203 of 206 people found the following review helpful
"Patrick O'Brian's Navy: The Illustrated Companion to Jack Aubrey's World" is one of those books that doesn't really have an author. Richard O'Neill is listed as the Consulting Editor, but the Editor and Indexer is Philip de Ste. Croix, and there are a number of "Contributors" including David Miller, who has his own Jack Aubrey-related book coming out soon ("The World of Jack Aubrey").
This is a handsome coffee table-size volume, about 150 pages long, and heavily illustrated. The illustrations may be its strongest point - hundreds of them, mostly contemporary to Jack Aubrey's era and mostly reproduced in vivid color. I have seen many of them before, but usually in black-and-white, so even just on this score, "Patrick O'Brian's Navy" is an attractive addition to a historical nautical library. And there are some modern illustrations as well, usually in the form of diagrams to show complex information such as sail and rigging designations, crew assignments, and the arrangement of watches. Other data is conveyed in tabular form, like those for uniform details, prize money distribution, and crew organization for various ship classes.
Although the primary focus is upon the Royal Navy, there are also chapters devoted to what might be called the geo-political world of the Napoleonic Era. There is a conscious effort to tie all this to Jack Aubrey and the O'Brian novels, with the text, detailing historical events in which Jack took part (including those before the start of the book series) and occasionally providing sidebars titled "Through Aubrey's Eyes" that relate particular subjects to volume and chapter of the novels. Although the overall level of information presented cannot equal that in Brian Lavery's "Nelson's Navy", this is nonetheless an interesting compendium of facts and anecdotes.
There are also two short addendums: "A Cast of Characters" listing the major people and ships in the O'Brian novels and describing their actions and fates, and a Glossary of nautical terms and slang.
59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2004
By Bill Marsano. So far as publishers are concerned, they ain't over till they're over. I speak of (and they profit from) World War II and the Age of Fighting Sail. The former recently gave us "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors," a fine (and rare) account of our Navy's noblest victory; now the latter brings us "Patrick O'Brian's Navy"--which is not, please note, just for O'Brian fans.
All in all the book does an excellent job of conveying the context--from the British side--of the Royal Navy during its years of near-constant war with the French. It's large in format, heavily and handsomely illustrated with contemporary paintings, engravings, watercolors and cartoons as well as modern diagrams and maps. All are generously displayed. The text sometimes struggles to work its way around them, especially as there are frequent over-sized quotations and framed text blocks ("sidebars" containing abstracts from contemporary diaries and news reports) that occupy their own spaces.
Battle coverage is terrific. The Royal Navy's great triumphs are well detailed, as are several notable if not-so-well-known small actions, chosen for their display of aubreyesque daring and dash. And Lord Cochrane, one of the primary inspirations for Aubrey, gets extensive copverage all by his heroic self. The Royal Navy's internal world is also very nicely explored--ratings and ranks; manning and management (and mismanagement: mutinies are included); rigs and rigging, and--just when we run out of Frenchmen, pirates and slavers.
Organization is something of a problem. There's a tendency, once an picture-heavy design is established, for the text to be straitjacketed, for subjects be treated equally but inadequately, because the designers allot them just so much room and no more, and the text must be squeezed or cut to fit. Here, for example, gunnery has so little space that we get but a glance at the 32-pounder and never hear of carronades until another section many pages later. As a result, weaponry is merely sketched. Likewise with that frequent O'Brian phenomenon, the "weather gauge"--not well explained, and divided between two sections. Medicine at sea? Considering the importance of Stephen Maturin in the O'Brian series, it's almost ignored.
The book doesn't explain, and none can, the incredible fighting spirit of the British sailor, be he Jack Tar or Dick Nastyface. They were badly paid, ill fed and worse housed; they got little respect ashore or afloat; they risked death for mutiny and yet in the middle of a mutiny rallied round so soon as the French poked a masthead above the horizon--and then they'd beat the tar out of them more often than not.
Best thing to do is read this book through and then re-read the Aubrey-Maturin series all over again.--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor, and a generally boatful person.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Richard O'Neill's coffee table book is a splendid, though terse, overview of the British Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. It does a fine job covering virtually every aspect, from the types of ships to their crews and various subjects such as punishment and entertainment available onshore and off by seamen. It is not the definitive word on the Royal Navy during this period, nor is it meant to be, since O'Neill spends much time relating the real history to the events chronicled in O'Brian's novels. May be regarded as an essential purchase by diehard fans of the Aubrey/Maturin series.
91 of 108 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2006
This book is maddening. Yes, it is very cool, all the history you can take in. Nice pictures and what not.
My BIG CONCERN is that the author has no clue. He puts spoilers in every nook and cranny of the book. Here is a made up example that recounts my experience: While giving the book a pre-bedtime read, I come across an interesting illustration, the caption reads something along the lines of "The victorian sailor enjoyed drinking, too bad Jack Aubrey's favorite sailor dies from drinking in the book you are about to read." or "Spying in the Royal Navy was always a concern, for example, in the 100 days, Preserved Killick's mother turns out to be a spy for Spain."
