The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous


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Fighting to Save a Way of Life in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

Ken Wells; With a New Preface

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How a plucky coterie of Louisiana shrimp-boat captains faced down the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history—only to realize that the struggle to preserve their centuries-old culture had just begun

With a long and colorful family history of defying storms, the seafaring Robin cousins of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, make a fateful decision to ride out Hurricane Katrina on their hand-built fishing boats in a sheltered Civil War–era harbor called Violet Canal.  But when Violet is overrun by killer surges, the Robins must summon all their courage, seamanship, and cunning to save themselves and the scores of others suddenly cast into their care.

In this gripping saga, Louisiana native Ken Wells provides a close-up look at the harrowing experiences in the backwaters of New Orleans during and after Katrina. Focusing on the plight of the intrepid Robin family, whose members trace their local roots to before the American Revolution, Wells recounts the landfall of the storm and the tumultuous seventy-two hours afterward, when the Robins’ beloved bayou country lay catastrophically flooded and all but forgotten by outside authorities as the world focused its attention on New Orleans. Wells follows his characters for more than two years as they strive, amid mind-boggling wreckage and governmental fecklessness, to rebuild their shattered lives. This is a story about the deep longing for home and a proud bayou people’s love of the fertile but imperiled low country that has nourished them.

Called “the Cajun Carl Hiaasen” by Tom Wolfe, Ken Wells is an editor-at-large for Bloomberg News in New York and a contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Visit the author's website.

Read Ken Wells's thoughts on storytelling in the new issue of Mayborn Magazine.

Click here to listen to an interview with Ken Wells on Book Report

"Gripping. . . . This is not another sad Katrina book. It's a book that dispassionately looks at what happened and why and relies on facts for impact. Everyone should read it."—Greg Langley, The Advocate (Baton Rouge)

"[This] off-the-beaten path Katrina story is one of the best. . . . In the glut of works about the devastation Katrina caused . . . Wells has found a fresh, compelling story. As a bonus, he is a superb reporter and accomplished stylist. Of the dozen Katrina books I have read so far, I am guessing The Good Pirates will stay with me the most vividly. . . . The individual survival stories make for adventure storytelling of the first order."—Steve Weinberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"[Wells] nicely captures the flavor and color of the moment. . . . The author unabashedly celebrates the courage and pride of people in this 'forgotten backwater' when faced with the hurricane's onslaught. . . . A heartfelt tribute to badly battered folks whose 'gritty blue-collar-pluck,' declares Wells, may yet save their bayou way of life."—Kirkus Reviews

“Ken Wells is first and foremost a great reporter. Nothing escapes him, and yet every detail he includes counts. This book is literary journalism at its best.”—Don Ranly, University of Missouri School of Journalism

"[An] amazing true story."—Susan Larson, Times-Picayune

"Vivid prose, first-hand testimony and solid, heartbreaking reportage make this disaster debrief hard to put down, and worth the attention of every U.S. citizen."—Publishers Weekly (Web Pick of the Week)

"The stories of the survivors . . . are unforgettable. . . . Wells has done a commendable job of bringing the threatened bayous of Louisiana to life."—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times


"A wonderful book. . . . Unforgettable."—Monroe News-Star [Louisiana]


"Offers a human touch and a compassionate voice to many of [Katrina's] overlooked victims. . . . Not only relevant and timely, it's a terrific read."—William J. Cobb, Dallas Morning News



"Wells has done a great service. . . . Highly readable."—John Sledge, Mobile Press-Register

"Good Pirates reads like a Louisiana cultural study filled with local color and dialect. it is both a dignified testament to the spirit of the people of lower St. Bernard Parish and Louisiana's bayou country, and a solid historical journey through the area's past."—Gambit Weekly

"Framing the human-interest core of this book with context about St. Bernard's infrastructure failures, Wells makes a signal contribution to the expanding bibliography of the Hurricane Katrina disaster."—Booklist

Winner of the 2008 Harry Chapin Media Award in the Books category, presented by WHY (World Hunger Year).
ISBN: 9780300217384
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w illus.