The Invisible Hook | Book Review

Have you ever wondered why pirates used the Jolly Roger-flag? Or how they recruited more pirates? How much power did the pirate captains really have on their ship? All these questions and plenty more get answered in Peter T. Leeson’s “The Invisible Hook”

“If the invisible hand examines the hidden order behind the metaphorical ‘Anarchy of the market”, the invisible hook examines the hidden order behind the literal anarchy of the pirates” – Peter Leeson

Pirates have been romanticized and dramatized quite a lot in pop culture; from animated tv-show to video games, from novels to movies. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something extremely fascinating about rowing sea-bandits sailing the seven seas for plunder (and, I guess, a good time every now and then).

As with most popular culture phenomenons, there are exaggerations, myths, and pure legends as a side effect – A good storyteller doesn’t just want to give the audience any story, they want to tell the best story.

Author Peter Leeson has researched a great deal for the creation of his book “The Invisible Hook” (a play on word on the classical economists Hidden Hand-concept), an impressive amount, in fact, to look deeper into what is myths and what is facts. A good 30 pages or so at the back of the book gives the references and notes of the research Mr. Leeson put in to create the book.

The author humbles himself in the introduction by pre-excusing (I’m not even sure that’s a phrase hehe) himself to any historian that might read the book. Leeson is an economist and not a historian, so might miss an obvious way to approach and dissect source material, as he put it.

Noble, but totally unnecessary in my mind: Leeson is doing a dang good job at showing the reader when he is speculating and on what basis he is getting his specific conclusions from, which is both great and something that is severely missing from many historians works. Hat’s off for that approach.

“Finally, pirate democracy didn’t emerge out of pirates adherence to romantic ideals about man’s right to have a right to have a say in who governs him. It emerged out of pirate profit seeking á la the ‘invisible hook’. Pirates were interested in preventing captain predation, which threatened to undermine their ability to cooperate for coordinated plunder” – Peter Leeson

If historical-research, and presentation, is the potatoes of the book, the economics is definitely the meat.

Leeson gives a flawless relationship between academic economic concepts like the principal-agent problem, negative externalities, private property rights, and many others, by using these concepts and fusing them with practices used by the pirate crews the author gives a very pedagogical introduction to many of economic principles. Everything is more fun and interesting with eye-patches, parrots and swashbucklers as props!

This book is a study in how self-interested parties, that need control mechanisms can not only solve problems of the sovereignty of individuals but showcase how these can cooperate in a very violent environment. I can not underline this enough. Because, as much as I like the history and economic lessons that are presented in the “Invisible Hook”, it is the anti-government sentiments that really stole my heart.

Pirate articles, then, satisfied each of the three features required for successfull governance. What’s even more incredible, they did so privately, without the aid of government” – Peter Leeson

If pirates and their impact on history and their society tickle your imagination and you want a book that takes a practical look on that, this is the book to pick up.

It is written in a reader-friendly way, in an almost conversational manner, and it’s hard to put it down once you’ve started to read it. This is one of my surprise hits this year. The “Invisible hook” will be a solid addition to my library, with lots of bookmarks consisting of post-it notes scattered all over it.

(The author gets bonus points for the easter egg at the start of the book for Ania. If you get the book you will understand what I mean)


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2 comments

  1. Excellent review! This sounds like a book that I would enjoy reading. Thanks for the tip.

    Speaking of pirates, in 2005 my wife and I were in the Bahamas on vacation, driving around Grand Bahama looking for a beach she’d heard about, when we came to a guard shack and were told we couldn’t go any further. Turns out that Pirates of the Caribbean, Part II, was being filmed there. We went a little further on, got to the beach, and began walking back to the movie set. We could actually see the ship, actors, and were close enough to watch the camera booms moving around. I would have walked right up there, but my wife didn’t want to, so we went back.

    It made the whole trip worthwhile and we never would have experienced it if we had stayed at the hotel swimming pool, as most ‘good’ tourists do.

    Liked by 1 person

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