Synopses & Reviews
Seized throws open the hatch on the shadowy world of maritime shipping, where third-world governments place exorbitant liens against ships, pirates seize commercial vessels with impunity, crooks and con artists reign supreme on the docks and in the shipyards—and hapless owners have to rely on sea captain Max Hardberger to recapture their ships and win justice on the high seas.
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.
Seized takes readers behind the scenes of the multibillion dollar maritime industry, as he recounts his efforts to retrieve freighters and other vessels from New Orleans to the Caribbean, from East Germany to Vladivostak, Russia, and from Greece to Guatemala. He resorts to everything from disco dancing to women of the night to distract the shipyard guards, from bribes to voodoo doctors to divert attention and buy the time he needs to sail a ship out of a foreign port without clearance. Seized is adventure nonfiction at its best.
"In this heart-stopping account of his work recovering stolen (or otherwise illegally-seized) ships from 'hellhole' ports, commercial captain Hardberger proves himself tough as a tank and articulate as a poet. An airplane pilot, teacher, and lawyer besides, Hardberger never turns down an assignment, no matter how perilous-from surreptitiously repossessing huge ships at midnight to transporting a fleet of old airplanes across East Germany in a perilous airborne convoy. Facing down foes that include gangsters, corrupt judges, and, of course, pirates, Hardberger proves a formidable hero, but nevertheless admits that 'my long experience in leading men into dicey situations had taught me to keep my qualms to myself.' Hardberger has a seafarer's gift for atmospheric storytelling, layering details to create a sense of place, history, and foreboding, as when outsmarting deceptive authorities at a Honduran port: 'I knew that pier well, and those pilings had been rotten since Simon Bolivar was a boy.' Full of the suspense that comes from ripping off the bad guys and making a daring escape, often aboard less-than-reliable craft ('the ship could only make a desperate run for Belize... before the hold filled with water and she took a nosedive into the sea') Hardberger's escapades make undeniably fun reading." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
MAX HARDBERGER has been an airplane pilot, a lawyer, a high school teacher, a writer, an adventurer, and a ship captain on commercial freighters. Unique in his area of expertise, he has been repossessing illegitimately seized freighters for the last eighteen years. His adventures have been featured by NPR, the Learning Channel, and the L.A. Times
, among other publications. When not on the high seas, he lives in Louisiana.
Reading Group Guide
1. Captain Max Hardberger’s travels and adventures take him into many diverse cultures, from northern Europe to Russia to Haiti and Venezuela. What are some common aspects of the people he encounters?
2. SEIZED describes many different schemes by which thieves and pirates steal ships and cargos. In what ways is the shipping business like the businesses you know, and in what ways is it different?
3. Haiti figures large in the book and in Captain Hardberger’s life. What do you think attracts him to the country and its people? How does he use his knowledge of Haiti and Haitians to further his own plans?
4. What kind of man is Captain Hardberger? What five adjectives would you use to describe him?
5. Although Captain Hardberger says that he will not use force against the guards he encounters on ships he’s been retained to extract, he writes that during the Maya Express extraction, he hired Haitian policemen to control people coming to the dock. If someone had been hurt, who would have been responsible? From what you know of Captain Hardberger’s character, what would his reaction to such an incident have been?
6. Captain Hardberger describes how after he comes close to losing his freedom or his life, he says to himself, “Not yet, by God, not yet!” Have you ever come close to losing your life? What was your reaction? Why do you think Captain Hardberger deliberately puts himself into such situations?
7. Captain Hardberger justifies his actions—breaking a country’s laws when, in his opinion, they violate international or moral laws—by saying that he only acts on the side of right. Should someone who moves from country to country, like Captain Hardberger, be held to local laws, even when they conflict with his own sense of right? If Captain Hardberger gets caught in a foreign country, should the U.S. embassy in that country try to help him?
8. It’s clear from SEIZED that a captain of a ship enjoys special rights and privileges. Early in the book, Captain Hardberger threatens to use his position as ship captain to accuse two Haitian guards—wrongly—of trying to hijack his ship. What would happen if a ship captain did not have far-reaching powers? What kind of thing should a ship captain not be able to do? In the case of the Haitian guards, did Captain Hardberger do wrong?
9. At the end of SEIZED, Captain Hardberger writes, “More old friends died, and a few new friends grew close.” Who were the old friends in SEIZED that Captain Hardberger called upon? What new friends did he make? What qualities does he look for in his friends? What qualities does he admire?
10. Captain Hardberger describes many different kinds of pirates in SEIZED, but outwardly they don’t resemble yesterday’s pirates on the Spanish Main. How are the pirates in SEIZED different from old-time sea raiders? Are there any places in the world where traditional piracy is practiced? If you wanted to be a pirate, which path would you choose?
11. Most of the things Captain Hardberger does would seem to require bravery, but he describes many instances when he felt “sickening” fear. Can a brave person feel fear? What is the difference between a brave person and a coward? Which characters in SEIZED are brave and which are cowards?
12. Captain Hardberger describes a childhood of loneliness and bullying by his classmates. How did that childhood affect his adult personality? How did attending military school change his life? Is he an example of the adage “All action is reaction”?