Patrick O’Brien: A Life Revealed Excerpt

While there is no end to the information available about naval history, information about the author of our beloved series is somewhat harder to come by. He lived a life shrouded in some mystery, and left behind many questions about the life of the genius who somehow created two such different yet fully realized characters as Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Luckily for us, the accomplished biographer Dean King (A Sea of Words, Harbors and High Seas) was kind enough to write Patrick O’Brien: A Life Revealed to help give us some insight into the author of the world. It’s now available in eBook form, and I’m excited to post an excerpt for your reading pleasure…

I’m also very excited to be giving away an eBook copy to one lucky visitor! To win, you must Like us on Facebook and respond to the contest post. Contest ends 04.27.12!

Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed by Dean King (excerpt)

Full Disclosure: I am posting this at the request of those in charge of marketing Dean King’s new eBooks. I’m not being paid or anything, I just saw an opportunity to give you some information you might be interested in and help promote Dean King, an author I really admire :)

Text and image courtesy of CP.

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

An Author’s Thoughts on Our Beloved Series

One of the greatest pleasures of my life was my first reading of the Aubreyad. I literally could not put the books down and read all of them in about a month. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to organize a group readthrough, and almost succeeded with the Aubreyad Press Gang (which I’m considering restarting if anyone is interested, but that’s not the point). While searching for information on other group readthroughs, I stumbled across a series of articles written by Sci Fi author Jo Walton about her experience rereading the entire series at the rate of one book per week. She has a piece about each novel in the series, and her essays make for some very interesting reading. I’m including her introduction to the endeavor here, and then a link so that you can read the rest on your own. While it’s not quite the same as participating in an ongoing readthrough (as she finished in February of this year), each pieces makes a very agreeable companion for whichever book you happen to be reading currently.

Not A Moment To Be Lost: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin Series
By Jo Walton

On my way to MilPhil, the 2001 Worldcon in Philadelphia, I was re-reading The Fortune of War, Book 5 of Patrick O’Brian’s twenty volume Aubrey-Maturin series. On the bus in Newark taking me to the connecting plane, I saw a stranger reading Book 18, The Commodore. “Are you going to Worldcon?” I asked. She was. I therefore contend that the Aubrey-Maturin books, while ostensibly historical novels about the friendship between a naval captain and a ship’s surgeon during the Napoleonic Wars, are in fact SF. If that’s going too far, then at any rate they have the fannish nature, they are naturally appealing to people who like to read SF and for much the same reasons.

I do not normally read Napoleonic sea stories, they are not my thing. I started reading these when they were recommended to me by Pamela Dean, and you wouldn’t think they’d be her thing either. She recommended reading them in order,“if you’d normally read the chapters of a book in order,” and really she’s absolutely right. Nevertheless, I went on to read the eighteen books then in print in totally random order, as inter-library loan delivered them to me. Sorting out the meta-order, which is utterly apparent if you read them normally, became the thing I did to get myself back to sleep when I woke up in the night. For some reason, I couldn’t find The Nutmeg of Consolation for months, and trying to deduce the events of it drove me mad. I eventually bought it—the first one I bought.

My second read was in order. Waterstones, then my local bookshop, did a promotion selling the first book for a pound. I then read all of them in order, buying the ones that weren’t on the shelves in libraries in walking distance. When I lived in Sketty, there was a library about a hundred yards away, on the street I lived on. There was also a central library in town, about a mile away. I used to walk in and get the bus back: books are heavy. So I read them in order, which was nice, and I owned about half of them. Then my husband started reading them. He was working in Cambridge at the time, and coming home for weekends, and he started taking one with him for the train journey. He bought me all the ones I didn’t have, filling in the gaps so that I had a complete set.

I have just started what is either my fifth or sixth re-read.

The thing that’s so great about these books isn’t that they’re historically accurate and give a picture of the whole planet at the turn of the nineteenth century. They certainly do that, but if that were all I wouldn’t get homesick for them. It’s not the character portrait of the two very different central men—bluff, good-natured Jack Aubrey with his desire for riches and promotion, and the Irish naturalist doctor Stephen Maturin. They are great portraits, and change splendidly over time, and I’m very fond of both of them, faults notwithstanding. It’s not the way O’Brian contrives to gives you information in an interesting way after you want it and before you need it, though I admire that extremely. Nor is it the way he does such astonishing things between volumes and when you’re not looking, such that you see the consequences and not the events. It certainly isn’t the nautical jargon—I’m sure Jack knows what cross-catharpings are, but Stephen and I couldn’t care less. It’s not the plot—though the books have very good plots and the series as a whole has the most excellent swell of plot that runs through it. It’s not even the fact that Stephen calls Jack “my dear” in the least affected way possible.

The truly great thing about these books is that they suck you into their world and while you are reading you are entirely caught up within it, and it is as alien and fascinating a world as anything you might find around another star. And you don’t question it, it’s absolutely real, and you are head down inside it. I want to compare them to Cherryh and Bujold and Vinge and Brust.

If you haven’t read them then you are very lucky because you can still read them for the first time. Having said that, they are books I find much more comfortable to re-read knowing what’s going to happen than I did the first time through—O’Brian has a tendency to throw things at you hard that can leave you breathless.

What I usually do is alternate the first few with other books and then get so immersed in O’Brian that I can’t stop. I’ve just re-read Master and Commander and will be doing a weekly read-along of the series starting today and featuring every Monday. This series of posts will be with spoilers, as there’s no other way to talk about them…


I would just like to note that I couldn’t find a way to get in contact with Jo Walton to request permission to post her essays (I tried to use the Shoutbox on the Tor blog, but I don’t think it worked), which is why I’m only posting the introduction and then sending you on to her blog. If anyone knows how to get in touch with the author, I’d love to be able to ask her if I can post all of the essays.

Courtesy of Jo Walton.
Image courtesy of

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

  • Dr. Maturin has gone a-botanising and suggests you do the same!

Patrick O’Brian Cruise

I came across this information recently and thought I would share it, just on the off-chance any of you happen to be obscenely wealthy (in which case I congratulate you).

The Annemarie Victory Organization specializes in luxury cruises and tours, often organized around a specific theme. One of their upcoming cruises takes place on a gorgeous sailing vessel and focuses on Patrick O’Brian and our beloved series. According to the website:

June 18 to 27, 2011: A Celebration of Patrick O’Brian on SEA CLOUD. Take a voyage from Barcelona to Nice and experience a retrospective on the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar with our guest of honor Count Nikolai Tolstoy, who has just completed the biography of his stepfather Patrick O’Brian. Our lecturers will be Brian Lavery, the author of Jack Aubrey Commands. This book explores the historic framework of O’Brian’s novels and naval life in the era of Nelson and Napoleon. Geoff Hunt, painter of the Naval World of Nelson and Patrick O’Brian, will also be in attendance.

How cool is that?! They seem to have done similar tours in the past, because I found an itinerary for one that took place at least a year ago. I’m not sure if the itinerary for this upcoming cruise is the same, but if it’s even slightly similar it will be amazing!

Previous Itinerary

Tuesday, April 20

Depart the US for Barcelona, Spain.

Wednesday, April 21: Barcelona

Arrival in Barcelona and transfer to the Hotel Arts, the finest in Barcelona. Welcome cocktail and dinner at the hotel.

Thursday, April 22: Barcelona

Morning sightseeing tour of beautiful Barcelona. This exciting city, the capital of Catalonia, is Spain’s second largest, and was founded by the Phoenicians in the 3rd century BC. We will visit the Gothic Quarters, the Picasso Museum, the Olympic Stadium, the Miro Foundation, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church and his Guell Park (these are “art nouveau” masterpieces).

After lunch “All Aboard” SEA CLOUD. The world’s most beautiful sailing vessel will be our home for the next seven nights.

Friday, April 23: At sea.

While under full sail, we will enjoy a talk by Brian Lavery on the epic Battle of Trafalgar, about which he is an acknowledged expert.

Afternoon arrival in Mahon/Menorca. The entrance into Mahon’s remarkable fjord-like harbor is an unforgettable experience. The port is the location of the first scene in Patrick O’Brian’s first book, Master and Commander, and is also visited by H.M.S. Surprise in The Hundred Days. Brian Lavery will take us on a Jack Aubrey walking tour of the town of Mahon including the Governor’s Palace, the Crown Inn and down the Pigtail Stairs.

This evening the captain will host a welcoming champagne and caviar party followed by a gourmet dinner.

Saturday, April 24: Mahon/Menorca

A British possession through most of the 18th century, the harbor features a majestic flight of stairs once known as the “Pigtail Stairs”. Legend has it that drunken sailors from men-of-war were hauled down them by their pigtails on their way back to their ships.

We will spend the day on this island to visit the various sights that were important during Nelson’s time, including Fort San Felipe, Fort Marlborough and the Governor’s House.

As we sail out of Mahon we will pass first the Islas del Lazareto and Cuarentena, formerly the quarantine wing of the Royal Naval Hospital. Later, we will pass a fine rose-colored Palladian style mansion, the Finca de San Antonio, where Horatio Nelson briefly lived in 1799.

Sunday, April 25: Port Vendres

After a beautiful morning of sailing we will arrive in Port Vendres, a sleepy Catalan-French fishing village on the far western French Mediterranean coast. Our brief walk will take us to Coullioure, one of France’s most charming seaside villages, that was Patrick O’Brian’s home for 50 years. Count Nikolai Tolstoy will give us a private tour of O’Brian’s home and gardens. All the rooms are exactly the way he left them (the writing desk still has open books and his pens and pencils lay about). We will also enjoy a reception with local wines and specialties in the courtyard of the house. The area is highly regarded for its fine wines and our wine train will take us through these scenic vineyards.

Monday, April 26: Bandol/Aix-en-Provence

While under full sail this morning, we will enjoy a fascinating talk by Eleanor Sharpston about the Napoleonic wars from the “French side”, particularly the Battle of Trafalgar.

Early afternoon arrival in Bandol, a charming fishing village from where we will take an excursion to Aix-en-Provence. We will visit Old Aix with its beautiful mansions, statues, pleasant squares and fountains, Town Hall and St. Savior’s Cathedral.

Tuesday, April 27: St. Tropez

After a beautiful morning of sailing along the spectacular French Riviera, we will arrive in St. Tropez, located on the foothills of the Maures Massif. A small town with a harbor filled with luxury yachts, St. Tropez has become a very fashionable resort frequented by writers, artists and celebrities from all over the world. St. Tropez also offers great shopping!

Wednesday, April 28: St. Florent/Corsica

We will continue our sail along the French Riviera from where we will be able to observe the medieval village of Eze perched on the top of a mountain, as well as Villefranche and Monte Carlo. Count Tolstoy will give us a fascinating talk about his fifty years with his stepfather, Patrick O’Brian, and his intimate and revealing new biography of him.

After lunch we will arrive at Corsica and St. Florent, a charming ancient town.

During your free time here, you might enjoy a hike up to the citadel, go for a swim or simply enjoy the various shops and small restaurants.

Tonight is our farewell celebration, an elegant affair with our captain, topped by a gourmet dinner and great wines. Later, there will be dancing under the Mediterranean skies.

Thursday, April 29: Nice

Early morning arrival in Nice.

Transfer to Nice airport for our departure to the US. (or you may participate in the Nice extension).

Itinerary is subject to change.

Nice Extension

Thursday, April 29

Upon arrival in Nice, we will go on an excursion to the medieval town of St. Paul de Vence (your luggage will go separately to the Hotel Negresco).

Many of Europe’s greatest artists, such as Picasso and Matisse, have at one time or another called St. Paul their home. Its Maeght Foundation, which we will visit, has one of the most outstanding modern art collections in France. Lunch will be at the charming Colombe D’Or restaurant, followed by a stroll through the village.

