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A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O'Brian's Seafaring Tales Paperback – April 1, 1995


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 411 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co (P); First American Edition edition (April 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805038167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805038163
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,886,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"To any disoriented lubber who needs to take a quick bearing on Aubrey's world of staysails and sternposts, it will be a useful compass."--The Economist

"Dean King's lexicon will charm cultists."--The Philadelphia Inquirer

"An outstandingly useful passkey to the wooden world of Britain's Royal Navy in the great age of sail."--Sea History

"A gem of a book."--Minneapolis Star Tribune
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John B. Hattenborf is a professor of maritime history at the United States Naval War College. J. Worth Estes, Ph.D., is a professor of pharmacology at Boston University and a specialist in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century maritime medicine.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

More About the Author

Dean King is an award-winning author of nine non-fiction books. You can learn more about him at deanhking.com or keep up with him on Facebook. King has chased stories across Europe, Asia, Africa and now Appalachia. His goal is to draw you into a nuanced and accurate historical narrative that allows you to live with the characters, to feel their pain, striving, and joy, and to grow with them. He rides the camels, climbs the 14,000 foot passes, walks the yard-arms, and tracks down far flung sources. (He was shot at beside the Tug River while researching his latest book, THE FEUD.) Then he writes and edits until his knuckles have no skin, his elbows ache, and his family is looking for him, all to give you pleasure in lean and meaningful prose. If he makes you eager to take his book to your favorite easy chair or crawl into bed and curl up with it, he's happy. If you learn something or feel changed, then all the better. King's writing has appeared in Granta, Garden & Gun, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, New York Magazine and the New York Times. He is a contributing editor of Virginia Living and a nationally known speaker, who has been the chief story-teller on two History Channel documentaries.

Customer Reviews

This book is a "must" for anyone reading the Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian.
Sally L. Bohon
Readers who want to know everything there is about everything there is in the Aubrey/Maturin series will treasure this book.
Doug Briggs
When one reads these books there are terms that need to defined to better understand the meanings of words used.
John Gyllenswan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

126 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Doug Briggs on December 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Readers who want to know everything there is about everything there is in the Aubrey/Maturin series will treasure this book. It isn't simply a glossary of seafaring terms, but provides bios of the more important naval figures of the time, the flora and fauna of Maturin's interests, geographical places encountered, some of which no longer bear the names of those times . . . In short, A Sea of Words describes just about everything in O'Brian's seafaring tales we're not likely to know.
What is this bark that Stephen dispenses for certain ailments? Why, the bark of the Chinchona tree -- it contains quinine, says A Sea of Words, while also describing the many other medical terms he slings around.
Jack attempts several times to give Stephen a grasp of the weather-gage, as it relates to ships in battle, but never so clearly as Dean King's description, which includes both the advantages of the weather- and lee-gages.
It's all here, and even if one had the encyclopedias and all the other essential references needed, which I seriously doubt would be found even in a big-city library, why go shopping when one book will do?
For those sorely needed maps, get Harbors & High Seas by King and Hattendorf, and you're all set.
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84 of 85 people found the following review helpful By tertius3 on June 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a great reference for all interested in the age of fighting sail, or readers of nautical fiction. The heart of the book is an immense lexicon or dictionary of nautical terms and (British) naval history and leaders during the times of the French Revolution and Napoleonic world war about A.D 1800. Specifically geared to the Patrick O'Brian novels about Captain Aubrey and his surgeon-spy Maturin, this can be read with benefit also to understanding any other authors in the genre. The lexicon is prefaced with Hattendorf's chapter on the organization of the British Navy from top to bottom. It specifies the career ladder from landman to Admiral of the Red, basic British vs. French battle tactics, and overviews the War of the French Revolution (1793-1803) and the Napoleonic Wars (1805-1815). A time line of these wars is appended. Another chapter by Estes discusses the state of contemporary medicine. Perhaps most immediately useful is a brief section illustrating the standing and running rigging of square-rigged ships, and their sail plans, the most confusing part of all for a lubber. In light of Maturin's cover as a naturalist, a chapter on the state of naturalist studies before Darwin would be a useful addition to a future edition (as would a section about the competition to determine longitude accurately).
If you are new to nautical matters, and begin the Forester, Kent or Woodman series of novels with the start of the hero's career, I suggest you not consult this work until later so that you taste the same initial confusion as any raw young midshipman. This is a useful rite of passage for anyone falling in love with nautical fiction: if you care enough to learn the challengingly obscure terms you will be hooked.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Hollister Herhold on May 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you're the kind of person who finds joy in reading about language and colloquialisms of the past, this is a great book. It also contains a fair amount of background on many of the historical (real) characters from the Aubrey/Maturin books, as well as many geographic locations visited from the novels. A brief chronology of the wars during the age of sail (Napoleonic, War of 1812, etc) is quite useful. I'm also fairly impressed with its completeness with the obviously strange ones - "Drowned Baby", for instance. (It's a dessert.) You don't need it to understand the language of O'Brian's books, but you'll probably have more fun if you bring "A Sea of Words" along for the ride.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By D. Sy on April 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent reference guide. However, the 2nd edition of this book has a major printing error. Most of the terms beginning with "C" and the beginning of the "D" entries are missing, and there's a reprinted set of pages from later in the book inserted instead.
Avoid the 2nd edition!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
Subtitled "A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian," this is an absolutely marvelous book, the Third Edition of which includes references to all twenty of the Aubrey-Maturin novels. It scores high in the first test given any alphabetically organized reference book, viz., in looking up an entry, ... There's a wide variety of nautical jargon, period medical terminology, the characters' references to natural history and music, and the foreign words and phrases that crop up in the novels. O'Brian describes a large number of real personages, too, all of whom are succinctly biographed. There's also a pretty detailed timeline for the period 1793-1818, a narrative essay on the ins and outs of the Napoleonic wars, a most illuminating discussion of naval medicine and surgery in Maturin's day, and a nice series of period illustrations of ships and boats for those who can't tell a frigate from a corvette, nor a barge from a launch. This is definitely a book to keep at hand while you work your way through the series.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dr J on November 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Anyone interested in the any aspect of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic period needs this book. Although it was written as a companion for the Patrick O'Brian's novels (Master and Commander was the recent movie based on the novels), it can be used for better understanding of any of the Royal Navy series (Hornblower, Drinkwater, Kydd, etc.), by anyone who watches the Hornblower movies, or anyone who simply has an interest in maritime studies in the age of sail. The book starts out with sections on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, naval medicine, maps, and ship diagrams. You'll learn the names of all the sails and decks on a ship. Then there is a large section, about 350 pages of definitions in dictionary form. It's all here-ship ratings, maps, compass points, parts of ships and cannons, biographies, battles, ranks, and everything else you might encounter as you read the novels or watch the Hornblower movies. If you don't know what a cox'n is, you'll find it here. This book is great not only as a reference, but has given me hours of browsing pleasure. It really opens up a whole new world that this landlubber doesn't understand from first-hand experience. It's a great book--I can't say enough about it. It can be picked up in paperback for pocket change and it's worth its weight in gold. You will be pleased with this book!
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