- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (September 18, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1582345341
- ISBN-13: 978-1582345345
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 244.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 82 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,080,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander Hardcover – September 18, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Thomas Cochrane was one of the Royal Navy's greatest frigate captains and most controversial figures during the Napoleonic Wars. A counterpoint to Horatio Nelson and his band of brothers, who were masters of fleet actions and blockade, Cochrane was a daring commerce raider whose prizes were so rich that he sailed into port with solid gold candlesticks lashed to his mastheads. He was a master as well of coastal raiding and cutting-out expeditions, culminating in the crippling of a French squadron at Basque Roads in 1809. Cordingly, an established historian of Nelson's navy, tells Cochrane's story with flair and sympathy—especially when recounting his professional destruction by a corrupt and inefficient naval establishment, which he challenged from his seat in Parliament with the same energy he turned against the French at sea. Cochrane's support of radical domestic causes further marked him, and in 1814 he was convicted in a Stock Exchange scandal whose details remain unclear. Surmounting disgrace and imprisonment, Cochrane in 1818 was offered command of revolutionary Chile's navy. He led it to victory against its Spanish enemy, then repeated the performance for another rebel state, Brazil. Less successful fighting for the Greeks against the Turks, he returned to Britain a national hero, had his case successfully reviewed and was restored to rank and honor. Small wonder that Cochrane's career was a major source of Patrick O'Brian's popular series, though Cochrane might have considered Jack Aubrey a bit of a bore. (Sept.)
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“Most intriguing and satisfying...Within his nearly 85 years, Cochrane packed enough drama and history to shame both Horatio Nelson and Sir Francis Drake...O'Brian fans will find great satisfaction in smoking out similarities and differences between Cochrane and Aubrey.” ―Ken Ringle, Washington Post
“[Cordingly] used previously unpublished papers, extensive original research and his own travels to tell Cochrane's story which is as good as any fiction.” ―Boat U.S. Magazine
“Cordingly, an established historian of Nelson's navy, tells Cochrane's story with flair and sympathy” ―Publisher's Weekly
“Avast, Horatio Hornblower! Shove off, Jack Aubrey! Give way to a real life knee-breeched naval hero. Maritime historian Cordingly...presents the life of Thomas Cochrane, tenth Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860), a lanky Scot who was the very model, we are told, for the stalwart characters of C.S. Forster and Patrick O'Brian...Readers can practically smell the salt air as Cordingly recreates the age of sail, of press gangs, of round shot, grape, canister and loud nine pounders, of wellarmed ships of the line, jolly boats, bum boats and fire ships. To document the career of his hero, the author draws on memoirs, logbooks, archives, correspondence and ephemera. He chronicles in copious detail Cochrane's considerable bravery on deck and personal failings ashore. Landlubbers may find this a lengthy voyage, but devotees of yarns about brave British tars will be delighted to be aboard.” ―Kirkus Reviews
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Top customer reviews
Cochrane was an extraordinary man, his genuine history perhaps more amazing than any of the fiction inspired by his real-world activities, this is a biography that does him justice, lauding his good qualities and achievements without hiding his flaws and failures.
That's what I thought. Don't worry, David Cordingly's Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander has got you covered.
The best biographies illuminate not only their title character but the time and place in which that character lives, and this book does that in spades, with some eye-opening revelations. For one thing, I had no idea that the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars were on the whole, well, pirates.
Oh yes, they were, and I'll tell you why. The British Navy was essentially a money-making proposition in those days. Whenever a British ship caught an enemy ship, it would be sent back to England where it would be assessed by the Admiralty and assigned a value, one-eighth of which was then shared among the officers and crew of the capturing ship. The more enemy ships they captured, the more prize money they made, and Cochrane, whose improvident father had cost the family the hereditary estate, was forever in a row with whoever was in charge about getting full value for the ships he captured.
An eye ever to the main chance Cochrane may have had, but he was also by everyone's account, even his enemies', of which he made many, a master mariner. Cordingly writes that some of Cochrane's actions, described in full in you-are-there prose, are still cited by naval historians as the best of their kind. He was his own worst enemy on land but at sea he was unsurpassed. He wreaked havoc with Napoleon's navy up and down the coasts of France and Spain, and not for nothing did the French call him "le loup de mer," or the Seawolf.
Ashore, though, he involved himself in radical politics and made enemies of people in power, especially in the Navy. He was intemperate and mouthy, which, allied with a burning and fatal desire to achieve better pay and conditions for his officers and men, started the downward spiral. The British Admiralty just wasn't there yet. When, inevitably, he made England too hot to hold him, he went to South America, where as, sequentially, chief of naval operations for both countries he assisted immeasurably in Chile and Brazil's wars of independence with Spain, and later and less gloriously in Greece's war of independence with Turkey.
He had a keen scientific curiosity and the patience for experimentation which caused him to spend a great portion of his aforesaid prize money on experimenting with, among other things, lamps, steam engines and bitumin (aka asphalt). He was a passionate and faithful husband to his not always worthy wife, and what money he didn't spend on scientific experimentation and petitions for reinstatement in the British Navy was employed to bail their worthless children out of hock.
This book is beautifully produced, with many detailed maps, marvelous cutaway illustrations of two of Cochrane's ships so you can practically walk the decks right next to him, three sections of contemporary paintings of friends and colleagues, including many portraits of Cochrane himself at every age, ships of his time, seascapes of sea battles and ports of call and scenes of engagement. There is even a glossary at the back to teach you the difference between bombarde and bumboat, and more illustrations throughout, such as a reproduction of the recruiting poster Cochrane had made up to entice a ship's crew to the Pallas. "My lads," says the poster, "The rest of the GALLEONS with the Treasure from LA PLATA are waiting half loaded at CARTAGENA...Such a Chance perhaps will never occur again."
That was appealing to their better natures, all right.
Cordingly's Cochrane is a rousing tale, all the more astonishing because it's all absolutely true. A wonderful read.
He was an amazing man, completely outspoken. He certainly did not "Go along to get along", and in the end it curtailed just how much more of a great person he could have been.
The naval exploits are well documented and described, and you get a good view in to the man who inspired many fictional naval heroes, such as Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey