I had only a small idea what to expect when I picked up If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates" by Richard Sanders. A selection for my book club (known as the Manly Book Club by its members, but more on that another time), it had been described as containing some surprising insights into pirates that weren't commonly known. And this was true: I learned a lot about the men who sailed the seas of the early 18th century.
What's more, I found If a Pirate I Must Be an entertaining, page-turning, and well-written history. Sanders' history of Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts feels authentic, well-researched, and accurate. He relies on histories and accounts written at the time, including the journals of victims of the pirates, letters between colonial authorities writing to their masters in England beseeching them for relief from the marauders, and other documents of the period, including court testimony of pirates captured and tried.
Black Bart himself did not start out as a pirate, but his story mirrors that of many of the time. An aging sailor on a slaver ship, he was pressed into service when his slave ship was captured by pirates off of the coast of West Africa. Because of his experience as a seaman, he was a prize that an enterprising pirate crew could not pass up--and yet, his story is not unique. Pirates would frequently capture ships and force some number of the captured crew into their own, though often it was unnecessary. Slavers treated their own sailors more poorly than the slaves, because the slaves were worth more. Meanwhile, pirates would appear from over the horizon, capture and board the ship dressed in better clothing, and promise an equal share of gold and rum to any who joined their number. Their government was democratic, and even the captain was elected from among their number, losing his spot at just the vote of the men if they felt he was not guiding them to victory.
And yet, Bart did not go willingly. It would take some time before he would adopt his new place among the pirates, but not long before he was at their head. He would go on to rob the Portuguese treasure fleet off the shores of Brazil, lose all of it to deserters back in the Caribbean (where he would be near-marooned by his crew), and rebuild it all again to become one of the most prolific and successful of pirates of the era.
A few observations, then:
- Piracy, and pirates, looks a lot more like the depictions of Disney and Johnny Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean" than I would have expected, even down to pirates' sexual ambiguity. Indeed, Sanders history depicts Black Bart as being almost chaste compared to the rest of his crew, though he appears to have developed an extremely close relationship with one of the sailors/passengers of a ship that he captured, the only thing that appears to reflect a romantic relationship that he formed during his reign.
- No one lived long. Whether they died from disease, malnutrition, battle, or any of the myriad of other causes, people were dying fast. Sanders mentions the especially high mortality rate in West Africa, noting that an English doctor had moved his family to a fort to serve a British slaving company there and within just a few months the entire family of six was dead from disease. This appears to be a common scenario of the time.
- In addition to democracy, pirates were incredibly egalitarian and rule based. They drafted and signed articles for each crew to govern their enterprise. Rules included not bringing women on board, each member receiving an equal share of loot (the captain getting a double and the quartermaster and surgeon a share and half), and, on Black Bart's ships, no gambling.
- Punch. These men drank as much, or more, as you've seen depicted in the movies. In fact, [SPOILER ALERT] Bart's fall finally came when he split his crew to pursue what they thought they were pursuing a ship carrying sugar, necessary for making rum.
- The golden age of piracy, extending from about 1715 to 1725, was brief and seems to have been largely due to economic forces around the end of the Spanish - British War that ended directly before. At the end of hostilities, large numbers of men were released from service in the British Navy, and with nowhere else to go, and, no other training or experience, many turned to piracy.
- A lot of the piracy seems to be as much "wink wink nod nod" with merchants working in cahoots with pirates as it was pirates capturing unsuspecting ships. In fact, few appeared to actually have fought back against the pirates. Rather, most seemed to roll over as soon as Black Bart flew out the skull and cross-bones (and yes, they did fly some version of this...several versions, actually).
If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates" is a fun, fascinating, and interesting story. It's an age lost to history, full of pirates distinctly different from those who capture tankers off the coast of East Africa today, probably built out of the economic and historic factors of the age. Sanders has caught the flavor of the era with a history that is enjoyable and gripping to the very end of Black Bart's ignoble end.
If you needed any reason to be cynical about American politics--especially nationally--then Mark Leibovich's This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- pIf you needed any reason to be cynical about American politics--especially nationally--then Mark Leibovich's This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral -- plus plenty of valet parking! -- in America's Gilded Capital is the book for you.
I guarantee that you will not put it down with a breath single breath of hope and optimism about the future of our country. Unless, of course, you're one of the few wealthy or connected enough to be one of the elites.
That or a journalist. Because to hear Leibovich tell it in this highly entertaining look at America's capital, journalists have become accomplices to the what happens there. Instead of America's Fourth Estate providing a check on the corruption, they have drunk from the Kool-Aid and drunk deeply.
I didn't pick up This Town because I am disillusioned, though certainly provides plenty of fodder for those who have lost faith in the fair and transparent workings of government. Certainly, the same trends that have led to Donald Trump's rise to the top of national polls can be seen in the descriptions that Leibovich gives. Rather, I read it from the perspective of a political junkie, and Leibovich fills This Town with stories, anecdotes, and miscellany that should interest any political observer. At times I felt like a driver slowly passing a bad accident on the interstate, unable to tear my eyes away. At the same time, it was hard to forget that, as an American, I am a passenger in the wreck.
As a resident of the capitol, and a journalist himself, Liebovich is as much a member of the club as he is a critic, and he frankly admits this fact. That said, he seems to pull no punches in framing the lives of the people whose lives are centered on the parties, accolades, and money that make the city churn. The result is an absolutely fascinating, and occasionally disturbing, read. ...more
It's funny how books influence you. One minute I'm hyper attentive to everything I'm eating for health's sake. The next moment (after finishing Dad isIt's funny how books influence you. One minute I'm hyper attentive to everything I'm eating for health's sake. The next moment (after finishing Dad is Fat) I'm hyper attentive to everything I'm eating because I LOVE FOOD.
And I'm okay with that.
Jim Gaffigan is the guy who rocketed to fame on the strength of his "Hot Pockets" routine. I doubt he expected it to be so popular, or to have total strangers singing renditions of the jingle to him in random places. But he owns it, he's grateful for it, and with Dad is Fat, he expands on it, as well as a lot of other favorite (and not so favorite) foods. We listened to an audio version of Gaffigan reading his book to us on a family road trip to the northwest and back, and all I wanted to do is pull over and find a good steak. Or a bagel. Or fries. Or cake. Or...well, or whatever he was lavishly describing at the moment.
Did I say lavishly? I mean hilariously, because the book is a hoot and a holler. Gaffigan knows how to make me laugh and I will gladly listen to or read anything he writes (though I'd rather listen, because it's far funnier to hear it in his own voice).
Yes, Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan gets five stars. Because when you laugh from start to finish, you feel happy, and feeling happy is worth five stars.
ItYes, Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan gets five stars. Because when you laugh from start to finish, you feel happy, and feeling happy is worth five stars.
It's a little unnerving how much Jim Gaffigan seems to get the dad part of me.
It's been a few weeks (okay, a few months. I finished in May) since I read this (okay, I "listened" to it because Jim reads it, and that's a no brainer. It's like listening to his stand-up, but less live...), but with Jim's new show on TV Land, I thought I'd throw up my two-bits about the book.
For a guy who lives in urban New York, Jim's experience is surprisingly not unlike mine in suburban Utah, from how it is to play second fiddle parent to a stellar mom (what dad doesn't know how that feels?) to how different the world becomes the moment kids become a part of it. Being a dad is a sometimes strangely fun, but difficult experience, and Jim both honors and makes fun of it, in almost the same breath. He loves his kids, as do I, and yet he acknowledges that being a parent is no piece of cake.
It's a fun read/listen, and Jim Gaffigan is full of fun stories, lines, and perspective. Go check it out, buy a copy, and put some money in Jim's jar. After all, he's got five kids (six?) and a wife all living in an apartment on the fifth (sixth?) floor of a New York apartment building, sans elevator. The laughs are worth it.
