Pirates: The True and Surprising Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean by Patrick Auerbach

Pirates: The True and Surprising Story of the Pirates of the CaribbeanPirates: The True and Surprising Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean by Patrick Auerbach

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Patrick Auerbach’s delightful account of the pirates of the Caribbean in the early 18 century, which is hailed as the Golden Age of Piracy is Pirates: The True and Surprising Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean by Patrick Auerbach for readers of all ages whose curiosity about these buccaneers is prompted either by the popular Disney movie installments of “Pirates of the Caribbean “ or Robert Louis Stevenson’s timeless novel Treasure Island. Auerbach’s vivid descriptions and elegant way of narration engages the reader in the history of these infamous sea marauders with telltale details of the piracy and the crew based on a wide variety of resources, including Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates published in 1724 and other relevant historical records. This book will render the reader a new viewpoint on piracy that comes in a surprising twist of myth and legend in an instructive as well as an entertaining fashion.

The Golden Age of Piracy (around 1716 to 1726) descended upon the open seas as a consequence of the end of the War of the Spanish Succession that begot a great number of unemployed able-bodied seamen turning into pirates in the business of plundering at sea. Although these jobless seamen had no alternative but becoming pirates to make a living, there were others who were captured from ships and forced into signing the articles under duress that stipulated fair distribution of the loot acquired from any plunder. Some of notable clauses of the articles set forth that (1) every man shall keep his watch night and day; and at the hour of eight in the very evening shall retire from gaming and drinking in order to attend his respective station; and that (2) no man shall open or declare to any persons or person his identity or any personal information. In fact, the articles were promulgated by captains based upon their own experiences by working under harsh commands on board naval/merchant ships to create a better life for all at sea to prevent the crew from causing a mutiny against their captains, who were democratically selected by the crew’s votes. Ironically, the society of pirates was comparatively freer from the despotic ruling of the powers that be on land, and it was this democracy of pirate regime that attracted many experienced seamen into piracy.

Pirate ships were commonly known as privateers, commissioned by the government of their country or wealthy merchants (especially and notably the British) to attack and raid enemy ships in times of war by carrying letters of marquis served as legal proof , a license to steal. These privateers were most prevalently seen in the Bahamas because it was a base for pirates with a harbor tucked in water too shallow for any intervening force to enter and harass them. On board these ships, the hierarchy of pirates was reasonably strict in the necessity of each following status and role:

  • Captain: democratically selected and ousted at any time; needed to be able to provide enough money to the crew lest they would bring about a mutiny.
  • Quartermaster: nearly on the same level as the captain; played a role of cop; also elected; acted as bookkeepers and accountants.
  • Sailing Master: “the navigator”; an officer in rank; very valuable “worth his weight in gold.”
  • Mate: higher position than a sailor; a term used to signify that a person was under training
  • Sailor: the rest of the crew

Auerbach provides the reader with many an interesting tidbit of popular imageries related to piracy. Take “Jolly Roger,” a white skull and crossbones image on a black flag associated with a pirate ship promoted by movies. Pirate ships usually and traditionally raised a solid black (signaling there would be no blood if a captured ship abandoned resistance) and red flag (death upon resistance). Then how did this image of Jolly Roger come about? It was used by the Knights Templar and later adopted by the Knights of Malta, who were also renowned pirates ultimately popularizing the flag as the emblem of piracy in later period. With respect to the pirate life on board, it was much better than on merchant or warships. Although rats were rampant and a range of food limited to salted pork and hard tack, pirates were obliged to do all kinds of chore and to spend their time for singing, playing cards, dancing or sleeping. Turtles were a specialty because they could live longer aboard, hence they were a precious source of protein in the form of soup. When pirates landed on Caribbean islands, they usually ravished hot spicy West Indian dishes and drank themselves in beer, rum, and gin.

Overall, this is a comprehensive overview of piracy and pirates during the early 17th century in the Caribbean with fresh information on the subject matter succinctly put together by well-categorized chapters and the summaries at the end of each chapter to help the reader absorb the content lucidly. It will also be an excellent primer on the subject in the historical context of the era in case the reader wants to pursue his/her genuine curiosity about the subject matter in the quest of the legendary treasure buried by the pirates of the Golden Age.

