THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF MAX HARDBERGER
[Because Max is too modest to describe himself in glowing terms, this profile was penned by Michael Bono, Max’s business partner, long-time friend and former student]
“I’m sure there are those who would like to add me to a list of modern pirates of the Caribbean …”
The Los Angeles Times, quoting Max Hardberger
“ … his life certainly reads like a Hollywood movie …” University of New Orleans Alumni Magazine
One could go a lifetime without meeting anyone else like Max Hardberger. His friend and best-selling author David Fisher put it this way.
“What makes Max such an unusual person that Hollywood is making a movie about his life? The answer is Max. He is a unique and delightful character, armed always with a broad smile and a soft twang that belies his competence in a crisis, his tenacity and toughness, his intelligence and his vast range of experience.”
These experiences are truly unique. At various times in his life, Max has worked as a ship captain, newspaper reporter, English and
history teacher, crop duster, private investigator, maritime lawyer, flight instructor, ship surveyor, commercial aircraft pilot, sailing instructor, insurance adjuster, vessel repossession specialist, filmmaker, oilfield mud engineer,
stuntman, ship breaker and even a drummer in a blues band. His adventures have taken him throughout the world—from lawless ports in the Caribbean and the war-torn jungles of Central America to the once-forbidden city of Vladivostok—where he crossed paths with a veritable rogue’s gallery of characters, including Haitian rebels, modern-day Caribbean pirates, and Russian mobsters.
The world in which Max operates is a tough, gritty place, full of danger and
opportunity. To borrow once more from David Fisher, "Max’s world” is:
“a world of fog shrouded ports and endless oceans, of crooks and con artists and cheats and voodoo doctors and prostitutes, a world of hard work and enduring friendships and very dangerous jobs, where too often the only rules are ones that are made up to save the moment. And in the middle of the mayhem is Max Hardberger. Smiling.”
Max the Scholar
Maybe because he dresses the part of the weary sea captain, it’s not immediately obvious that
Max is a highly educated man. After he earned a B.A. degree in English from the University of New Orleans, Max attended
what is widely regarded as the top post-graduate creative writing program in
the United States, known informally as the “Writers’ Workshop”, at the University of Iowa. In 1972 he received a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction and Poetry.
Before adventure pulled him in another direction, Max started his professional
career with a short stint teaching high school English. Max briefly returned to
the classroom in the mid-Eighties, when he taught English and world history at
a parochial high school in Louisiana (where he taught the author of this
profile, and his future business partner, Michael Bono). Once more, adventure
beckoned and Max returned to the sea as the captain of freighters in the
Caribbean. Max drew upon his maritime experiences when writing his first book, Deadweight: Owning the Ocean Freighter
(1994), a textbook on ship ownership. He followed Deadweight with his first novel, Freighter Captain (1998), a semi-autobiographical account of his adventures as a ship captain in the
Around the same time that these books were published, Max satisfied a long-held
interest by studying law. In 1998, he obtained a Juris Doctor degree from
Northwestern California Law School, became a member of the California bar, and
began his maritime law practice.
In addition to his formal education, Max has been a lifelong student of
history and literature. He's an ardent admirer of literary giants like Shakespeare
and James Joyce, and he's a devotee of the hard-boiled school of fiction. As a student of
military nonfiction, particularly of World War II, he was asked to write the introduction to the English-language edition of Vassili Zaitsev's
Notes of a Sniper (on which the movie Enemy at the Gates was based).
In addition to his books, Max has written hundreds of articles for various
maritime trade publications. His most recent work is SEIZED: A Sea Captain's
Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World's Most Troubled Waters. The
book was released by the Broadway Books imprint of Random House on April
Max the Adventurer
A Los Angeles Times correspondent once wrote, "with his graying
hair, walrus mustache and moderate build, Hardberger doesn't fit the profile of
a swashbuckler." Nevertheless, Max has lived a life of adventure that has
led him from steamy, lawless ports in the Caribbean to the ice-bound docks of
Vladivostok, from the jungles of Central America to the sunny islands of the
Mediterranean. And the characters that he's encountered—the scoundrels and
scalawags, victims and victors, frauds and fakes—are the people of his world,
sometimes funny, sometimes obsessed, sometimes self-destructive, but always
Max has been chased by Russian mobsters, thwarted pirate attacks, and avoided
violent death too many times to count. Some of his greatest adventures took
place in the lawless, hellhole ports of the world while repossessing cargo
ships. Although these stories will be the subject of his upcoming book for
Random House, here's a taste of what to expect:
- "The government sent a Navy vessel to chase us, but we were able to
hide from radar in a heavy thunderstorm ..."
- “I hired a prostitute to sit with the armed guard on deck and be nice to him until he drank a nightcap I’d
- "Once we were banned from docking anywhere, I knew we had to change
the ship's identity ..."
- “The crew screamed that we were sinking and helped the guards into the
- “So we hired the entire whorehouse and threw a party in the street ... the music covered the sound of the ship’s engines
- “I made my deal with the voodoo doctor and he came aboard the ship, this time bringing the evil spirits with him. I’d never negotiated for evil spirits before so I had no
His adventures aren't limited to freighters. As a professional airplane pilot, he’s towed banners, taught flying, transported bodies, dusted crops and delivered planes to Central and South America. He was once contracted to arrange the
"transportation" of 47 crop-dusting airplanes out of East Germany shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He and a band of young German pilots flew the planes
under radar to the Baltic Sea port of Rostock, where they disassembled them and stuffed them into shipping containers for transport to Venezuela.
Max's stories span the gamut of flying adventures, from the sheer terror of an engine fire at 10,000 feet over a Mexican jungle to the humor of trying to start an airline in Haiti.
And he's not done yet. As one correspondent wrote, "wherever Hardberger goes and whatever he does next, it’s guaranteed to make a hell of a story.”
Haiti - 2004
in Haiti - 2005
the Big Sky - 1995
the Rebeka - 1988
in Louisiana - 1984
the Sea Bitch - 1969