PS: NO, your dog does not equal a child. Stop responding to people talking about their kids by mentioning your dog....more
There's a lotta interesting information on a lotta interesting books in here...specifically, 500 books. I enjoyed learning a bit about these, the bookThere's a lotta interesting information on a lotta interesting books in here...specifically, 500 books. I enjoyed learning a bit about these, the books that Howard Mittelmark thinks are the best you'll ever read. His commentary is witty, snarky...and occasionally even useful.
The problem is, I've not read enough of the books on his list, yet. I'm putting it next to my desk so that the next time I need a book, or need some commentary on the book, Mittelmark's book will be there, fully of short, quick and insightful commentary, without too much depth or weight....more
Previous to 500 Ways to Write HarderI'd never read anything by Chuck Wendig, and I still may never. But if you're looking to kick start your writing hPrevious to 500 Ways to Write HarderI'd never read anything by Chuck Wendig, and I still may never. But if you're looking to kick start your writing habits, Wendig has the weirdest, most energetic, and, well, most kick butt ways of telling you to write...harder. Yes, harder.
It's a fun, foul mouthed list of 500 thoughts, insights and ideas to help the budding writer. Wendig divides the 500 bite size thoughts into lists of 25, dealing with character, ideas, stories, publishing, agents, critics, editing, and more. Truth to tell, I didn't really read this straight through. Rather, I have it on my mobile phone and iPad, and I would pull it out between...stuff. Outside the elevator, waiting in line, and on the porcelain throne. I'd read a couple of Wendig's "ways to write harder" and recharge my motivation to write, be awesome, and to create. I'll keep it on there, too, because writing doesn't seem to get easier, just better, with practice.
The 500 ways all seem to have one thing in common: write, write, and write more. Reading a book about writing is not writing. Writing is writing.
Which is why this review is shorter than as is typical for me. I'm going to go write.
PS. When I say "foul mouthed," I really do mean it. Wendig likes to cuss. ...more
"It's about guy stuff in the scriptures," he told me, and he could not have given a more apt description.
Because that's exactly what it is. At at time when people of faith often find their faith ridiculed, mocked, and dismissed, it was a refreshing look at the men (and women, actually) that inspired generations of boys and girls long before Batman, Superman, Iron Man or Captain America arrived on the scene.
(Aside: if the last three of those sound a little out of your experience from the Bible, it's because they're the product of the LDS faith's modern revelation. The Book of Mormon is, according to the introduction, a "volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas[.]" It was translated by Joseph Smith, and Mormons read and study it alongside the scriptures of the Bible. The Pearl of Great Price is similar, containing a "selection of choice materials touching many significant aspects of the faith and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Last, the Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of modern revelations to the prophets of LDS faith.)
While the Guy Stuff in the Scriptures is short (just 188) pages, full of illustrations, pictures, captions, and diagrams, Winder has stuffed it full of information, stories, and lists. Writing in a voice that speaks more to boys and girls and less to adults, Winder does a great job of retelling some of the great stories of the scriptures without all the "thees" and "thous" that make the King James translation language of the Bible often seem so archaic.
Chapters have titles like "Killer Weapons" (which includes David's sling and Goliath's sword), "Legendary Battles" (which breaks down the sheer destruction of the last stand of the Jaredites, as well as the angelic defeat of the Assyrians during Hezekiah's reign over Israel), "Epic Journeys" (such as Mary and Joseph's trip to Nazareth and Paul's Journey to Rome), and "Beauties of the Bible" (because what guy is complete without a beautiful woman to fight for--though as Winder points out, Delilah may have been a beauty, but she was not a nice one).
Along with all that, Winder pulls out some of the more humorously written versus of the scripture, versus that read through modern eyes take a different meaning than originally intended. There are lists in here, of the tallest, oldest, wisest, youngest, strongest, most likely to be teased (a clue: it's a tie between Dodo and Nimrod), shortest name, longest name, and so on. There are "Vile Villains" and "Scriptural Superheroes," too.
Guy Stuff in the Scriptures is a fun look at some of the highlights of the Christian faith, with an emphasis on the LDS canon of scriptures. It's a fun and easy introduction to what can sometimes seem an imposing and intimidating task of scripture study. If you've got a young boy, or girl, in your house, I recommend this as a fun way to learn more about the people, places, and stories of the scriptures. ...more
Over the years, I've run into Camille Paglia's essays at unexpected times, and I seem to always come away thoughtful and, occasionally, amused. ClearlOver the years, I've run into Camille Paglia's essays at unexpected times, and I seem to always come away thoughtful and, occasionally, amused. Clearly coming from a perspective distant from my own, politically and culturally a member of East Coast academia, I never the less found her insights and way of putting things provocative.
When I heard that her newest book argued that George Lucas was one of greatest, if not the greatest, of modern artists, I was intrigued. First off, because I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a child making light sabers out of wrapping paper tubes. And second, because I've occasionally, like many other fans, wondered if Lucas had lost his way with the Prequels.
How does an art critic find Lucas, who has turned Star Wars into one of the most profitable franchises in history, to be an artist?
Of course, I was intrigued.
Paglia's Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars is a survey of art through history, with each entry a selection of an era. Paglia describes the piece of art, starting in the bronze era and passing through ancient Greece, the middle ages, the Renaissance, and so on. Each entry is two to three pages long and provides background and narrative, analysis and context for the work. The writing is fluid, colorful, and, like I had found in Paglia before, intriguing.
I'm not an art critic, let alone an art historian. At best, I can appreciate a few pieces of well known art. What I found in Paglia was an informative survey of art through the ages. In the introduction Paglia argues that what we are losing in our quest to get to the top of the education ladder is an appreciation of what art has brought us to where we are.
It's fascinating reading, even if there are a few pieces of art from the modern era looked--to me--more like spatters of paint than art.
I recommend it, whether you are an experienced art critic or a novice, as I am.
And Lucas? I'll let you discover on your own why Paglia thinks he is today's greatest living artist.
Frozen in Timeis, as its title only slightly exaggerates, an epic tale. Spanning from World War Two until the present, it is a work of non-fiction, to be sure, but no less gripping and exciting. Set in Greenland (and not the warm part, because there isn't one), Zuckoff tells the story of the rescue of downed airmen during the winter of 1942. What begins as the search-and-rescue of a missing cargo plane soon becomes a fight for survival as a B-17 involved in the search slams into a glacier, stranding its nine passengers on the ice. A second daring rescue by a Grumman Duck amphibious plane results in another crash, and the nine airmen are forced to wait the winter out in the remains of their destroyed plane.
Heroic efforts by both rescuers and rescued are the subject of Zuckoff's story. There are crevices, unstable glaciers, planes landing blind on the ice, hot wired radio equipment, frostbite, dog sled teams, hypothermia, fear of polar bears, and, always, snow. Snow, snow, and more snow. Taking place in the past and the present, Zuckoff weaves in a modern story about the efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar to find and recover the remains of the Grumman Duck lost during the rescue effort.
After reading Lost in Shangri-la last year, I was more than impressed that Zuckoff was able to raise his game. His dedication is admirable, as well. Asked by Lou Sapienza, head of North South Polar, if Jon Krakauer (the author of Into Thin Air) wouldn't be a better choice to write the book, Zuckoff replies with natural aplomb: you haven't got Krakauer; you've got me. However, it soon becomes clear that Zuckoff's confidence is as much hope as it is faith as the expedition to recover the Grumman Duck hits financial setbacks and Zuckoff puts expenses for the trip--about which he is writing a book--on his credit card and then on a second mortgage to his home.
It's an investment that pays off and in grand conclusion. A modern day treasure hunt, not for gold, but for men lost in the greatest quest--to save their fellow man--Frozen in Time is a fast and enjoyable read, full of suspense, mystery, tragedy, and victory. I can't wait to see what Zuckoff will write next. ...more
I'm always on the look out for new books to read (but what I really need is more time). Suggestions from friends, mentors, reviewers, blogs, and referI'm always on the look out for new books to read (but what I really need is more time). Suggestions from friends, mentors, reviewers, blogs, and references in other books send me off on an endless cycle: hear about a book, find it on Amazon (or the library), purchase (or check out) said book, bring it home, put it on my bed-stand with great anticipation, read ten pages to a reference of another book, and...repeat. The result is a two-stack, five books per stack, "pile up" next to my bed that has resulted in a reading bottle neck. And, believe me you, it's a bottleneck that affords me more enjoyable hours than I've ever passed in traffic.
