|Patrick O'Brian died suddenly in a hotel room in Dublin, January 2,
2000. There are extracts below from the obits.|
The cover artist's drawing of the Surprise in
Dean King biography of POB is now out and reviewed in the New
You can click to view my favorites for anthropology, biology, cognitive sciences, ethology, climate, evolution, brains, language, the future -- and the Science Masters series.
|The Patrick O'Brian Novels|
Patrick O'Brian, the Aubrey-Maturin Series of twenty novels (Norton,
1970-1999). My appreciation written for WIRED
"I re-read this extraordinary series of novels because of the depth of
portrayal of the major and minor characters, but also because they teach me
so much about what science and technology were like two centuries ago. O'Brian
shows you the world-that-was through the eyes of a Tory naval captain (Jack
Aubrey), at sea since the age of 12, working his way up to admiral, dealing with
the height of 18th-century technology (sailing ships and celestial
navigation). I identify more strongly with his liberally-educated,
physician-scientist friend (Stephen Maturin), who went to medical school in
Paris during the French Revolution. You see natural history turning into a
biological science, bleeding-and-purging medicine starting to learn some
physiology -- and, because Maturin is also an intelligence agent for the
Admiralty, you see statecraft at work during the Napoleonic Wars. These books
strongly remind you about what scientific ignorance and social
conventions can do to your mindset, and how the future will likely judge us as
well." -- William H. Calvin
You can get them all at once, so you can:
The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Series
(20 volumes). Depending on amazon.com's current discount, this
works out to US$15-20 each (and in hardcover).
If you're not ready for that yet, here they are, in order, complete with
amazon.com links (Green is the softcover link,
if there is one; the other is the abridged audiotape for the commute).
There are also tape rentals from Booksontape.com:
1. Master and Commander
2. Post Captain
3. H.M.S. Surprise
4. The Mauritus Command
5. Desolation Island
6. The Fortune of War
7. The Surgeon's Mate
8. The Ionian Mission
9. Treason's Harbour
10. The Far Side of the World
11. The Reverse of the Medal
12. The Letter of Marque
13. The Thirteen-Gun Salute
14. The Nutmeg of Consolation
15. The Truelove
(AKA Clarissa Oakes in the UK)
16. The Wine-Dark Sea Audiotape
17. The Commodore
18. The Yellow Admiral Audiotape (Roger Rees) Audiotape (eight 90')
19. The Hundred Days
in softcover and
in large print.
20. Blue at the Mizzen
Cassette (Abridged), Audio
Cassette (Unabridged), Audio
CD (Unabridged), Large
21. POB was interviewed on NPR on November 17, 1999, and stated that book #21
progress. POB died January 2, 2000.
Want them in "one fell sloop"? The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Series
(20 volumes) will allow you to make your friends happy, giving away your existing softcover editions. Remember that you'll want to re-read them
all (I've read the series a half-dozen times -- like Joyce, they're very
rich -- and the playwright David Mamet admits to "three or four
Because they are so often summarized as involving sea-borne warfare, let me give
an example for those vary of "sea stories." Jack is
'[London Bach] wrote some pieces for my uncle Fisher, and his young man
copied them out fair. But they were lost years and years ago, so last time
I was in town I went to see whether I could find the originals: the young
man has set up on his own, having inherited his master's music-library. We
searched through the papers - such a disorder you would hardly credit, and
I had always supposed publishers were as neat as bees - we searched for
hours, and no uncle's pieces did we find. But the whole point is
this: Bach had a father.'
`Heavens, Jack, what things you tell me. Yet upon recollection I seem
to have known other men in much the same case.'
`And this father, this old Bach, you understand me, had written piles
and piles of musical scores in the pantry.'
`A whimsical place to compose in, perhaps; but then birds sing in
trees, do they not? Why not antediluvian Germans in a pantry?'
