Obviously, the world Patrick O’Brian brings so vividly to life in our beloved series is complex and foreign to most readers. There is certainly no shortage of information about the time period and the novels themselves online (including over 250 articles on this site alone), but there are also many excellent companion books available. Your captain is a child of the internet age and so is not qualified to advise on any of them, but luckily the great Bruce Trinque (a POB/Age of Sail scholar and expert) compiled a fabulous list at Amazon.com. The list can be found here in its Amazon incarnation, complete with links to purchase each recommended book. I’ve included the list and Mr. Trinque’s comments without links below for your reference.
1. Persons, Animals, Ships and Cannon in the Aubrey-Maturin Sea Novels of Patrick O’Brian by Anthony Gary Brown
An indispensible guide to the people and ships, both real and imagined, that inhabit the Aubrey-Maturin novels.
2. A Sea of Words, Third Edition: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O’Brian by Dean King
Explains all those obscure terms in O’Brian’s worlds of the sea, natural history, and music.
3. Nelson’s Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, 1793-1815 by Brian Lavery
A superbly detailed guide to virtually every aspect of the Royal Navy in the time of Jack Aubrey.
4. Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O’Brian by Brian Lavery
A solid introduction to the Royal Navy of Jack Aubrey’s era, and the numerous lengthy quotes from contemporary sources make this book something of a “companion” for Lavery’s excellent Nelson’s Navy.
5. Patrick O’Brian’s Navy: The Illustrated Companion to Jack Aubrey’s World by Richard O’Neill
Good details about life in the Royal Navy in Jack Aubrey’s era, with a splendid collection of vivid, colorful contemporary illustrations.
6. Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman
Authentic recipes for the foods featured in the Aubrey-Maturin books, along with hilarious stories about how the authors recreated these dishes.
7. Patrick O’Brian : A Life Revealed by Dean King
The author’s own life casts a surprising light on many aspects of his novels.
8. Harbors and High Seas, 3rd Edition : An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian, Third Edition by John Hattendorf
Useful, if somewhat general, maps to illustrate the travels of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.
9. Warships of the Napoleonic Era (Chatham Blueprint Series) by Robert Gardiner
Plans and discussions of typical warships of the era, including a number which were prototypes for those sailed by Jack Aubrey.
10. Patrick O’Brian: Critical Essays and a Bibliography by Patrick O’Brian
Includes several illuminating essays about the worlds of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.
11. Shipboard Life and Organization, 1731-1815 (Navy Records Society Publications) by Brian Lavery
Expensive, but an extraordinary collection of first-hand material about life in Jack Aubrey’s navy.
12. Anatomy of the Ship: The 74-Gun Ship Bellona by Brian Lavery
Primarily aimed at the model-maker, this is a plank-by-plank examination of the ship commanded by Jack Aubrey in The Commodore and The Yellow Admiral.
13. The 50-Gun Ship (Chatham Shipshape Series) by Rif Winfield
A history of the Royal Navy’s class of 50-gun ships, special attention including many detailed illustrations is paid to “the horrible old Leopard” commanded by Jack Aubrey in Desolation Island.
14. Seamanship in the Age of Sail: An Account of the Shiphandling of the Sailing Man-Of-War 1600-1860, Based on Contemporary Sources by John Harland
A meticulous examination of the art of sailing square-riggers.
15. Ships and Seamanship: The Maritime Prints of J. J. Baugean by John Harland
A collection of classic engravings of sea-going vessels of Jack Aubrey’s day.
16. Nelson’s Ships: A History of the Vessels in Which He Served, 1771-1805 by Peter Goodwin
Detailed information about all the ships upon which Horatio Nelson served. A valuable cross-section of the Royal Navy in the “Patrick O’Brian” era.
17. Every Man Will Do His Duty: An Anthology of Firsthand Accounts from the Age of Nelson, 1793-1815 by Dean King
A collection of first-hand accounts of naval service during the time of Jack Aubrey.
18. The Star Captains: Frigate Command in the Napoleonic Wars by Tom Wareham
The history of Royal Navy frigate captains, Jack Aubrey’s contemporaries.
19. Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson by Steven E. Maffeo
The story of Stephen Maturin’s real-life counterparts.
20. The Naval Chronicle: The Contemporary Record of the Royal Navy at War, 1793-1798 (The Naval Chronicle , No 1) by Nicholas Tracy
The publication read with the greatest interest by Jack Aubrey.
21. The Construction and Fitting of the English Man of War: 1650-1850 by Peter Goodwin
A detailed exploration of the construction of Royal Navy warships in the era of Jack Aubrey.
22. Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815 by Brian Lavery
How the ships of the Royal Navy in Jack Aubrey’s era were armed and outfitted.
23. Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars by Robert Gardiner
An examination of Royal Navy frigates, the most glamorous ships of Jack Aubrey’s world.
24. Prizes of War by J. R. Hill
A history of prize money, which along with patriotism and promotion was a great motivator for Jack Aubrey and his contemporaries.
25. Life in Nelson’s Navy (Bluejacket Books) by Dudley Pope
A good account of life aboard Royal Navy warships in Jack Aubrey’s day.
26. The Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon by David Cordingly
A lively, detailed “biography” of a ship of the line — and a ship that appears occasionally in the Aubrey-Maturin novels. This ship’s career is nearly a synopsis of the major events of the period.
Captain’s note: Of course there are other companion novels and resources about the period available, hundreds of them, but if Bruce Trinque says these are the best I’m going to believe him. I want all of them.
Courtesy of Bruce Trinque at the suggestion of Collin C.
Dr. Maturin suggests further reading: