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As the Royal Navy takes part in the wars against Napoleonic France young Jack Aubrey receives his first command the small old and slow HMS Sophie Accompanied by his eccentric new friend the physician and naturalist Stephen Maturin Aubrey does battle with the naval hierarchy with his own tendency to make social blunders and with the challenges of forging an effective crew before ultimately taking on enemy ships in a vivid intricately detailed series of sea battles


10 thoughts on “Master and Commander

  1. says:

    This story posed a bugger of a ratings uandary for yours truly While reading it I was bouncing around between everything from a bountiful 5 star rating for pure uality of writing hefty historical detail and superbly drawn characters all the way south to a skimpy 2 star for less than engaging plotting iceberg like pacing and noticeable lack of emotional resonance Finally in my best impression of Solomon I settled on a solid if not uite ebullient 3 stars based on the fact that I was deeply impressed with many aspects of the book I just didn't “enjoy” it enough to go above that That said before I get into specifics of the book I do recommend this book to fans of classic literature naval adventures and historical fiction because the literary uality is certainly there O'Brian knows his stuff I'm going to forego a thorough plot synopisis since some many other reviews have checked that box so admirably Therefore I thought I would just give my impression of a few aspects of the book that really impressed me and those that left me less than enthused I'M IMPRESSEDOn the impressive side the novel's historical detail is outstanding Everything from music to food to medicine to science to clothing to social interactions within the various class systems to military life on board a naval vessel during the Napoleonic Wars are described in extraordinary and wonderful detail O'Brian makes you feel as if you are truly looking through a time machine into an earlier period In addition while this is only my subjective opinion I got the feeling that the social attitudes and inner disposition of the main characters rang very true for the periodHigh high marks for authenticity Also very kudo worthy is the uality of O’Brian’s prose The story though written in the latter half of the 20th century has the elegant polished feel of “classic” literature that brings to mind Dickens and Austen Lush yet controlled and very easy on the eye I found the writing to be perfectly in sync with the subject matter being described Finally I was also very impressed with the two main characters of Jack Aubrey and Steve Maturin They were fully fleshed in three dimensions and drawn with a tremendous amount of nuance so that you saw you could really get to known them They certainly have the potential to become characters that will stay with you for a long timeLESS THAN THRILLEDUnfortunately there was one important aspect of the book that I didn't love and it really hampered my reading experience Basically I never found myself truly pulled into the narrative or engaged with the plot At least not as much as I would have liked It is possible that the tone of the prose which is deliberately understated was part of the issue for me Without that connection everything just seemed too dry which dampened my enjoyment of the book as a whole Still I liked the book and intend to read the next volume in the series because I know if I get pulled into the narrative by the characters the rest of the story would be much enjoyable and could become a very special series30 stars Recommended


  2. says:

    The classic high seas adventure In the year 1800 Jack Aubrey sits next Stephen Maturin at a musical performance in Port Mahon Minorca a base of the British Royal Navy in the Mediterranean Sea between Spain and Italy They immediately rub each other the wrong way Both are snappish because of other issues in their lives and they part planning on next meeting for a duel But when Jack is given his first command of a ship all is forgiven and he needs a ship's surgeon who better than Stephen? Stephen down on his luck is happy to accept And so begins the first AubreyMaturin voyage with Stephen conveniently playing the role of landlubber who needs to be informed of everything naval so the reader can be informed along with him I have to say this book was pretty rough sailing in parts The massive amount of naval and nautical jargon about sank me and I got a bit lost in some of the battle descriptions My book club pretty much unanimously felt the same way; we all floundered a little The funniest part of the book club meeting was when one of the ladies was excitedly telling the rest of us about her favorite scenes in the book and we didn't remember any of them I finally asked her to show us the cover of her book it was The Far Side of the World the 10th book in this seriesThis 1969 book is the first in a series of 21 books and though it doesn't end on a cliffhanger the novel felt a little unfinished to me like a set up for an ongoing story than a self contained book It's also very episodic kind of like you're on a real life journey with the characters But I can't in good conscience rate Master and Commander less than 4 stars the amount of research that went into this book was incredible even if O'Brian could have done a better job of making it accessible to the reader Patrick said one of his friends can be a bit of a snob The characters were well rounded with some very human flaws Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are very different from each other but they complement each other well Jack is brash and bluff a womanizer in port and just a little shallow at this point in his life although he can be a genius at sea Stephen is intelligent curious and a gifted natural scientist with a hidden past It will be interesting to see how their personalities develop in following booksThe plot was complex with the author doing that sometimes frustrating thing Dorothy Dunnett does the same where something happens or someone says something and you can tell it's significant but you can't figure out why because the author isn't spoonfeeding you everythingThere's a lot of humor in the story some of it so dry that it's blink and you miss it At one point Jack and Stephen are at a fancy dinner party held by Captain and Mrs Harte Mrs Harte is sleeping around on her husband Stephen loses his napkin and dives below the table to get itHe beheld four and twenty legs Colonel Pitt's gleaming military boot lay pressed upon Mrs Harte's right foot and upon her left uite a distance from the right reposed Jack's scarcely less massive buckled shoeCourse followed course But in time Mrs Harte rose and walked limping slightly into the drawing roomIn a 1991 New York Times book review Richard Snow called this series the best historical novels ever written On every page Mr O'Brian reminds us with subtle artistry of the most important of all historical lessons that times change but people don't that the griefs and follies and victories of the men and women who were here before us are in fact the maps of our own livesHighly recommended for readers who want a mentally challenging historical novelBonus content There's a fantastic interactive map of the journeys of the ship Sophie in Master and Commander at Cannonadenet Spoilers ahoyThis one was a twofer• IRL book club read February 2016• 2016 Classic Bingo challenge Catching up on Classics group


  3. says:

    Jack Aubrey the frustrated naval officer at last after a long wait on shore receives his own ship to command the brig Sophie but by the strange ways of the British Royal Navy called a sloop The year 1800 Napoleon is unstoppable on land but the British rule the Seas In Port Mahon on the Mediterranean island of Minorca captured from the Spanish allies of the French Aubrey tries to gets his ship ready war rages it has for many years He a music lover meets Stephen Maturin on dry land during a private concert in the Governor's House a doctor they desperately need on the Sophie enemies at first but later become good friends An educated man and scientist too is the physician Inspecting his crew the First Lieutenant second in command is another Irishman James Dillion Like Stephen both were secretly rebels in the unsuccessful rebellion of 1798 back in their native land and fugitives now After much work the ship is finally ready for duty small but adeuate however his men still need training many days of it When he goes to see the Admiral Lord Keith to thank him his bride uenney is also there a close friend the former neighbor and tutor of Jack's in his youth It doesn't take long for the astonished Aubrey to guess how he got to be captain Nonetheless Captain Harte commandant in Port Mahon will not help the new master and commander of the Sophie with needed material and supplies the jealous man knows about his wife Molly's dalliance with him He receives help elsewhere though Leaving the great harbor on convoy duty in his first assignment at sea protecting merchantman's ships heading east to Italy A surprise attack by Moors from North Africa guns blaze plenty of broadsides are fired and a few hit destruction occurs still he does well and all arrive safely The beautiful Mediterranean Sea is full of enemies but storms can be as deadly the Sophie discovers Rolling and going up high into the sky and down deep into the valley of water while looking at the sea above them yes you have to have a strong stomach to be a sailor and a little nuts too Luck is with Aubrey and he lives to take prize ships of their foes and a share of the profits also back to port His crew naturally love him they share the money and seamen always can use some extra cash So a small increase of drinking on shore wine women and song what's the harm? Don't ask the natives of Minorca or the tavern owners More tense sea battles with enemy warships French and Spanish ships of the line some larger and with a greater number of guns they foolishly followed Aubrey he is a very brave man maybe too much soExciting novel the first of twenty by Patrick O'Brian if you don't get seasick it will be a very pleasant read and voyage


  4. says:

    You know I've often been annoyed by the fact that so many times I never get to experience something the way it was intended or to its fullest Because someone else always gets there first and someone's else's eyes are always put in front of mine before I get the chance to do it for myself I recall writing a very emotional paper on Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring the Chevalier book and the movie that followed along these lines Yeah I was a silly teenager I often see the parodies of many things before I see the things themselves but I guess that's both postmoderism and a modern culture that endlessly endlessly reaches into the past to mine for stories to sell in the present But in this case I choose not to be annoyed by the fact that it was a blonde ified Russell Crowe who first introduced me to Patrick O'Brian's AubreyMaturin series because once you experience these books for themselves there's really no way that any reinterpretation can top the greatness of the real thingWhatever I had expected from this series I got something entirely different I don't know what I had in my head some swords some 'Huzzah's and sweeping music set against a background of crashing waves and imperialist era English bravado And oh sure that was all there but not until much later and I didn't even notice it tick off on my register of preconceived parameters Master and Commander opens with Jack Aubrey's mental impressions of attending a Polite Society musical concert something that wouldn't have a place in any other seafaring tale but is indispensible for this particular story Without giving anything too much away the story follows Jack Aubrey and the physician Stephen Maturin through various adventures and misadventures of the naval life during the Wars with the French the book opens in 1800 technically right before Napoleon's total control of the situation and deals with everything in terms of events from the dissection of a dolphin to the etiuette attending relations among naval officers and their responsibilities relations with enemies some of the scenes with opposing French officers were exuisitely hilarious as well as revealing of history to rip roaring and incredibly suspenseful pageturning naval engagements of every size and scale We read the naval engagements out loud and I wouldnt've had it any other way don't miss out on someone's dramatic impatient voice trying to get to the next words when reading this oneIn terms of larger themes there are a staggering lot of them dealt with in this book This is not simply an adventure tale by a long shot The characters both outwardly and psychologically deal with a range of issues that torment them in various ways Just to deal with a few the very complicated and paradoxically precarious and set in stone class system of the time the nature of nationalism and nations the effects of a life of violence upon the men who undergo it and a society that depends upon it the Irish characters that have to deal with the fallout of the Irish Rebellion and general inter cultural and inter religious politics money money money that makes the world go 'round the proper motivations of a man and ultimately the uestions of identity that endlessly pick apart these men's brilliant facades Set perfectly at a time when the Age of Enlightenment was still the dominant mirror of the time but with Romanticism and where it comes from easily to be seen peeking around a corner Maturin and Aubrey perfectly straddle this era with all the best that can be from those particular traditions and some of their flaws as wellO'Brian is a brilliant illustrator of character and particularly of the inner life of the mind and is able to express everything about his characters that needs to be said through a combination of thoughts and action that both move the plot along and bring give us depth into the life of the men and women who populate this novel As a caveat for this there are a few characters such as the avaricious Mr Ellis and Molly Harte who do suffer from a bit of stereotyping but I'm willing to accept them as ciphers because they're such entertaining ones He's able to show us what these people would be like to grow up suabbling with to sit next to at dinner and deal with professionally His evocations of Jack Aubrey's enthusiasms and despairs are particular favorites of mine I want to wrap them up in a big bear hug and never let them go I feel I've been acuainted with whole people who are not mere Heroes Who Wave About a Shining Sword or Villains With Moustaches and yet I feel as if I have read a novel that would normally be inhabited by those people if you see what I'm saying With somewhat largely the same tones and people and events but I'm getting filled in about parts that another author couldn't give a shit about by the guy who writes awesome footnotes a la Susanna Clarke which are better than the story sometimesAnd of course I cannot say enough about the language Please I beg of you do not be frightened off by O'Brian's incredibly researched naval cant and constant incantations of ropes sales decks and navigational terms I reached the end of the book still not knowing what about half the terms here meant and do you know what? I don't really even think it matters I looked up some of the terms that were coming up every page sure and do that if you must but don't give up Just listen to it just imagine someone's voice saying it you'll figure it out like those first grade exercises in context clues you'll get the gist of it O'Brian will take care of you I promise Just listen to the singsong tone this man loves language and it doesn't need a rhyming sailor to tell me that He could have written this as Rhapsodies on a Naval Theme really It would have been a beautiful symphony Just go with it it doesn't matter if they're turning 45 degrees to the right to tack into the wind coming from the mainland in order to swing around the back of a ship trust me when they fire the guns and bust up the stern you'll know what's going on or you'll figure it out pretty uickly Of course you do have to pay attention and you should truly this man's manipulation of the English language and freuently corruptions of it is something to seeSo yeah I think I'm ready if there's a Robot Chicken Does Jack Aubrey Pretty sure nothing can kill my totally unironic love for these amazing books Can't wait to keep readingPS History sticklers yes I did classify this as Regency and yes I am aware that the actual Regency does not begin until 1811 but I'm using the looser Regency definition that encompases culture and thought and George III's decline even if the Regency wasn't official yet So there I sniff in your general direction