`I mean the piles were kept in the pantry. Mice and blackbeetles and
cook-maids had played Old Harry with some cantatas and a vast great
Passion according to St Mark, in High Dutch; but lower down all was well,
and I brought away several pieces, 'cello for you, fiddle for me, and some
for both together. It is strange stuff, fugues and suites of the last age,
crabbed and knotted sometimes and not at all in the modern taste, but I do
assure you, Stephen, there is meat in it. I have tried this partita in C a
good many times, and the argument goes so deep, so close and deep, that I
scarcely follow it yet, let alone make it sing. How I should love to hear
it played really well - to hear Viotti dashing away.'
Stephen studied the 'cello suite in his hand, booming and humming sotto
voce. `Tweedly-tweedly, tweedly tweedly, deedly deedly pom pompom. Oh,
this would call for the delicate hand of the world,' he said.
`Otherwise it would sound like boors dancing. Oh, the double-stopping . .
. and how to bow it?'
`Shall we make an attempt upon the D minor double sonata?' said Jack,
`and knit up the ravelled sleeve of care with sore labour's bath?'
`By all means,' said Stephen. `A better way of dealing with a sleeve
cannot be imagined.'
Now when the fiddle sang at all it sang alone: but since Stephen's
departure he had rarely been in a mood for music and in any case the
partita that he was now engaged upon, one of the manuscript works that he
had bought in London, grew more and more strange the deeper he went into
it. The opening movements were full off technical difficulties and
he doubted he would ever be able to do them anything like justice,
but it was the great chaconne which followed that really disturbed him. On
the face of it the statements made in the beginning were clear enough:
their closely-argued variations, though complex, could certainly be
followed with full acceptation, and they were not particularly hard to
play; yet at one point, after a curiously insistent repetition of the
second theme, the rhythm changed and with it the whole logic of the
discourse. There was something dangerous about what followed, something
not unlike the edge of madness or at least of a nightmare; and although
Jack recognized that the whole sonata and particularly the chaconne was a
most impressive composition he felt that if he were to go on playing it
with all his heart it might lead him to very strange regions indeed.
During a pause in his evening letter Jack thought of telling Sophie of
a notion that had come to him, a figure that might make the nature of the
chaconne more understandable: it was as though he were fox-hunting,
mounted on a powerful, spirited horse, and as though on leaping a bank,
perfectly in hand, the animal changed foot. And with the change of
foot came a change in its being so that it was no longer a horse he was
sitting on but a great rough beast, far more powerful, that was swarming
along at great speed over an unknown countryside in pursuit of a quarry -
what quarry he could not tell, but it was no longer the simple fox.
But it would be a difficult notion to express, he decided; and in any case
Sophie did not really care much for music, while she positively disliked
horses. On the other hand she dearly loved a play, so he told her
about.... [from pp.47-48, 154-155 of The Ionian Mission).
There are two Patrick O'Brian novels which were "warm-up exercises" for the series (you can spot antecedents to the Aubrey and Maturin characters):
-2. The Golden Ocean
-1. The Unknown Shore Audiotape
And there are two early novels, Caesar
and Hussein, from the 1930s, just republished by the British Library.
Danny Yee has an excellent appreciation of the series. A sample:
"The series as a whole encompasses too much to be more than hinted at: battles of all kinds, both against the enemy and against storms, ice, calms, and all the other perils of life afloat; journeys around the world and stopovers in ports on every continent, from New York to Bombay, from Freetown to Port Jackson; romantic entanglements and marriages (and Aubrey's Sophie and Maturin's Diana are worlds in themselves); delicate diplomatic missions and cloak and dagger skullduggery; medical problems and excursions in natural history (Maturin is forever being torn from investigation of taxonomic wonders by the exigencies of naval service); engagements with the often mysterious workings of politics and the law; and a wealth of memorable minor characters, some who appear just once and others who reappear regularly."
And, just as James Joyce inspired a number of books that undertook to explain allusions in his books (I was fortunate enough to have a classics major for a roommate when reading Joyce for the first time), so too have the vocabulary, geography, and recipes in the Patrick O'Brian novels. If you don't have a tall-ship sailor or historian on call, consider the following supplements to your OED: