A narrative of plunder and its hazards over two centuries of Caribbean colonization by Spain, France and England, in roughly that order. After there was no further loot to extract from Montezuma, the Spanish ground up natives in the mines, and pirates--sponsored or incited by the English--preyed on the wealth others extracted. Drake's little-known forays in this hemisphere, especially in Panama in the 1570's, exemplify the determination and unmitigated cruelty involved in this business. Peterson dwells on the ordeal of ships' crews, colonists and raiders who fell into the hands of adversaries. The most fearsome traps seem to have been fire, rats and shipwreck, especially in the Florida straits, where two rich Spanish treasure fleets were lost in the early 18th century, much to the sorrow of the Spanish court and bankers. The horrors of ship life even for the successful are reinforced through contemporary accounts, along with diverting tales of, for example, the pirates Mary and Anne, who cheated the hangman. Peterson, a former curator of history at the Smithsonian and an expert on naval and military evolution, has produced a convincing chronicle; the book, however, lacks a vivid historical context. Peterson marvels at Spanish rapacity, forgetting the imminent bankruptcy which impelled these explorations and then happened anyhow. A superior contribution for buffs and students.