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Master and Commander Paperback – August 17, 1990

727 customer reviews
Book 1 of 21 in the Aubrey & Maturin Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

The opening salvo of the Aubrey-Maturin epic, in which the surgeon introduces himself to the captain by driving an elbow into his ribs during a chamber-music recital. Fortunately for millions of readers, the two quickly make up. Then they commence one of the great literary voyages of our century, set against an immaculately-detailed backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. This is the place to start--and in all likelihood, you won't be able to stop.

From Library Journal

These two selections represent a series of abridged audiobook versions of O'Brian's works narrated by Robert Hardy, that most blustery and unstudied of British actors. Hardy reads the stories cold, but here it works. He uses his voice to evoke everything from brutality to mannered drawing-room excesses to the physical threat of a storm at sea. The stories are superb depictions of life on a British man-of-war and incorporate O'Brian's exquisitely accurate historical detail (Testimonies, Audio Reviews, LJ 7/96). The friendship of protagonists Capt. Jack Aubrey and ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin plays out against an expanse of ocean, from India to the Atlantic, with a full complement of battles and adventures at sea for devotees of naval fiction. Highly recommended.?Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, NC
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 411 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 17, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393307050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393307054
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (727 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In addition to twenty volumes in the highly respected Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O'Brian's many books include "Testimonies," "The Golden Ocean," and "The Unknown Shore". O'Brian also wrote acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Lacouture's biographies of Charles de Gaulle. He passed away in January 2000 at the age of 85.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

430 of 453 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
Some critics have referred to the Aubrey/Maturin books as one long novel united not only by their historical setting but also by the central plot element of the Aubrey/Maturin friendship. Having read these fine books over a period of several years, I decided to evaluate their cumulative integrity by reading them consecutively in order of publication over a period of a few weeks. This turned out to be a rewarding enterprise. For readers unfamiliar with these books, they describe the experiences of a Royal Navy officer and his close friend and traveling companion, a naval surgeon. The experiences cover a broad swath of the Napoleonic Wars and virtually the whole globe.
Rereading all the books confirmed that O'Brian is a superb writer and that his ability to evoke the past is outstanding. O'Brian has numerous gifts as a writer. He is the master of the long, careful description, and the short, telling episode. His ability to construct ingenious but creditable plots is first-rate, probably because he based much of the action of his books on actual events. For example, some of the episodes of Jack Aubrey's career are based on the life of the famous frigate captain, Lord Cochrane. O'Brian excels also in his depiction of characters. His ability to develop psychologically creditable characters through a combination of dialogue, comments by other characters, and description is tremendous. O'Brien's interest in psychology went well beyond normal character development, some books contain excellent case studies of anxiety, depression, and mania.
Reading O'Brien gives vivid view of the early 19th century. The historian Bernard Bailyn, writing of colonial America, stated once that the 18th century world was not only pre-industrial but also pre-humanitarian (paraphrase).
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177 of 186 people found the following review helpful By Jacob G Corbin on March 3, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first clue you have that Master and Commander is not a typical sea adventure is when a sailor is hanged in the opening pages for sexually molesting the ship's goat. This kicks off a gritty, realistic, and scrupulously-researched historical adventure that smashes C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels like a broadside from a seventy-gun frigate.
I first heard of Patrick O'Brian when he died three years ago and was movingly eulogized in George Will's column. Now I don't normally read historical fiction, especially military historical fiction, but Will made such a strong case that I felt obliged to at least check O'Brian out. I'm glad I did; Master and Commander is a well-written, powerful book that succeeds as a character study, an obsessively-researched recreation of early 19th-century life, and as an adventure.
The novel, the first in a twenty-book series, opens with Jack Aubrey, a young lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy, being granted his long-awaited promotion to the rank of captain (or officially, "master and commander") and the command of the Sophie, a modest little vessel in the Mediterranean. At a concert, Jack nearly comes to blows with the haughty intellectual Dr. Stephen Maturin, but the two quickly reconcile over breakfast and Jack, whose ship is desperately undermanned, offers the penniless Maturin a post as ship's surgeon.
The two men eventually become best friends, despite their being a sort of seaborne Odd Couple. Aubrey, unlike most fictional heroes, is not a silent, craggy-jawed Adonis; he's fat, red-faced, good-humored, and a bit of a buffoon, the kind of person who laughs maniacally at his own jokes.
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95 of 105 people found the following review helpful By KOMET on October 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
Sit back in your favorite recliner and prepare yourself for an exciting adventure! Here, in the pages of "MASTER AND COMMANDER", the reader is introduced to Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, physician, linguist, scholar, spy, and then some.
The novel begins in Port Mahon in 1800. Aubrey, for the moment, is a naval officer without a command, restless and impatient for action. (Britain and Revolutionary France are at war.) Quite by accident, he literally bumps up against Stephen Maturin and a budding friendship develops between them.
O'Brian faithfully evokes the atmosphere of those distant times. The language may seem a bit stilted and obscure. But part of O'Brian's genius as a writer is that as you read deeply into this novel, you'll soon find yourself swept along on the ebb and flow of events. All your senses will be titillated.
Besides Aubrey and Maturin, O'Brian creates here a variety of richly textured characters who bring vividly forth the ambience of wartime shipboard life in the Age of Sail.
So, if you're looking for a thoroughly engaging and captivating story, "MASTER AND COMMANDER" is it! Highly recommended.
(I first read "MASTER AND COMMANDER" in July 1994. Ever since, I've been hooked on the Aubrey-Maturin series.)
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on November 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
'Come, sir, cannot I prevail upon you to go to sea? A man-of-war is the very thing for a
philosopher, above all in the Mediterranean: there are the birds, the fishes--I could promise you
some monstrous strange fishes--the natural phenomena, the meteors, the chance of prize-money.
For even Aristotle would have been moved by prize-money.... '
'A ship must be a most instructive theatre for an inquiring mind....'
'Prodigiously instructive, I do assure you, Doctor.'
-Jack Aubrey convincing Stephen Maturin to ship out with him (Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander)
Like most, I first learned of Patrick O'Brian's excellent series of naval adventures in the pages of the New York Times Book Review. There, on January 6, 1991, Richard Snow wrote that the Aubrey and Maturin books were : "...the best historical novels ever written." This statement is not as jarring now as it was then. We've grown accustomed to seeing rows of O'Brian's books on store shelves and millions have joined what was once an exclusive cult, but at the time Snow was writing the novels were still a well-kept secret, despite the fact that O'Brian had then been writing them for over twenty years. At any rate, like any good little trend-sucking dilettante, I rushed out to find the first book in the series, Master and Commander, read it as quickly as possible, and was well and truly stumped.
I liked the characters, found the detailed portrayal of life aboard ship to be extremely interesting, and enjoyed much of the humor of the book. But there was something really curious and elusive about the storytelling. In the first place, the heroes are mere observers of the climactic sea battle, having been captured earlier, which seemed especially curious for an adventure story.
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