of anyone's knife.

7.) Spectator entertainments, whether theatre or sports, a general overview.
I had a general idea from theatre history, but they were not appearing here. Sub Traité contre les danses. Par Jean Boiseul; Jean Boiseul, La Rochelle, Les heritiers de Hierosme Havltin, 1606. When you're setting in a non-Anglophonic country, sources in that language are invaluable.

8.) Self-entertainments, like card games, lawn games, and children's games.
This was mainly for pirates throwing dice on deck. I never really had to get into into this. We can claim R. C. Bell, The Boardgame Book for some tavern games.

9.) Food and dining, including what sort of public dining was available.
William Harlan Hale, and the editors of Horizon Magazine: The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking Through the Ages

10.) Recipes for period food.
On board a pirate ship?! Often the less said the better. But I scraped up some period foods in Hale (just above). This is the advantage of a copy of that work: my copy has one volume for history and one volume for recipes, that lives in my kitchen, so many are good.

11.) Marriage and family.
Hippolyte A. Taine; The Origins of Contemporary France, v.1, The Ancien Regime; 1875, trans. 1880 (preface notes 1881), again.

12.) Specific dress styles, for your decade, including specialty costumes for clerics.
So specific, I use three books. Norah Waugh, The Cut of Men's Clothes, 1600-1900, The Cut of Women's Clothes, 1600-1900, and Corsets and Crinolines,

13.) Religion for the time and place.
Modern Catholicism is extremely different from medieval Catholicism, but this I am having to reconstruct piecemeal. I got some help from John Frederick Schwaller, Church and Clergy in Sixteenth-Century Mexico;1987; U of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

14.) A fat history book of the area and century as an introduction.
Will and Ariel Durant's: v. 7, The Story of Civilization : The Age of Reason Begins

15.) A history of the most influential country at the time (country A).
This would be Hapsburg Empire, which includes Spain. It doesn't say big history: The Americana articles were good enough. In your case, Wikipedia.

16.) A history of its rival (country B).
Close call between Britain and France, but I have a French protagonist. François Guizot and Mdm. Guizot de Witt; History of France, V5

17.) A biography of the leader of country A
Unnecessary. Substitute Rayner Thrower; The Pirate Picture

18.) A biography of the leader of country B
Louis XIV. Makers of History Series
by John S. C. Abbott.

19.) A history of the country you are setting in, general.
The messy colonies of the Caribbean, which aren't even a good reflection of politics in Europe. It took an island-by-island online search of history.

20.) A history of the country you are setting in, that era.
Covered in 19. Sub Angus Konstam; plates by Angus McBride; Buccaneers 1620-1700 (Elite), Osprey Publishing.

21.) A biography of the leader of the country of your setting.
Impossible. Sub Angus Konstam; plates by Tony Bryan; The Pirate Ship 1660-1730 (New Vanguard), Osprey Publishing.

22.) An everyday life for the commoner/lower classes of your time and place.
See below: John Esquemeling; Basil Ringrose; The Buccaneers of America

23.) An everyday life for the upper classes of your time and place.
Hippolyte A. Taine; The Origins of Contemporary France, v.1, The Ancien Regime; 1875, trans. 1880 (preface notes 1881).

24.) An everyday life for the middle class of your time and place.
Andrew Trout, City On the Seine: Paris in the Time of Richelieu and Louis XIV, 1614-1715

25.) An everyday life for women of your time and place
Still looking, and I don't think one will ever show up. But for woman pirates, I had Salmonson, Jessica Amanda; The Encyclopedia of Amazons: Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern Era; 1991; Paragon House, NY.

26.) An auto/biography of someone like your protagonist, or a book as much as possible focused on people like that.
John Esquemeling; Basil Ringrose; The Buccaneers of America; 1678; repr. Dorset Press, 1987, covering pirates, Caribbean, Tortuga, Hispaniola, Henry Morgan, Panama, Tobago, South America, Peru, 1650-1680. This is pretty dead on.

27.) A book on houses and furnishings of the period, if possible.
French Furniture under Louis XIV
(1922) by Roger de Felice.

28.) A book about courting, romance, and sex of the time.
Still looking. This is often the hardest book to locate, as valuable as it would be, because it often doesn't exist. They didn't used to write about this stuff, except in fiction.

29.) A book for naming historical characters properly.
Holly Ingraham, People's Names: A Cross-Cultural Reference Guide to the Proper Use of Over 40000personal and Familial Names in Over 100 Cultures, 1997, McFarland., as usual. By this time, Vintage characteristics mainly apply, but I leant toward late Rennaissance lists.

30.) Medicine of the time and place.
A History of Medicine
, 1945; Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd;. London, Edinburgh, Paris, Melbourne, New York; it covers around 500 BC to 1940 CE.

31.) Climate, weather, and seasons.
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
by Brian M. Fagan (2001, Basic Books). I often wonder if anyone notices that the flood of New World colonists coincides with horrible weather in Europe. It wasn't so bad in the other hemisphere. I found myself in the pits of the Little Ice Age and it worked well for my antagonist's motivation.


What I needed here were charts, since so much of it is at sea. For that, checking on a few things that were period, I was free to use the oldest modern ones I could. Unlike maps, charts don't have borders and other annoying political markings.

 32) More Ships: Robert Gardiner, editor, The Line of Battle: The Sailing Warship 1650-1840.

33) More Ships: William Ledyard Rodgers, vice admiral, USN, ret.; Naval Warfare Under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries. A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design; 1940, 1967; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.