Our dinner this evening will be in a rustic brasserie in Nice.

Friday, April 30

Our excursion today will take us to Villefranche to visit the villa and gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild, then continue to the medieval town of Eze where we will enjoy a delicious lunch at Chateau Eza.

Afternoon free in Nice.

Our farewell dinner will be at the Chantecler restaurant in the hotel.

Saturday, May 1

Transfer to Nice airport.

They also have an upcoming tour with Brian Lavery called Sailors and Society in Georgian England.

September 12 to 22, 2011: Sailors and Society in Georgian England, the home of Lord Nelson, Jane Austen and Jack Aubrey. We will visit London, Greenwich, Portsmouth and Bath. The highlight of this trip will be a private visit aboard the H.M.S. VICTORY. [More Information.]

Courtesy of the Annemarie Victory Organization.
Image: Wet rigging in stormy weather on Sea Cloud II by Aaron Sylvan.

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading

Suggested Reading: Aubrey/Maturin Companion Books

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 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

Patrick O’Brian: A Brief Introduction to the Author of the World!

Patrick O’Brian, the esteemed creator of our beloved series, is something of an enigma. There are many questions about his past, some of which have been explored at length in published biographies. This article is nothing like one of those. It’s merely a short, concise introduction to the man and aspects of his work for those of us who stumbled into the Aubrey/Maturin novels and became so fully engrossed that we forgot someone actually wrote them…

Patrick O’Brian 1914-2000

(Has also written under the pseudonym Richard Patrick Russ) Irish novelist, short story writer, translator, nonfiction writer, and biographer.

O’Brian is a noted scholar and biographer, however, it is his historical fiction novels that have garnered him the most critical and popular attention. While the genre of historical fiction has been ignored by some literary critics, several reviewers have argued that O’Brian transcends the genre with his extensive knowledge of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century naval life, botany, history, and music. His Aubrey/Maturin series of novels, set during the Napoleonic Wars, combined his historical expertise with tightly-constructed adventure narratives. The series is comprised of twenty novels and spans over thirty years of writing, beginning with Master and Commander (1969) and concluding with Blue at the Mizzen (1999).

Biographical Information

O’Brian was born in 1914 in Galway, Ireland. His mother died while he was still young and he moved several times to live with various relatives throughout Ireland and England. O’Brian suffered from a recurrent childhood illness which would plague him for years. O’Brian began writing short stories and fiction in his youth, and was fascinated with the eighteenth century, reading authors such as Samuel Richardson, Samuel Johnson, and Jane Austen. In the 1930s, O’Brian studied the classics and philosophy in both England and France. He was denied active service duties during World War II due to medical reasons, but served as an ambulance driver in Chelsea. He also worked for a period in British intelligence with his wife, Mary. After the war, O’Brian focused on developing his writing career and began publishing short stories and novels. He was awarded a CBE award and a Heywood Hill literary prize. O’Brian moved to the Roussillon region of France in the 1950s where he lived in relative seclusion until his death in 2000.

Major Works

O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels traces the relationship between Captain Jack Aubrey, a naval officer, and Stephen Maturin, a naturalist, doctor, and occasional spy for Great Britain, as they adventure across the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars. The two characters have contrasting personalities whose differences play off each other throughout the series. Jack Aubrey is an accomplished sailor and confident leader of his crew, but on land, his skills are limited and he lacks social refinement. Maturin has difficulties adjusting to life at sea, but he is suave, diplomatic, and intelligent when on land. The first novel, Master and Commander, opens as the two men first meet at a musical performance in Spain, where Maturin riles Aubrey with a remark about his lack of musical timing. Although this first encounter does not end well, the two encounter one another again the next day, and Aubrey, who has been offered command of a ship in the British navy, recruits Maturin as the vessel’s surgeon. The series contains a wealth of nineteenth-century historical detail—particularly nautical information about life onboard a ship and the mechanics of sailing. The Aubrey/Maturin novels typically create an adventure narrative set against a backdrop of events that actually occurred during the Napoleonic Wars. For example, The Wine-Dark Sea (1993) finds Aubrey’s ship, the HMS Surprise, delivering Maturin on a secret mission in Peru and Chile, where he helps independence movements beneficial to the British Crown. In The Yellow Admiral (1996), Aubrey is awaiting a fateful decision about his career, and is hoping for a promotion to rear admiral of the Blue Squadron. He dreads the other possible outcome—a promotion to a post that carries no command—sometimes called a “Yellow Admiral.” Aubrey threatens his promotion with his criticism of naval policy and his inability to get along with his superiors. The Aubrey/Maturin series eventually spanned twenty novels, ending with Blue at the Mizzen. This last volume opens with Napoleon being defeated at Waterloo. Aubrey and Maturin are sent to Chile to help free the country from their occupation by Spain. During the voyage, half of Aubrey’s crew deserts the ship and the under-staffed Surprise is forced to battle the Spanish Armada.