That's all really just a long way of saying that in reading Charles Hill's "Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order" I constantly found myself adding new books to some real or imagined book list that I may, or may not, ever get a chance to read. Every chapter of Grand Strategies was full of new books that sounded interesting and fascinating. Some--like Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Salmon Rushdie's "Satanic Verses," or Thucydides's "The Peloponnesian War"--I had read and could quickly relate. Others--Xenophon's "The Persian Expedition" or Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time"--were new, at least to me. Worse, especially for my book list, Hill manages to craft his dialogue about each in such a way as to bestow meaning and insight beyond a cursory reading of the text.
For example, though I've often heard it referenced and cited as powerful piece of poetry, never had I seen John Milton's "Paradise Lost" as a commentary on war and the modern polity. And yet, perhaps it is.
"But far beyond the politics of the day 'Paradise Lost' is Milton's comprehensive commentary on modern warfare, revolution, founding a polity; on strategy, leadership, intelligence, individual choice under conditions of modern statecraft; and on the justification of God's ways to men."
Suddenly, the war in heaven, through Milton's eyes, becomes a proxy for competing views of the world worked out during the Oliver Cromwell English Civil War.
In Hill's eye, fiction is more than just a story. In literature, we see the great ideas and forces that move history worked out, argued, and recorded. The "international world of states and their modern system is a literary realm," he argues. "[I]t is where the greatest issues of the human condition are played out." Nothing may come closer to a thesis for his opus. He continues:
"A sacral nature must infuse world order if it is to be legitimate. that order is not to be identified with a particular social system, but to legitimate, the system must hint at the underlying divinely founded order. The modern Westphalian system was conceived when such was the case, but with the Enlightenment's addition of secularism, science, reason, and democracy, the system increasingly spurned , then forgot, its legitimizing sources of authority.[...] Revolutionary ideology radicalized secularism, science and reason into the task of erasing original sin, o perfecting humanity--all requiring terror to create "the New Man." Modern efforts to create a sovereignty potent enough to fill the void produced the statist monstrosities of Stalin and Hitler. America became an empire but never gained the understanding to go with it. China is now on its own misguided course."
Thought provoking, insightful, and, of course, full of literature to read when you finish it (including a bibliography of primary and secondary sources that will keep you busy for several years), and reread, Hill's "Grand Strategies" is a worthy addition to your bed-stand stack. Just make sure you put it on top....more
I didn't actually read the whole thing, just the chapter on Cato...but that's really all I checked it out for, anyway, and it served that purpose adeqI didn't actually read the whole thing, just the chapter on Cato...but that's really all I checked it out for, anyway, and it served that purpose adequately....more
I felt guilty reading this book. There's not much edifying about a book about a guy who counterfeits...except that the story has all the elements of aI felt guilty reading this book. There's not much edifying about a book about a guy who counterfeits...except that the story has all the elements of a great Italian opera, minus the fat lady singing. There's crime, betrayal, family intrigue, the mafia, heists, love and romance, narrow escapes, and a constantly uncertain outcome. Oh, and lots of money...fake money and real. These guys spend it like it's going out of fashion, like they could just make more. Which I guess was the whole point, right?
Anyway, all that may be enough to make the story worth reading, especially knowing it's a true story.
I didn't finish the book, but that was only because I was reading it between others, and when I tried to renew it from the library someone else had placed a hold on it....more
It was kind of fun to see what this guy had to say, but I lost interest when he seemed to lack sources and leaned heavy on speculation and conspiracy.It was kind of fun to see what this guy had to say, but I lost interest when he seemed to lack sources and leaned heavy on speculation and conspiracy.
That said, conspiracy can be a lot of fun...and so I think this would be great material for the background of novel.
That aside, there are so many books out there, I just didn't have time to spend with this book instead of others....more