34) Piracy: John Sugden; Sir Francis Drake

35) Setting: Russell Sackett; Edge of the Sea

36) Setting: A. B. C. Whipple; Restless Oceans (Planet Earth Series)

37) Female employments: Elsie Davenport, Your Handspinning , 1953, 1964, Select Books, Mountain View, MO. Because even ladies spin flax, and this shows how to dress the strick on the spindle. Embroidery took over in the story, but I've been doing that so long I didn't need a book for the short scene. But I had done my research in case I had needed it. Not everything you research will wind up being used.

38) Magic, Science, and Alchemy: "Albertus Magnus"; Albertus Magnus. Being the Approved, Verified, Sympathetic and Natural Egyptian Secrets or White and Black Art for Man and Beast. Revealing the Forbidden Knowledge and Mysteries of Ancient Philosophers. The recipes in this book seem to date from about this time, by internal evidence. So this is gilding, waterproofing boots, and what to write on a wooden plate to throw into a house fire to snuff it out. I don't know if another copy of this reprint still exists. But I have a period sorcerer.

39) Martial Arts: Alfred Hutton; Old Sword-Play: The Systems of Fence in Vogue During the XVIth, XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, with Lessons Arranged from the Works of Various Ancient Masters; 1892; H. Grevel & Co., Londdon & B. Westermann & Co., NY; Dover 2001; 1536-1765.

40) Martial Arts: John Clements; Renaissance Swordsmanship: The Illustrated Use of Rapiers and Cut-and-Thrust Swords; 1997; Paladin Press, Boulder CO.

41) Martial Arts: G. Hale, Gentleman; The Private Schoole of Defence. Or, The Defects of Publique Teachers, Exactly Discovered, by Way of Objection and Resolution. Together with the True Practise of the Science, Set Downe in Judicious Rules and Observations; in a Method Never before Expressed; 1614; London: Printed for John Helme, and are to be found At his Shop in S. Dunstames' Church-yard in Fleet Street. English. My period books include Vincente Saviolo (his spelling literally gives me headaches), both books by Silver, and several French ones of the time. Fencing was just being really developed at the time, and in Saviolo the lunge does not yet appear.

The reason for three is to compare the two reconstructions and the period book, and see who may be cock-eyed. I'm expecting a lot of violence. It's pirates.

42) Setting: the editors of Time-Life Books; Life Nature Library: The Sea

43) France: Charles Kingsley; Ancien Régime; 1867

44) More Ships: George C. V. Holmes; Ancient and Modern Ships. Part 1. Wooden Sailing Ships

45) Navigation: Build your own sextant from a CD and the back of its jewel case [free site]--something to do with that album you hate or the backup burn that failed or yet another AOL offer, and the jewel case with the broken lid hinges. But don't believe him that all sextants start at $50 in plastic: in 2007, I got a lovely brass one with the half-mirror, coloured lenses, &c. for less than $30 with shipping. Check the internet. You ought to know by now that I believe in hands-on research: you learn so many things about your character and details you can build in, even plot twists that come out of actually doing the things. A series of cloudy days can get you very lost. Your character needs a honed skill and mathematics and a good chronometer: dimwits can't navigate. This isn't like GPS or even LORAN.

46) Navigation: Nathaniel Bowditch ought to be venerated for founding The American Practical Navigator (US Hydrographic Bureau; (free download 1995 edition online in PDFs) The main link will take you to the latest "buy a dead tree" edition (though not the CD-ROM), the date link to an older pdf copy. The newest edition still covers weather and sea conditions, how to do celestial navigation with tools like sextants, dead reckoning, etc. Your sailing characters will need to do this. I just stumbled on my '38 in a local thrift shop (I live on an island, after all, and old sailing books fill the attics). The author name link takes you to the article on him at Wikipedia, which is worth reading.

47) Navigation: Bruce Bauer's The Sextant Handbook (1995; McGraw-Hill Professional) is available as PDF on Google Books. This one is particularly good because of the long introduction in the opening chapters on the history of the development of the sextant, so it covers quadrants, astrolabes, and other early devices, and their limitations.

48) Yet More Ships: E. Keble Chatterton, 1878-1944; Sailing Ships: the Story of Their Development from Earliest Times to the Present Day (1909; London: Sidwick and Jackson)

49) General: J. M. Stone; Studies from Court and Cloister Being Essays, Historical and Literary, Dealing Mainly with Subjects Relating to the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries; 1908; London.

50) Music: This is the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque. What I actually needed was what sort of music would be found way below the level of Monteverdi. Re-enactor sites helped. I actually found a period song about pirates, translated from the Dutch! But I wrote to soundtrack music.

If you need something else for your particular story around this time, maybe Historical Novelists Center can help with their Early Modern Europe pages.

copyright Holly Ingraham


 50 Books for:

The Peloponnese, 396 BC 

 Early Viking, c. 850

The First Crusade, Outre-Mer 1098 

 The Hundred Years War, France1352

Richelieuan France, 1630

Pirate Caribbean, 1670 

 Napoleonic London Highlife 1803

Regency London Highlife 1817

Mexico, 1846-8

 London Low-Life 1870

 Gilded Age New York 1898

Check the Near History sample guides. There's more to read, but mostly lighter stuff, as well as lots more in video. A few appropriate movies from a year are much easier to get through than a detail biography of a president and will tell you more about ordinary life.

Return to introduction.