Master and Commander

Master and Commander is a nautical historical novel by the English author Patrick O’Brian, first published in 1969 in the US and 1970 in the UK. The book proved to be the start of the 20-novel AubreyMaturin series, set largely in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, on which O’Brian continued working until his death in 2000.
The novel is set at the turn of the 19th century. It follows the young Jack Aubrey, a Royal Navy captain who has just been promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, and Stephen Maturin, a destitute physician and naturalist whom Aubrey appoints as his naval surgeon. They sail in HM sloop-of-war Sophie with first lieutenant James Dillon, a wealthy and aristocratic Irishman. The naval action in the Mediterranean is closely based on the real-life exploits of Lord Cochrane, including a battle modelled after Cochrane’s spectacular victory in the brig HMS Speedy over the vastly superior Spanish frigate El Gamo.
Master and Commander met with mixed reviews on its first publication. Although UK sales were respectable enough for O’Brian to continue with the series, it was not initially a success in the US. In Britain and Ireland, however, voices of praise gradually became dominant. The novel has been lauded for having “a brilliant sense of period”, and for O’Brian’s “easy command of the philosophical, political, sensual and social temper of the times [that] flavors a rich entertainment”, putting the reader into the times in every aspect, from exceptional detail on the practices of the Royal Navy on sailing ships to the states of science, medicine, and society during the Napoleonic era.
In 1990, the US publisher W. W. Norton & Company re-issued the book and its sequels, which was an almost immediate success and drew O’Brian a new and large readership. O’Brian’s biographer has placed the novel at the start of what he called the author’s magnum opus, a series that has become perhaps the best-loved roman fleuve of the 20th century.


Read or listen to Master and Commander

by Patrick O'Brian