No warning, momentus events and dark secrets get spilled at random.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2005
If you love the O'Brian books, tall ships, navel history/battles, you cannot do better. The writting is concise and informative. The history is crisp and puts you in the action. This is the kind of nautical art that you love and cannot afford to own, the best of its kind. Be warned however; if you have not finished reading all the Aubrey books, just enjoy the pictures in Patrick O'Brian's Navy, and read it later, for they mention some of the incidents in the books that you may prefer to find out on your own. This is truly a coffee-table book, rich and glorious. If you buy one for yourself, you are bound to buy more for your friends and relatives who love the Aubrey books, as did I. You will not regret it.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2004
Patrick O'Brian's Navy is a wonderful encyclopedic volume of the British Navy of the 19th Century. My only dissappointment is that I thought it would be more like the Hornblower Companion. What it is missing are maps that allow the reader to follow Aubrey's routes as the novels unfold. However, the quality of the articles and illustrations made my dissappointment short-lived.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2005
The sailing ship of the 18th century was the most complex machine of its age, and even today the mechanics, maintenance and particulars of a frigate are almost too involved for most of us to comprehend. This book is a treasure trove of information about the ships, the history they and their sailors made and the terminology that's unique both to the sea and to that era. I enjoyed reading the Aubrey and Maturin series the first time, but re-reading it with this book as a reference and guide is sublime. If you love these books, or any fiction about the sea and sailors, you should have this book alongside.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2008
Others have commented on the content and many glossy illustrations. I want to make one important point: the book gratuitously reveals important plot details and surprises in the Aubrey series. I strongly recommend not reading this book while you are reading the series, but to save it until later (or simply not buy it). I bought the book to learn background information shortly after I started the series, but was quite surprised by this completely unnecessary aspect of it. What were the authors thinking?!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
O'Brian began writing his now near legendary series of sea stories about "Lucky Jack" Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in the mid-'60s, but for a quarter-century he was "the best author you never heard of." Then, about 1991, he was suddenly discovered and, in addition to the immediate and well-deserved fame of the novels themselves, there also sprang up a whole cottage industry of explanatory works about life in the Royal Navy, about frigate warfare generally, about the grand strategies of the Napoleonic War, and about the real individuals on which O'Brian's characters were based and the battles in which they fought. This lovely volume is one of the best of that flood of titles -- a full-color, oversized book put together by four highly expert and experienced popular historians on naval matters. It begins by setting the place and time (context is everything), explaining why Britain and France had been at war for most of a century before the French Revolution had ever been thought of, and the role of urban growth and the Industrial Revolution in the new era -- as well as the "Irish Question," a subject of the greatest importance to Maturin. The nature of the navy in Aubrey's time is elucidated, especially its administration and structure, how a naval officer's career typically progressed, and how a fleet was commanded. A great deal of useful but not overly technical detail is given to the classes of ships available, how the rating system worked and how it changed over time, and why the frigate was the most desired command of any red-blooded young captain. A series of very clear diagrams lay out the ship's standing and running rigging, sail system, and deck plan. The square-rigged naval ship was the most complicated machine of its time and to operate it efficiently required the individual and collective skills of a considerable number of people. An entire chapter is given over to their broadly grouped duties and to the multiple hierarchies to which every man aboard belonged, from the newest landman up to the first lieutenant, who answered to whom, who was most important in the scheme of things, the difference between watches and stations, and how the day was divided. Commissions, warrants, and appointments are carefully explained, including those of the Royal Marine contingent aboard, including their uniforms. Other topics include living conditions, food, sanitation, and crime and punishment, with special consideration of the Articles of War. Other sections discuss the routines of convoy and blockade duty, the conventions of combat, the signals system, and the prize system from which every man potentially benefitted. Then the general gives way to the particular with a discussion of the life and career of Thomas Lord Cochrane, the finest frigate commander of his time and the primary model for Jack Aubrey. Finally, three particular events are considered in detail: The Battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797 (as a fleet action), which was a glorious victory for the Royal Navy; the Walcheren Expedition of 1809 (an amphibious campaign), which was an equally notable failure; and the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, in which two squadrons of relatively small vessels, one British and one American, fought ferociously and suffered greatly. A last chapter considers piracy, privateering, the slave trade, and mutiny and desertion. And throughout there are brief excerpts from contemporary logs, reports, and seamen's reminiscences. Illustrations are heavy on naval "action" paintings of the period and also the savagely satiric drawings of George Cruikshank. If you can only afford one reference/source book to keep handy while you read the Aubrey canon, I recommend this one.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2010
Though I cannot detract from the winning research put into this great reference, the few times I've stumbled into thumbing through it, a major spoiler is dropped in my lap with nary a warning. (I am still working through H.M.S. Surprise vol.3) The first page I opened on displays a period carriage similar to the one a certain (here un-named) character's wife is killed in. "Fantastic" I say to myself, there goes that surprise. A two-in-one blow! Vowing to steer towards the leeward of this volume until I've read every last Aubrey-Maturin novel, I come across a review of said work in an above listed review. There I assume a fellow reader, familiar to the subtlety of plot sequence and the necessity of well-timed disclosures won't repeat this mistake. Haha! Now I've pre-maturely learned that a major charactor's parent is a Spanish Spy! I'm sure I'll enjoy this work sometime in the distant future, but it will ruin your experience if you read through it too early.