Taking it like Edgar Allan Poe in Criticism

It is hard to digest criticisms. Sometimes, it can plunge your inspiration, motivation, and determination to a gaping crevice of diffidence. But then in a tweak of mind to see a reality favorable to the growth of the mind,  it is mentally stimulating to receive constructive criticisms  in the form of thoughtful, intelligent comments on any of your work because it gives you a chance to see how others think about subjects or things you see in different and usually interesting ways. Edgar Allan Poe took even tougher stance on criticism:”In criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.”

They might be disagreeable to your own opinion. In my case, reading a reader’s comment on my work is a form of information processing, giving me an opportunity to learn new things – also known as consilience, the unification of the understanding of one one principle and that of another – thus creating a synthesis of new viewpoint.

In light of the above, I find some of the comments I have received on my book reviews that I have so far published concurrently on Amazon.com scintillating in their contexts according to the individual weltanschauungs. I try to respond to such comments on my reviews only if they are legitimately sound, thought-provoking, and thoughtfully composed even if the commentator disagrees to my points of view, such as the following one I received from my past book review on Breakfast at Sally’s by Richard LeMieux,  a book on homelessness based upon the author’s own brief spell of living in his car with his canine companion until witness to humanity was finally manifested to them. Poe was right. In response to any feedback that does not read affably favorable, my confidence should be ironclad, my conscience armed with reason clear and just even with dissenters.

xenia10 days ago
We are NOT all responsible for homelessness in this country. As is evident from this book, many people are homeless because they have untreated substance abuse problems, many are veterans who were deserted by government agencies which are supposed to help them, some have mental health issues, and some all of the above. There are also some, like Richard, who were quite irresponsible in life while they had very comfortable living, and did not have enough common sense to think about “rainy days”. Also, let’s not forget that one of the greatest causes of homelessness in this country is the breakup of the family, yes, divorce and people just “leaving” and everyone pretty much thinking just of themselves and their own “happiness” and not willing to sacrifice for other members of the family.

Thank you for reading my review and leaving me your comment thereon. My agreement and disagreement to your opinions on homelessness are as follows:

Yes, you are right in pointing out that there are substance abusers, neglected veterans and family members, and the mentally afflicted who become homeless against their will. But some of the homeless are the middlings who used to eke out a living by working hand to mouth without long-term job security despite their willingness to work at a low wage.

Apropos of your point on a weakening family value, the big issue of our society is a dissolution of a family, which is the basic unit of any civilized society. Accordingly, my assertion of collective responsibility as members of this society ensues from the increasingly prevalent disintegration of families without moral obligations and ethical standards.

What I mean by our collective responsibility is , therefore, our disregard for losing touch with the values that keep families and a society together. As for Richard, if his children would have asked him to move in with them, he would not have been homeless. Yes, he was responsible for himself in the first place, but he did not have to be homeless should his children give him a helping hand. Let’s not forget what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “Charity begins at home.” Hope this helps.

Martin Luther: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

Martin Luther: A Life From Beginning to EndMartin Luther: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Martin Luther represents the rapidly changing 16th century Europe where, many thanks to wide popularization of printing press, the spread of new knowledge, including Copernicus’s suggestion of the universe as being heliocentric and the discovery of new sea trade routes by the Spanish and the Portuguese, was available to the mass. Accordingly, this reading of Martin Luther: A Life from Beginning to End elegantly narrates Luther’s role of not only a religious reformist but also a cultural leader of the epoch. The reader will learn that Luther was in the right place at the right time to be in the vanguard of the Reformation by defining the emerging Protestant church and putting Europe in medieval mindset toward the new Europe in a modern way of thinking like never before.

Luther was born in 1483 and christened Martin on the feast day of St. Martin, the day after his birth. The oldest of five siblings, Luther was brought up in a strict disciplinarian household in which his miner father’s no-nonsense work ethics and mother’s strict methods of corporeal punishment (e.g., she beat her son’s hands until they bled for stealing a nut from a market.) had strong impacts on his character and belief system. Academically speaking, Luther was a reasonably intelligent student, not a brilliant one with flying colors aiming to be a lawyer at the University of Erfurt. His favorite subject was classical literature of which Virgil’s Aeneid was his passion that led him to the humanistic idea of reading original texts in contrast with other mandatory subjects including rhetoric, reasoning, and argument based on a translated version of writings of Aristotle with commentaries. His original aspiration to become a lawyer was fatefully changed when he encountered a turbulent thunderstorm on his way to see his father and became so frightened that in fear of mortal danger, he prayed to St. Anne that if she protected him from the storm, he would take a vow of monastic life. Hence, instead of returning to the university, Luther went to the monastery of the Augustine to become a monk.

Luther’s doubt and despair over his inability to please God according to the nominalism, a medieval school of thought teaching that good works through the Church would please God, continued to vex his conscience and question the true meaning of Christianity, all the more fueled by his study of scripture in its original language. Luther’s indignation at the dogmas ruling over Christianity not the Gospels alone in its original text resulted in the famous 95 Theses opposing the Church’s sale of indulgences on a variety of grounds nailed to the door of All Saints’ Church in Withenberg, which ignited embers of the Reformation especially against Church of Rome. Surely, that the papacy was secular, not divinely appointed was to infuriate the Church and excommunicate him. Notwithstanding the mortal threats from his foes, Luther was a man of convictions and successfully led the Reformation movement with a group of his followers. Be he ever imperfect, Luther was also a generous and kind man who cared for orphans and the sick even by lodging them in his house. Furthermore, Luther helped a group of nuns escape from a convent in 1523 during the Reformation and married Katharina von Bora, one of the escaped nuns without home and family whom Luther affectionately called, “My lord.”

In the eyes of Rome, Luther might be an infidel heretic to be condemned in the Sixth Circle of Inferno, but he was more of humanistic thinker, a pioneer educator putting his ideas into actions to upend the fallacies of the ecclesiastical bureaucracy and its practices under the pretext of redemption of fallen souls and blessing of celestial graces through the Church that had already become corrupt with the cardinal sins. What distinguishes Luther from other religious leaders is his role as a public activist, advocating church reform based on Christian freedom and the message of the Gospel in scripture without resorting to the use of violence because it was not of Christian conduct. He worked on the vernacular bible based on Erasmus’s recent edition of the New Testament in its original Greek by transcribing into German word by word without the use of commentaries in order that his translation would be accessible to the public and convey the contexts as truthfully as possible to the original. Also, Luther encouraged medieval German’s history of folk hymns in the vernacular during mass by rewriting the hymns himself, one of which was famed “A mighty fortress is our God.”

To encapsulate, the achievements of Luther that have influenced our modern way of thinking appertain to education of minds of people on the ground of individualism which are: (1) examination of each Christian’s conscience; (2) the sufficiency of scripture alone as the bedrock of Protestant church tenets; (3) building a direct relationship to God through only Christ, not through a priest; (4) active participation of laypersons in church worship; (5) emphasis on grace, forgiveness, and salvation by faith alone; and (6) the use of hymns in the vernacular for the mass. Had it not been for Luther’s pyrrhic vanguard of the Reformation movement, Europe would have still remained in the medieval mode of thinking and living.

From PBS Masterpiece Theater – Mr. Selfridge


This Masterpiece Theater Mini-Series of “Mr. Selfridge” produced by ITV is a tour de force of excellent performances of the actors, the finesse of drama scripts, gorgeous costumes, and classically elegant settings coordinated as truthfully as possible. It chronicles Harry Gordon Selfridge’s business adventures from the onset of establishing Selfridges & Co in 1908 until his farewell to his labor of love twenty years afterwards.

 From Episode I of Series 1 to Episode 10 of Series 4 (Final Season), we get to see a man named Harry Gordon Selfridge (1958-1947) who was something of a Napoleon Bonaparte knowing no word in his dictionary for “Impossible.” We see the man build a one-of-a-kind department store in London’s Oxford Street as an adventurous American tradesman against the British aristocratic chauvinism. Selfridge was a man who set a standard of modern department store; by placing the cosmetic/perfume counters on the lobby, Selfridge intended to sweeten the atmosphere of the floor in attempt to use it as a magnet for passers-by, especially women. In effect, Selfridge broke down the class-stratified fashion wall guarded by the rich/privileged by democratizing the luxurious items and making them accessible to common people as well.

Moreover, the ace portrayal of Selfridge would/could not be possible were it not for the fine acting of Jeremy Piven whose quintessential American accent doubled with inescapable American can-do attitudes triumphs over the transatlantic cultural differences in working with the British peers. The viewer will be left with a feeling of heartfulness of the characters upon finishing all of the episodes in this series and cannot help but applaud to Mr. Selfridge for his entrepreneurial effervescence and Mr. Piven for portraying the man in a stellar performance that evokes both pathos and respect.

Impressionism & Vincent Van Gogh

Musée d'Orsay in Paris - a travel guide and tour as with the best local guide (Paris Travel Stories Book 4)Musée d’Orsay in Paris – a travel guide and tour as with the best local guide by Wander Stories

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the world famous museums, my favorite is Musee d’Orsay in Paris because it possesses most of the paintings of Impressionism, to which I am partial because of its prevalent portrayal of ordinary life of people with simple but innovative techniques of using color and light like never before. In fact, I enjoyed a virtual tour of this lovely museum with a guide of Musée d’Orsay in Paris by Wander Stories, a wonderful reference book on this lovely museum with rich information on the history of the museum, biographies of artists, let alone the backgrounds of their paintings they created, all of which beautifully presented in a wealth of rich color photos and illustrations to conjure up the vivacity of life right before your eyes in the comfort of wherever you may be.

The birth of Musee d’Orsay starts with the zeitgeist of our modern era when the spirit of liberty and expressionism was born out of a pyrrhic victory over the antediluvian customs and dogmas upheld by a few select. Originally, the land surrounding the museum was part of a private garden belonging to Queen Margaret, the wife of King Henry VI. In the 19th century, the Palais d’Orsay was used for the Court of Accounts, most of which were burned down to the ground during the uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871. Then in 1897 the government decided to build a new railway station to facilitate transportation of passengers to the center of Paris directly, preparatory to the upcoming 100 World Fair. During WWII, the station was used as a mailing center to send packages and letters to prisoners of the war and to receive them after the war. Finally, the station was re-born as Musee d’Orsay exhibiting all the arts from the second half of the 19th century with a presidential blessing of Francois Mitterrand in December 1986.

Musee d’Orsay embodies individualism freed from the rigid status quo of the old academics in the French arts scenes. It houses famous impressionist and post impressionist paintings of the 19th by Gustave Courbet, Eduard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and so forth. All of these painters were revolutionary vanguards of Impressionism, a new genre depicting everyday life of the ordinary not of mythological or even loyal figures and the simple beauty of nature in the most artistically innovative methods of painting that had not been seen in the paintings of previous eras.

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Siesta” in the museum deserves a special recognition both by its artistic merit and personal background of the painting. It was painted when Gogh was a patient in a mental asylum. Initially beginning his career as a preacher, Gogh was soon disillusioned with arid rigidity of Christianism, and turned himself to the word of painting in attempt to find a solace for his restless soul. He often copied the works of Jean Francois Millet and thought more highly of him than of Manet. Gogh’s use of vibrantly contrasting colors, such as blue and yellow, violet and organic, Gogh portrayed rural France at its most vividness dynamically.

As with many creative artists, Gogh lived a difficult life of being let down by his low self-worth. To illustrate, Gogh had a drunken brawl with Paul Gaughin, in which Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor then fled a local brothel, where he ended up cutting off the lower part of his let ear lobe. Moving from one asylum to another, Gogh’s creative ingeniousness was recognized and encouraged by Dr. Gachet, an Impressionist enthusiast who drove this extraordinary patient of his to creative indulgence, leading Gogh to create 70 more paintings in 70 days, although he sold only two paintings in his lifetime. The last day of Gogh was just like another working day, for he shot himself in the chest while painting in a wheat field. Notwithstanding the tragic end and life wrinkled in anguishes and distresses, Gogh’s resilient spirit driven by his creative madness is enshrined in his paintings that have stood the test of times all around the world, canonizing him as a key figure in transformation from Impressionism to modern art in art history.

Musée d’Orsay in Paris by Wander Stones is a lively reference book about the museum and the oeuvres of the aforesaid and other famous painters with beautifully displayed photos and detailed information on the paintings and the painters in easy language. This is also a lovely book to be viewed on a Kindle Fire with easy references to pages and stunningly colorful photos effortlessly downloaded on the device to enjoy the tour of the museum anywhere, magically transporting you in front of each of the paintings in the museum. Or if you plan to visit the museum, then reading this book will prepare you with arms of information. All in all, the knowledge from the book will help you appreciate the beauty of the arts at their best because as defined by Sir Edmund Burke the standard of reason and beauty is all the more appreciated by the faculty of the mind affected with the works of imagination and the elegant arts, which is universal in all humans and of sentiment common to all mankind.