A Bibliography of Useful History BooksThis is a list of a few of the books I've found useful for historical research on the period from roughly 1650 to 1750.
General 17th-18th Century HistoryLove And Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser (2006, Phoenix)
A history of Louis XIV's relationships with women: his family, lovers, children, and protégées. This book focuses on the court. The king's politics and religion, and the struggles of ordinary people in France at the time, are background noise whilst the king and his hedonistic court take centre stage. Fraser isn't openly critical, and tends to let readers make up their own minds about the people featured. But reading about this appalling shower of spoilt, self-obsessed layabouts who feasted, danced, squabbled and gambled whilst their countrymen and women starved and fought raises an important question. Why didn't the French Revolution happen 100 years earlier?
Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs by Janet Few (2012, The Family History Partnership)
This deals with the lives of people in seventeenth century Britain, and it's a comprehensive guide to daily life. There are details of what people ate, wore, owned, used as medicine, and did for leisure, amongst other things. This illustrated book is an ideal resource for getting a picture of how people lived in that time, and what different possessions said about their status.
Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the Lives of Our Seventeenth Century Ancestors on Amazon
Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England by Emily Cockayne (2007, Yale)
This book focuses on the awful aspects of living in England from 1600 to 1770. Whether it's dirt, disease, noise, lack of light, poor housing, or a host of other complaints, Cockayne's narrative truly un-romanticises the past.
Restoration London by Liza Picard (2003, Phoenix)
As an author researching the 17th and 18th centuries, I'm generally trying to answer the question: how did people live in that period? This book covers 1660-1670, and it's one of the best I've yet found on the lives of ordinary people. It deals with subjects as diverse as furniture, fashion,cooking, cosmetics, medicine, the world of work, and the status of women.
It is written by a lawyer rather than a historian, but the research is nevertheless very detailed and fascinating.
London In The Eighteenth Century by Jerry White (2012, The Bodley Head)
A very thorough look at the lives of C18th Londoners of all classes and professions.
The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama (1987, Fontana Press)
A detailed look at 17th century Dutch culture.
The Kit-Cat Club by Ophelia Field (2009, Harper Perennial)
Life in late 17th and early 18th century Britain, through the lives of a tight-knit group of Whig men who were very influential in literature and politics. It's an in-depth account of the jobs, rivalries and activities of individual club members.
The Weaker Vessel by Antonia Fraser (1984, Phoenix)
The lives of women in seventeenth century England.
SlaveryA Short History of Slavery by James Walvin (2007, Penguin)
A thorough and often moving introduction to a shameful aspect of human history.
Rough Crossings by Simon Schama (2005, BBC Books)
An account of slavery and the campaign for abolition from the late C18th to early C19th. Very readable.
PiracyPirates: Terror on the High Seas - From the Caribbean to the South China Sea edited by David Cordingly (1998, JG Press)
This is a lavishly-illustrated coffee-table book, although many of its images are from attractive but non-contemporary paintings. It touches on piracy from ancient times to the modern day, but its main focus is on the so-called golden age of piracy, around the beginning of the eighteenth century. It's also particularly useful on documenting piracy in the eastern seas.
Buy on Amazon UK
A Pirate Of Exquisite Mind by Diana and Michael Preston (2004, Corgi)
William Dampier was more of an explorer and a naturalist than a pirate, and his own writings left out many of the more scandalous aspects of his life. This thorough biography fills in lots of the gaps.
The Buccaneers of the Caribbean: How Piracy Forged an Empire, 1607-1697 by Jon Latimer (2009, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
This book focuses on the battles and dates, and it's less informative about how the buccaneers lived day to day. It makes the history of piracy and buccaneering seem like one tawdry land-grab after another.
Life Among The Pirates: The Romance And The Reality by David Cordingly (1999, Abacus)
A comprehensive study of what life was like for pirates, particularly during the late 17th and early 18th century. The book includes a brief look at how and why fictional representations differ from history.
The Pirate Ship 1660-1730 by Angus Konstam, illustrated by Tony Bryan (2003, Osprey Publishing)
This is short but specific and well-illustrated.
Contemporary AccountsA Voyage To New Holland in the Year 1699 by William Dampier (1703)
For a modern reader Dampier tends to dwell on the least exciting aspects of his voyage: the flora, fauna and geography, most of which we're familiar with. But he skips over the realities of slavery, the Inquisition, and the way his crew very nearly mutinied on him.
A Continuation of a Voyage To New Holland by William Dampier (1709)
Dampier continues his journey, searching for fresh water, and dealing with poor charts, a leaky ship and hostile natives who suspected him and his crew of being pirates.
Anson's Voyage Around The World by Richard Walter (1748)
There's a good description of the worst effects of scurvy, which killed off hundreds of Anson's crew. This account was written by the Chaplain, who gives a very pro-English account, of cowardly Spanish enemies, and shifty and incompetent Chinese. There's a lot of interesting detail amongst the propaganda though.
The Pirates of Panama by Alexandre Olivier Esquemeling (also known as John Esquemeling) (1678)
This is an account of notorious pirates such as L'Ollonais and Captain Henry Morgan, by a man who was with them, probably as a surgeon. He paints the pirates as cruel, spendthrift and deserving of punishment, which is a bit rich considering he was one of them.
The True-Born Englishman by Daniel Defoe (1701)
A short satire in verse, berating the English for their pride in their long ancestries and showing up how ridiculous this is. The style is tedious, and it's of limited use if your main aim is to learn more about how people lived at that time.