Master & Commander

By Patrick O'Brian,

Book cover of Master & Commander

Book description

This, the first in the splendid series of Jack Aubrey novels, establishes the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and intelligence agent, against a thrilling backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Details of a life aboard a man-of-war in Nelson's navy are faultlessly rendered: the conversational idiom…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked Master & Commander as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This is the first of the 21 Aubrey/Maturin novels about the British side in the Napoleonic Wars. Read one and you’re hooked for the duration! O’Brian recreates an accurate and nuanced immersion into the age of sail and the British Navy. His characters are rich and complex with foibles and flaws, yet rise to the circumstances of their lives. His research is impeccable and exhaustive. One feels they are on the oak deck next to the crew.
The movie of the same title is far more truncated than the novel, but still a wonder in its beautifully rendered scenes.


Patrick O’Brien writes tall ship adventures with a blythe spirit, expertly portraying life at sea. Captain Jack Aubrey runs a happy ship, as opposed, say, to Captain Bligh. But rigors remain, and the distance between captain and crew is maintained to preserve social structure. The whole twenty-volume series is compelling for any seafarer, and Master & Commander is best known. The movie was good, except for Russell Crowe, who mumbled his lines.

From Robert's list on fiction narrative for uncertain times.

This should actually cover the whole 20-book series as I’ve read them all. Three times. They take historical fiction, and Napoleonic sea stories, to a whole new level. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are wonderfully rounded characters, the detail of life at sea is amazing , and the books unputdownable. And did I say they are beautifully written too? Well worth a few months of reading. Get them and discover their world. You won’t be disappointed.

From M.J.'s list on I read again and again.

I can still remember my surprise when I first read Master & Commander. I was studying 18th-century naval history at university at the time, and a fellow student recommended it to me. I read the first few pages and realised that all the dialogue, attitudes, ideas were all authentic to the period. It was a revelation to me that historical fiction could be so immersive. I found myself quickly being drawn into a wholly alien world. Much historical fiction is populated with modern characters in period dress, which was why I found O’Brian’s novels so distinctive. It is something…

Master & Commander is the first in a big, long, wonderful series of sea adventures set in the early 1800s. There was a movie made from this book, and I thought it didn’t come close to being as good as the book itself. O’Brian is a talented, great author. The characters are interesting, different, tough but human, and this (and all the rest in the series) is fast-paced and full of action. One of the best series of books I’ve ever read.

From Thomas' list on that are packed with action.

What can anyone say that hasn’t been said before about this magnificent series that follows the protagonists, “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, as they do battle with the French and experience the utter crashing boredom of sailing a man-of-war that is controlled by the winds and the waves. O’Brian’s attention to detail is absolutely unmatched and yet the reader never gets bored. Fifty engrossing pages can go by and you realise that nothing has happened, and I mean this as a compliment. His writing style is indeed a metaphor for life on board a three-master. I thought C.S. Forester…

From Philip's list on wartime historical fiction.

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