  5. says:

    There was a bubbling furious excitement rising in his chest ; the waiting was over this was the now itselfPatrick O'Brian`s Master and Commader is a masterfully narrated tale of the wonderful voyage of the Sophie and the friendship of Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Dr Stephen Maturin Sophie's surgeonIt is the year 1800 Britain is at war with France A brave adventurous talented seaman Jack Aubrey gets an opportunity to command the Sophie an old ship which was unlikely to be successful Despite the Sophie's small size Captain Aubrey's amazing attitude and fearlessness and his wonderful crew turns this journey into a thrilling and memorable voyage Come let's get sailing on a wonderful voyage


  6. says:

    The music room in the Governor’s House at Port Mahon a tall handsome pillared octagon was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli’s C major uartet The players were playing with passionate conviction as they mounted towards the penultimate crescendo towards the tremendous pause and the deep liberating final chord Thus the first sentence of Master and Commander; thus begins the grand series of historical novels penned by Patrick O’Brian over the last three decades of the last century The authorPatrick O’Brian 1914 2000 was born Richard Patrick Russ in Buckinghamshire of an English physician of German descent and an English woman of Irish descent The eighth of nine children he lost his mother at the age of four and led “a fairly isolated childhood limited by poverty” He married his first wife in 1936 had two children one of whom died young; worked as an ambulance driver in the second War and possibly in intelligence of some sort; got divorced; in July ’45 married a second time a woman whom he lived with happily until her death in 1998; and soon after changed his name to Patrick O’Brian In the half century plus that he and his second wife lived together a few early years were spent in Wales but mostly they lived in a Catalan town in the south of France Besides the “Aubrey Maturin” series of novels O’Brian wrote several other fictional books some collections of short stories three non fiction works including books on Picasso and Joseph Banks and translated works by both Henri Charriere the Papillon books and by Simone de Beauvoir into EnglishBut it is for the Aubrey Maturin series that O’Brian is best known and for which he will be long remembered This was not always the case however Master and Commanderthe first book in the series appeared in 1969 and in the years following as additional books in the series appeared they gained modest readership in both England and the US Then in 1988 an editor at WW Norton Starling Lawrence discovered the novels and Norton began publishing them They attracted serious critics and reviewers sales took off and O’Brian spent the remainder of his days as a public author not so welcome since he enjoyed his privacy and also a much better remunerated one welcome I presume The last two years of his life after his wife died were a very difficult time for O’Brian though he did continue to write He died in Dublin The series “Aubrey Maturin” refers to the two main characters in the novels There are twenty completed books in the series which take place in chronological order The first novel begins in 1800 at Port Mahon on the island of Menorca in the Balearics The British had recaptured the island from France in 1798 and were using Port Mahon as a key naval base in the Mediterranean The twentieth novel takes place in 1815 after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and thus is the only one of the series to not take place in the period of the Napoleonic Wars This conflict provides the general historic backdrop as the novels progress though in fact the internal chronology of the books is uite bizarre due to the fact that O’Brian had no idea at the outset that twenty novels would be written sueezed into a period of fifteen historic years which had mostly been used up by the sixth book See There is a final 21st novel The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey published in the US under the title 21 This work was incomplete when O’Brian passed away in 2000The series is set in almost all the seas of the world the Southern Ocean the Mediterranean the South Pacific the Indian Ocean the Atlantic the waters around the China Sea; and on land too in all these areas with adventures involving exploration espionage interaction with political as well as naval power The ups and downs of the main character's careers their love lives their wins and losses in the game of life all told brilliantly in the evolving history of the early nineteenth centuryO’Brian is a master of character whose writing has actually been compared uite often to Jane Austen’s Thus his historical novels are felt by many including me to transcend the genre and in so doing approach the altar of classic literatureTechnical interlude O’Brian schooled himself in the most detailed knowledge of the ships of this age not only of Great Britain’s but of many other nations; and in the arcane terms and methods which were used in sailing them This is why each of the books has the illustration depicted above spread over two pages right up front The reader needs this diagram to understand even partially something like the followingAs the wind came round on to the beam they set staysails and the fore and aft mainsail Now with the studdingsails in the chase or the ghost of the chase a pale blur showing now and then on the lifting swell could be seen from the uarter deck A book A Sea of Words was published many years after the series started appearing It contains a wealth of additional information about the ships about sailing terms and about many of the lands political groups animals birds and plants mentioned in the series This is only a mention not an endorsement I have looked at it briefly but never tried using it while reading the novelsThis book introduces the two main characters in the series Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin who become acuainted by chance when they both attend the chamber music concert at the Governor’s HouseJack Aubrey is an officer of the Royal Navy who has just been given his first command as Captain of His Majesty’s Sloop Sophie Maturin is an Irish physician whose background and activities beyond medicine are revealed piece by piece through the first few booksAubrey needs a ship’s surgeon and Maturin is his man Thus begins the saga I'm not bothering to offer any plot summary here I don't really like them If you want one see view spoilerThe Sophie is a fictional counterpart of an actual ship in the Royal Navy Speedy Not only that but some of Jack Aubrey’s exploits in the first few books of the series are similar to naval actions which a couple of the captains of Speedy achieved in her years around 1800 See hide spoiler


  7. says:

    I grew up with CS Forester’ Hornblower books which gave me a lifelong passion for both the sea and the navy of the long 18th century navy It was this that attracted me to the work of Patrick O’Brian I first picked up a copy of Master and Commander in the 1980s and was immediately stuck by the writing style The author was using authentic regency dialogue and seemed to make no attempt to compromise in his use of nautical jargon This made the first few chapters disconcerting but I soon found that I was being drawn into a different world This was not a modern tale dressed as the past but had a strongly authentic feel to itThe main arc of the plot is full of the excitement to be expected from the genre with its chases battles and daring do The story line will be familiar to anyone who has followed the early career of Captain Thomas Cochrane with many of the anecdotes and incidents lifted directly from his autobiography Even the name of his ship the Sophie is uncannily close the Cochrane’s first ship Speedy But O’Brian’s forte is not the action in his books the uality of which can be variable but in the subtle drawing of his principle characters The chemistry between Aubrey and Maturin makes for a riveting read that draws the reader onwards into the rest of the series It is a journey that few who make ever regret


  8. says:

    Maybe it's a blasphemy but I prefer the Aubrey Maturin series to all others even Holmes Watson Every book is packed to absolute straining with erudition wit history and thunderous action I read two books from the series every year they're reliable standbys when I absolutely must read something I know I will love


  9. says:

    ii I'm at it again but this time I opened up my Aubrey Maturin reread by listening It took a month of commuting but it was worth the time and the patience and though I have gleaned no new insights into Master and Commander my enjoyment of the audio experience was than fulfilling enoughO'Brian wasn't a big fan of the audio versions of his books nor of the men reading them “To revert to my ideal reader he would avoid obvious emotion italics and exclamation marks like the plague trying to put life into flat prose is as useful as flogging a dead horse” As a fan of O'Brian's flat prose however and one who is only coming to the audio books after having read the novels multiple times the life that his readers bring to the characters is as welcome as a fine Madeira off GibraltarI've long heard that Patrick Tull is the man to listen too when it comes to Aubrey Maturin books but my MP3 copy of Master and Commander was read by Simon Vance I was a little disappointed at first because I wanted to hear and engage with Tull's reported excellence but once Vance's vocal performance began once Stephen and Jack were jostling one another during the concert at the Governor's Mansion I was contentThe voices of Jack and Stephen took some getting used to and I am not a fan of Vance's Spanish accent but the range of his vocalizations is uite impressive And I really enjoyed his narrative voice It is clear emotive without being too much so and he offers a real liveliness during Naval actions I think my favorite part of his reading though was his characterization of First Lieutenant James Dillon Dillon is an important corner of the first book's Aubrey Maturin Dillon triangle and his presence is key to the love Aubrey and Maturin come to have for one another Vance captures the subtlety of this making Dillon likable even when he's being unfair to Jack as it should beIt was such a good experience that I have already purchased Post Captain Tull may be the best reader of Aubrey Maturin but don't be afraid of Vance especially if you've not heard Tull before he does a commendable job i When I do finally get around to writing my PhD I want to do my work on Patrick O'Brian's AubreyMaturin series It offers endless possibilities for critical analysis and even possibilities for discussion One could paint politics science sports warfare literary allusions sexuality manners and all things naval of AubreyMaturin without ever tiring the possibilities and these are only the broadest strokes Each of these themes and countless others I haven't mentioned generate focused areas of specialization that could cover everything from the most general to the most minuteBut when you're rereading Master and Commander in my case it's the first rereading most of those concerns take a backseat to the simple strength of O'Brian's vision Everything you need to know about Lucky Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin takes shape in O'Brian's masterpiece of an inaugural novel and one wonders how much of O'Brian's twenty and a half books he had in his mind the day he sat down to start writing the story with his pen and paper The first book foreshadows the last and for a series that reaches upwards of 10000 thousand pages that level of coherence and depth is a tremendous featWe learn of Jack's genius at sea and his social ineptness on land We learn of his needy ego and unuenchable desire for advancement We learn of his fierce loyalty and his even fiercer libido We learn of his pure love for his ships and how that love opens him up to emotional wounding We're introduced also to nearly every person who will be important to Jack for good or ill over the course of his careerWe learn of Stephen's love for naturalism and physic We learn of his deep loyalty of and care for Jack We get hints if we are paying close attention to his role as a spy and his frighteningly dangerous temper We are introduced to his loathing of Napoleon and his indifference to King George We are shown the earliest manifestations of his shipmates' respect for his skills and his absolute inability to understand anything nautical We even get a hint that he will never leave Jack's sideAnd of course we are introduced to Jack's fiddle Stephen's cello and Killick's toasted cheese which are at the heart of what I think is the most compelling component of the AubreyMaturin books the intimacy between Jack and StephenNo matter whom they marry whom they hate whom they love whom they care for whom they save whom they kill they are and will always be the most important people in each others lives; from the moment they bump heads at the concert to the last moment of 21 Aubrey and Maturin are intimates in every emotional sense of the word They are intimate in a way that Holmes and Watson Crusoe and Friday and Jeeves and Wooster never approach They are as close as two humans can be and I find myself longing for that companionship Of course it is impossible but I can live vicariously through AubreyMaturin and for any man longing for intimacy in a world that denies men intimacy Master and Commander and every book that follows is a boon companion in a lonely worldNext up Post Captainagainand I can't wait


  10. says:

    I loved the film and really really wanted to love this book with plans to go on and read others in the series but with the exception of perhaps the first chapter I found the first hundred pages to be sheer drudgery O'Brian is obviously a brilliant writer and scholar but the lengths to which he luxuriates in nautical lingo coupled with the already flowery however beautiful vernacular of the time rendered the text incredibly inaccessible in terms of a casual read I'm years out of school now and have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else I just want to enjoy and understand what I read There are too many books in the world and life's too short and if all I can do while I'm reading is cast longing glances at the next book on my bedside table it's time to move on