20 Must-Read Maritime Books

20 Must-Read Maritime Books

Fiction and Non-Fiction

1. Ninety Percent of Everything : Inside Shipping, The Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes On Your Back, Gas in Your Car and Food On Your Plate

by Rose George

Rose George, acclaimed chronicler of what we would rather ignore, sails from Rotterdam to Suez to Singapore on ships the length of football fields and the height of Niagara Falls; she patrols the Indian Ocean with an anti-piracy task force; she joins seafaring chaplains, and investigates the harm that ships inflict on endangered whales.

Sharply informative and entertaining, Ninety Percent of Everything reveals the workings and perils of an unseen world that holds the key to our economy, our environment, and our very civilization.

2. Seized : A Sea Captain’s Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Most Troubled Waters

by Max Hardberger

A ship captain, airplane pilot, lawyer, teacher, writer, adventurer, and raconteur, Max Hardberger recovers stolen freighters for a living. In Seized, he takes us on a real-life journey into the mysterious world of freighters and shipping, where fortunes are made and lost by the whims of the waves.

Desperate owners hire Max Hardberger to “extract” or steal back ships that have been illegitimately seized by putting together a mission-impossible team to sail them into international waters under cover of darkness. It’s a high stakes assignment—if Max or his crew are caught, they risk imprisonment or death. Link

3. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and The World Economy Bigger

by Marc Levinson

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible.

The Box tells the dramatic story of the container’s creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about.

4. The Shipping Man

by Matthew Mccleery

When restless New York City hedge fund manager Robert Fairchild watches the Baltic Dry Cargo Index plunge 97%, registering an all-time high and a 25-year low within the span of just six months, he decides to buy a ship.
Immediately fantasizing about naming a vessel after his wife, carrying a string of worry beads and being able to introduce himself as a “shipowner” at his upcoming college reunion, Fairchild immediately embarks on an odyssey into the most exclusive, glamorous and high stakes business in the world.
From pirates off the coast of Somalia and on Wall Street to Greek and Norwegian shipping magnates, the education of Robert Fairchild is an expensive one. In the end, he loses his hedge fund, but he gains a life – as a Shipping Man. Part fast paced financial thriller, part ship finance text book, The Shipping Man is 310 pages of required reading for anyone with an interest in capital formation for shipping.

5. Freighter Captain

by Max Hardberger

Freight Captain is a prequel to the book “Seized” and is an actual account of Captain Max’s six months as master on the Motor Vessel Erika. Just like “Seized”, the Freighter Captain deals with the desperation and dangers of tramp shipping as the Captain and his crew fights a non-stop battle with corrupt agents, officials and charterers. From Stowaways to witch doctor, the crew of Erika face all kinds of perils at sea, escaping bandits, thieves and lawless countries. If you are a seaman or hold interest in shipping matters, then this adventurous and entertaining book is a must read for you.

6. The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans

by David Abulafia

Following merchants, explorers, pirates, cartographers and travellers in their quests for spices, gold, ivory, slaves, lands for settlement and knowledge of what lay beyond, Abulafia has created an extraordinary narrative of humanity and the oceans. From the earliest forays of peoples in hand-hewn canoes through uncharted waters to the routes now taken daily by supertankers in their thousands, The Boundless Sea shows how maritime networks came to form a continuum of interaction and interconnection across the globe: 90 per cent of global trade is still conducted by sea. This is history of the grandest scale and scope, and from a bracingly different perspective – not, as in most global histories, from the land, but from the boundless seas.

7. Medieval Maritime Warfare

by Charles D. Stanton

In Medieval Maritime Warfare, Charles Stanton depicts the development of maritime warfare from the end of the Roman Empire to the dawn of the Renaissance, recounting the wars waged in the Mediterranean by the Byzantines, Ottomans, Normans, Crusaders, and the Italian maritime republics, as well as those fought in northern waters by the Vikings, English, French and the Hanseatic League. Weaving together details of medieval ship design and naval strategy with vivid depictions of seafaring culture, this pioneering study makes a significant contribution to maritime history.

8. Sailing School: Navigating Science and Skill

by Margaret E. Schotte

In Sailing School, a richly illustrated comparative study of this transformative period, Margaret E. Schotte charts more than two hundred years of navigational history as she investigates how mariners solved the challenges of navigating beyond sight of land. She begins by outlining the influential sixteenth-century Iberian model for training and certifying nautical practitioners. She takes us into a Dutch bookshop stocked with maritime manuals and a French trigonometry lesson devoted to the idea that “navigation is nothing more than a right triangle.” The story culminates at the close of the eighteenth century with a young British naval officer who managed to keep his damaged vessel afloat for two long months, thanks largely to lessons he learned as a keen student.

