It started almost two years ago. I was staying at my sisters place in Gulf Breeze, Florida. The house is right on the water, on the Pensacola Bay side, not on the Gulf of Mexico side.
I needed something to read. I found this book:
Empire of Blue Water
by Stephan Talty.
Since I was in Florida, on the water (as you should be), and the book was about the famous pirate Capt. Henry Morgan, I decided to give it a read. And the cover had a sword on it, and that’s cool.
Well, turns out I knew nothing of Capt. Morgan. He wasn’t a pirate. He was a privateer. I had no idea what a privateer was. A privateer does basically the same thing as a pirate, but they have the blessings, or a license, I think the technical term is a “charter”, from a government. In Capt. Morgan’s case, he had a charter from England.
This true story takes place around the 1650’s, during a 70 or so years of the height of piracy in the Caribbean.
This was during the height of Spain’s domination of the New World. England had little to no influence in the valuable New World. England turned to the privateers to “slow down” Spain’s economic engine. By “slow down” I mean England used privateers like Morgan to steal ships, valuables, and to ransack cities and forts, important to the Spanish Crown.
Capt. Morgan is the most famous privateer (and pirate) of all time. This book goes in depth in his adventures. It’s gruesome and fascinating.
The major hub for all this privateer activity back then was Port Royal, Jamaica. Port Royal was the richest city in the world. It was home all the pirates and they’d blow all their loot on whores, drinking, and gambling. It was a crazy place.
Then, not long after Capt. Morgan passed away, and the English had a treaty with Spain, and banned privateering, the city experience an epic earthquake and sunk into the sea.
I’m not exaggerating. This really happened. It’s a crazy story. You should read this book.
Over The Edge of The World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
by Laurence Bergreen
After the book about pirates, I read this book about Magellan. Holy shit this is a crazy story.
This book is where I learned that the Pope in Italy decided to split the world between Portugal and Spain. This jackass thought that he had the power to do this. The crazy thing is, most of the world (the Western world) believed him. There was some treaty declaring this to be so, so that Spain and Portugal wouldn’t keep warring with each other.
This decision has a dramatic impact on history and the world. This decision left a huge mark on places as far away as China and Japan, and would impact the world in odd ways for hundreds of years.
Magellan’s whole life was caught up in this nonsense. He was Portuguese sailor and wanted to sail around the world, I think it was specifically to find a quicker route to the Spice Islands. He wanted to do this for his home, Portugal, but the king got pissed off at Magellan for some reason and he fled the country.
Magellan fled to the hated rival Spain. He eventually convinced the Spanish King to let him sail for the Spice Islands. This is kind of amazing because the whole time they didn’t trust him and thought he was a spy for Portugal.
Because Spain backed Magellan against all odds, Magellan was super grateful and fiercely loyal to the Spanish Crown. Of course this would come back to bite him, because Spain thought he was a traitor.
Magellan sailed into unknown waters and eventually stumbled into South America. They were lost. It was 1519 and technology sucked. The sailors were getting scurvy and dying and scared. Most of the crew were Spanish, and they mutinied on the Portuguese enemy, who was the leader of the expedition.
These pussies that mutinied fled back to Spain and talked shit about Magellan, said he was a Portuguese spy, and hated God, etc. They made up a bunch of bullshit, and of course the Spanish Crown believed these losers. Then the Spanish Crown went after Magellan’s family.
The whole time Magellan is far away and insanely loyal to the Spanish Crown. Then the expedition crosses through South America and into the great unknown, the Pacific Ocean.
This is where they are really fucked.
It turns out scurvy was real problem at sea back in the day. No one knew why you got. And it was weird cause some people on the boat didn’t get it. Survey is a nutrition problem and can be dealt with by consuming fruit, which you don’t have on a sea voyage with no refrigeration.
Magellan didn’t get scurvy because he kept a jar of jam or jelly made of fruit. He thought his immunity had something do with religion.
Anyway… the miraculous made it to some islands and were the first (known) Western explorers to sail across the Pacific.
Magellan went crazy and decided to convert all the islanders he found to Christianity. It was during this process, on one of the islands that he got killed. After going most of the way around the world.
A handful of the crew on just one of the boats made it back to Portugal and the rest is history.
It’s a crazy true story. You should read this book.
Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
by Robert Kurson
Do you see the trend here? Another nautical sea adventure, and this time were back on the topic of pirates.
This adventure takes place in modern times. This is a story of highly skilled divers that are searching for a pirate ship, which turns out to be one of the hardest artifacts to find.
In particular, these guys are looking for the pirate Bannister’s ship. He was a legend. He left England in charge of this beautiful ship, got to the Caribbean, and decided to turn pirate. A very rare story.
And this book documents how hard it was to find something like this.
This book helped fill in the details to me, of what life was like hundreds of years ago, and at sea.
A book about treasure hunters, diving in the sea, to find long lost pirate ships. It’s a fun read.
by James Clavell
I have a Kindle. My Kindle is connected to my brother-in-law’s (Keith) Amazon account where there are hundreds of books. Keith is a smart dude that I respect, so when I see books that I know nothing about, but might be interesting, I’ll start reading them, because they are already “approved” as being good, because they’re in Keith’s library.