Although the Aubrey/Maturin series comprises O’Brian’s best known and most acclaimed works, he is also an accomplished short story writer, biographer, and translator. In the short fiction collection, The Rendezvous and Other Stories (1995), only the story “Billabillian” focuses on nautical history. The rest of the stories in the volume examine the relationship between nature and humankind, as in “The Chian Wine,” which deals with a medieval European town on its emergence into the twentieth century. O’Brian has produced several translations of the works of French authors, including Simone de Beauvoir and Henri Charriere. He has also published two well received biographies, one of artist Pablo Picasso, the other about naturalist Joseph Banks. In Joseph Banks: A Life (1987) O’Brian uses journal entries, letters, and reports from Banks’ contemporaries to recount the life of the naturalist who served as the president of the Royal Society for more than forty years.

Critical Reception

Although the Aubrey/Maturin novels were critically and commercially popular in England for many years, they received a lukewarm critical reception upon their publication in the United States in the 1970s. The series did, however, gain a renewed popularity in the 1990s when the entire run was released in paperback. Reviewers have often discussed the Aubrey/Maturin novels as though they are interlinked into one epic saga, or treat them as separate chapters within an ongoing novel. Many critics have favorably compared the novels to C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. Others have compared O’Brian to Jane Austen because of his precision of language and ability to flesh out nineteenth-century characters. James Hamilton-Paterson asserted, “Patrick O’Brian is unquestionably the Homer of the Napoleonic wars.” Reviewers have debated about the categorization of O’Brian’s seafaring novels, with some calling them adventure stories and others historical novels. In fact, much of the criticism surrounding the Aubrey/Maturin novels revolves around this question of genre and a debate over their legitimacy as literature. A number of critics have also disagreed about the quality of O’Brian’s characterization in the Aubrey/Maturin series. John Mullan stated in a review of The Yellow Admiral, “While the information is dense, characterization is primitive. Aubrey and Maturin scarcely exist except to voice knowledge and exhibit wearying abilities.” However, several reviewers have cited the portrayal of the main characters and their relationship as the strongest feature of the series. While many reviewers were enthusiastic about the first novels in the series, several critics began to tire of the repetition found in the later novels. Christopher Claussen asserted, “The […] disadvantage to so long a series is that the characters and action become too predictable. What began as a set of premises hardens into formula.” Despite these complaints, O’Brian has been consistently lauded by critics for his extensive historical knowledge and his ability to infuse his work with the minutia of nineteenth-century life. Patrick T. Reardon praised O’Brian’s “wonderfully exact language, his erudition, his delight in human idiosyncrasy, his fine hand with character, his zest for the nitty-gritty of life and for life itself, his love of the sea and his ability to infect even committed landlubbers with a touch of that love.” Critics have generally lauded O’Brian’s biographies, particularly for their ability to condense a tremendous amount of research into a readable narrative. Yet several reviewers have criticized O’Brian’s reverence for his subjects—especially Joseph Banks—and claim that such reverence limits his ability to accurately portray them.

Courtesy of
Image: Cover of Master and Commander by Geoff Hunt.

Dr. Maturin suggests further reading