9. The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History

by John S. Sledge

The Gulf of Mexico presents a compelling, salt-streaked narrative of the earth’s tenth largest body of water. In this beautifully written and illustrated volume, John S. Sledge explores the people, ships, and cities that have made the Gulf’s human history and culture so rich. Many famous figures who sailed the Gulf’s viridian waters are highlighted, including Ponce de León, Robert Cavelier de La Salle, Francis Drake, Elizabeth Agassiz, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Dwight Sigsbee at the helm of the doomed Maine. Sledge also introduces a fascinating array of people connected to maritime life in the Gulf, among them Maya priests, French pirates, African American stevedores, and Greek sponge divers. Link.

10. Piracy in the Early Modern Era: An Anthology of Sources

by Kris Lane (Editor), Arne Bialuschewski (Editor)

This volume represents a sea change in educational resources for the history of piracy. In a single, readable, and affordable volume, Lane and Bialuschewski present a wonderfully diverse body of primary texts on sea raiders. Drawn from a variety of sources, including the authors’ own archival research and translations, these carefully curated texts cover over two hundred years (1548–1726) of global, early-modern piracy. Lane and Bialuschewski provide glosses of each document and a succinct introduction to the historical context of the period and avoid the romanticized and Anglo-centric depictions of maritime predation that often plague work on the topic. Link.

11. Moby Dick

by Herman Melville

Moby Dick; or, The Whale is a novel by Herman Melville, in which Ishmael narrates the monomaniacal quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, for revenge on the albino sperm whale Moby Dick, which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and severed his leg at the knee. Although the novel was a commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891, its reputation grew immensely during the twentieth century. D. H. Lawrence called it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world,” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written.”

12. The Old Man and The Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.
Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

13. The Perfect Storm

by Sebastian Junger

It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high―a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it “the perfect storm.” In a book that has become a classic, Sebastian Junger explores the history of the fishing industry, the science of storms, and the candid accounts of the people whose lives the storm touched. The Perfect Storm is a real-life thriller that makes us feel like we’ve been caught, helpless, in the grip of a force of nature beyond our understanding or control.

14. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

by C. S. Forester

The year is 1793, the eve of the Napoleonic Wars, and Horatio Hornblower, a seventeen-year-old boy unschooled in seafaring and the ways of seamen, is ordered to board a French merchant ship and take command of crew and cargo for the glory of England. Though not an unqualified success, this first naval adventure teaches the young midshipman enough to launch him on a series of increasingly glorious exploits. This novel — in which young Horatio gets his sea legs, proves his mettle, and shows the makings of the legend he will become — is the first of the eleven swashbuckling Hornblower tales that are today regarded as classic adventure stories of the sea.

15. Deadly Straits

by R E McDermott

A terror attack that stuns the world. A deadly plot that will forever change the balance of power. An innocent man framed for his daughter’s kidnapping.
Deadly Straites will keep you turning pages late into the night.

16. Shogun

by James Clavell

Here is the world-famous novel of Japan that is the earliest book in James Clavell’s masterly Asian saga. Set in the year 1600, it tells the story of a bold English pilot whose ship was blown ashore in Japan, where he encountered two people who were to change his life: a warlord with his own quest for power, and a beautiful interpreter torn between two ways of life and two ways of love.

17. North Water

by Ian Mcguire

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship’s medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.
In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clearer, the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter. Link.

18. The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels

by Patrick O’Brian

Patrick O’Brian’s twenty-one-volume Aubrey/Maturin series has delighted generations of devoted fans, inspired a blockbuster film, and sold millions of copies in twenty-four languages. These five omnibus volumes, beautifully produced and boxed, contain 7,000 pages of what has often been described as a single, continuous narrative. They are a perfect tribute for such a literary achievement, and a perfect gift for the O’Brian enthusiast.

19. The Shadow-Line: A Confession

by Joseph Conrad

Written in 1915, The Shadow-Line is based upon events and experiences from twenty-seven years earlier to which Conrad returned obsessively in his fiction. A young sea captain’s first command brings with it a succession of crises: his sea is becalmed, the crew laid low by fever, and his deranged first mate is convinced that the ship is haunted by the malignant spirit of a previous captain.

20. Captain Blood

by Rafael Sabatini

“Captain Blood” is the story of Dr. Peter Blood, an Irish physician who was once a sailor and a soldier. In the aftermath of the Monmouth rebellion, Dr. Blood is arrested for treason. While he did not actually participate in the rebellion, rather he aids a wounded rebel, he is tried and convicted nonetheless. The sentence for treason is death, but King James II has the sentence commuted and instead sells Captain Blood and his fellow rebels into slavery. “Captain Blood” is a gripping and classic tale of action and adventure.


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