Tag Archives: biography

Prince Henry “the Navigator”: A Life – Peter E. Russell

Henry begins with a text listing his view of what the objectives of any man’s life are…First of all is man’s duty to secure salvation for his soul. This is by definition the most important goal of human life. Next is the pursuit of honour for himself, his name, his lineage and his nation. Honour, declares the prince, is passed on by inheritance from generation to generation and so concerns the very essence of worldly existence. If he possesses honour, a man’s name and reputation will endure until the world’s end…He dismisses as worthless most of the activities necessary either to make life tolerable or, indeed, to keep going at all.

Prince Henry “The Navigator” is a detailed biography by Peter Russell of the famous Portuguese prince who started the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the 15th century.

The Prince was obsessed by his crusading destiny and, under his pressure, the Portuguese conquered Ceuta. He then goes against everyone, seasoned sailors and common knowledge, to fund expeditions going beyond Cape Bojador, a place after which sailing was considered impossible. This was a crucial moment that defined the destiny of Portugal.

A splendid expeditions and commerce organizer.

Prince Henry also organized and pushed the discoveries for decades, until his death, despite the fact he was constantly struggling with bankruptcy. The trade with Guinea (mainly slaves) and, principally, the riches from Madeira (wood, dyes, sugar) brought much wealth to the country and showed that profit could be made from maritime discoveries.

He was open to people of skill, hiring foreigners in his service, mainly Genoese to develop trade. Rusell suggests that some of the funds to finance the expeditions were coming from the Genoese merchant houses in Portugal.

The ascetic Prince was very close to his retinue, always trying to help them and give them positions. Maybe his court was not always paid in time, but he tried to take care of his knights and servants.

The biographer is a balanced writer of Price Henry’s life. The debacle of Tangier, when the Portuguese attacked the Marinid Morocco’s port, again at the Prince’s pressure, shows a darker side of the noble. To be allowed to leave, the Prince agreed to give back Ceuta, leaving his brother as guarantee. He never returned the city to the Moroccans and his brother died in prison.

While the Prince always presented his expeditions as religious attempts to christianize Africa, the purpose looks more likely to be profit. Putting the cross of the Order of Christ, where he was leader, on the sails certainly helped to boost this image. In practice, no churches were built in Africa and he cruelly defended his monopoly of trade to Guinea, especially against the Castilians.

But, why was he starting the expeditions? Why not others? Maybe the answer lies on two aspects: first, he was conditioned to go towards the sea, there was nothing of enough value, or too costly to get if North Africa was attacked; secondly, he wanted more than others to become famous. The biographer suggests that the Prince strongly believed that he could get by sea to the mythical kingdom of Preacher John, a Christian kingdom full of riches in Africa. Of course, the conditions were set for discovery: internal stability in Portugal, with Castile fighting internal wars, no threat from Africa, ships that could travel such long distances, enough wealth to finance the expeditions, skilled and courageous sailors, etc..

The books is lengthily, still not enough detailed as it could have been. However, it is a classic, maybe the best biography of the famous Portuguese prince.

[Featured photo by André Luís from Lisbon, Portugal]

The Uncharted Path – Lee Myung-Bak

The Uncharted Path is the autobiography of the former CEO of Hyundai, mayor of Seoul and president of Korea, Lee Myung-Bak.

The Uncharted Path
An amazing from rag to riches story

It is seems an almost unbelievable life trajectory, but he actually achieved all that. His career mirrors in a way the values and the success of South Korea.

A rag to riches story, a story of gratitude, optimism and self-sacrifice that shows the power of perseverance and hard work. A truly life inspiration and brilliant read.

 

 

 

Panzer Leader – Heinz Guderian

Half memoirs, half military tactics, the book offers a glimpse into the mentality of Heinz Guderian, the brilliant tank general of the Nazi Germany.

Guderian shows how he developed and organized the Panzer corps, his campaigns during the Second World War and the key relations between Nazi party members. Very little is described of his personal life, the vast majority of the book being on his professional military career.

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General Guderian on the front

The general is revealed as an intelligent, professional soldier, doing his best in the given conditions. A pure tactician, he stayed away from the political intrigues, unlike Rommel, which maybe saved his safe.

The careful written book has a fast pace, the story of the war flows smoothly and the overall logic of the motivations seems to hold, making it a quick and enjoyable read, particularly for the war and history fans.

No easy day – Mark Owen

While there are many accounts and stories about the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, Mark Owen is the real deal. As one of the team leaders that assaulted the compound that night, he tells the story of how the SEAL Team Six killed their number one enemy.

The SEAL operative also describes how the men from one of the most elite units in the US military are constantly challenging themselves to the highest levels of mental and physical endurance.

The main skill they get after the gruesome training is knowing that they can break their own barriers, which makes them confident and balanced individuals. With those skills they can perform at maximum efficiency during combat, when split-second decisions must be made.

Those skills can be noticed when Owen describes the Captain Phillips Operation in the Indian Ocean (a movie starring Tom Hanks reconstructs that operation) and other missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The idea that transcends the book and gets to the reader is their mental toughness and ability to act under tremendous stress. It can motivate anyone who wants to push for their own personal desires, particularly in terms of fitness objectives.

I felt really pumped while reading the book and I realized that if you tear down the barriers that you have in your own mind, everything becomes possible.

It reminded me of another book of a SEAL operative “The Lone Survivor”. A SEAL in enemy territory and hunted by dozens of talibans, unable to move his legs due to a spine injury, drew a line in front of him with his knife and cross it time and time again until he got to a village. He drew that line just to push himself to cross it. And he made it, he survived.

Very important for me is that “No easy day” is the real account of the story, written by an eye-witness of the event. It involves no speculations or fantasies, nor is a product of imagination. Imagination is great, but life beats it.