I was looking for a book to read and I saw the cover image above. I saw the big sword and the word Shogun, so I opened the book and started reading.
Unlike the other books I’ve mention, Shogun is a novel.
I was confused at first because the book starts out in 1580 on an English ship that is lost sailing in the Pacific ocean. It seemed more like the Magellan book than a novel about Shoguns.
And the main character was a white dude from England. I was confused.
And everyone is getting scurvy again. So it seemed legit.
The boat gets in a bad storm and luckily they get shipwrecked. The shipwreck is great because at least the crew is finally on land. Once the sun rises the next day, the story starts to make sense because the crew finds themselves in Japan and they can’t understand anyone, and the local’s think the Englishman are crazy.
Immediately heads start getting chopped off and folks start getting murdered.
The first head to get chopped off was a Japanese peasant, who didn’t act respectful enough to the local samurai.
For hundreds and maybe thousands of years Japan had a feudal system. Where your birth placed you on that hierarchy controlled every aspect of your life and how you were to behave.
A samurai was a high class person and those below had to be respectful or the samurai had the right to kill the person.
There was lots of killing going on.
I could tell that the author of the book knew history. And the author knew the history of the Japanese culture. The book discusses the importance of how the world is divided up between Spain and Portugal, that I first learned about in the Magellan book.
The Japanese are incredulous when they find out that some magician in a far away land (the Pope), decided that the Land of the Gods (Japan) was property of Spain or Portugal (I can’t remember which one).
The author, Clavell, goes in to detail on the customs of Japan during that time. It’s easy to learn because the main character, the ship captain John Blackthorne, has to learn the Japanese ways or he and his crew will perish.
Clavell’s ability to tell a story is superb. He makes you feel like you are really in the characters thoughts. One of the main characters is a woman, and it seemed like Clavell really nailed the woman’s thoughts.
I’ve wondered how a man can get place himself in a woman’s head and articulate those thoughts and feelings in a way that is authentic, at least to me. And the same is true with a female author being able to pull off the same feat with a male character.
I learned the most about the Japanese culture from the female lead character. She was a samurai. She was also very smart and tasked with teaching Blackthorne, to become more Japanese.
This book is long. It is epic storytelling. I could write thousands of words about my thoughts on this book. But I won’t do that here.
What’s important is the awesomeness of this book. It is the second best novel I’ve read after the Count of Monte Cristo.
While I recommend you read this book, it will help if you have knowledge of the history of that time period. This is how I got lucky. I read this book after I’d already read the 3 history books I mentioned.
I think, having that background knowledge, made for a much better experience once I got around to reading Shogun.
After reading Shogun, I learned that James Clavell wrote a whole series of books called the Asian Saga. It took him 31 years to write the series.
Gai-Jin was the last book in the series he wrote (1993), but it’s the third book in the internal chronology of the series. It’s also as close as Clavell gets to a sequel to Shogun, so I read this book next.
Gai-Jin takes place 200 plus years after Shogun. It takes place in 1800’s Japan, right at the beginning of Japan being opened up to the world for trade.
It still has all the Japanese mindset stuff, and sex and violence like Shogun. Not quite as good as Shogun, but I still think it’s really good.
This is how crazy Gai-Jin is: I never figured out who the main character was. Didn’t figure out who the main bad guy was either. Never read a book quite like this. Still loved it.
Now do I recommend you read Shogun first, then Gai-Jin? Probably not.
I’d stick to the internal chronology of the series starting with Shogun, then Tai-Pan, then Gai-Jin.
by James Clavell
The last book I’ve read was Tai-Pan. It was excellent. The Tai Pan is the name given to the top guy/owner of the top trading firm or “house”.
In this story the top trading firm is “The Noble House” and the owner/founder is named Dirk Straun who is The Tai-Pan. This is a very honorable position and everyone wants it and everyone wants to take him down.
This story is about the founding of Hong Kong. It continues the nautical theme, as all these books do, with the trading firm sailing all over the world trading goods in and out of China.
The main trading goods are tea and opium.
Again, reading the non-fiction books I mentioned earlier, especially the Magellan book, helped me to understand the times that this story takes place.
This is another epic story with a hell of an ending.
Each one of Clavell’s books has a crazy ending. The build up in excitement he is able to create in the reader is incredible. I usually have anxiety when I get to the end of his books. He’s that good.
A theme I’ve noticed is there are so many story lines going on, that when you get to the end, they don’t all tie up. The important ones do, but I’m left wondering about all the other smaller characters.
So that’s it. Every book here had a nautical theme. I learned a lot. Before this I’d never heard of James Clavell or the Asian Saga. Now I will read all the books (King Rat is next).
I didn’t know about Magallen, that is a crazy story and I’m glad I know that now. The stories of Henry Morgan were fascinating and I didn’t know about that either. And I didn’t know the difference between a privateer and a pirate (no much).
I recommend every book on this list and if you have any questions about them, just let me know.