Patrick O'Brian (1914-2000) is the much-acclaimed author of sea-faring stories about the British Navy
during the Napoleonic Wars
, collectively known as the Aubrey-Maturin Series
Beginning with Master and Commander in 1970, O'Brian checked in about every two years with a new book, exploring the complex relationship between Captain Jack Aubrey, a hot-headed man of action, a natural leader bred for adventure, and his mysterious friend, Stephen Maturin, physician, ship's surgeon, naturalist and spy.
O'Brian was that rare breed of author who can go again and again to the same deep well and find something new and exciting to render, at the same time expanding and illuminating further what has come before.
Every page that O'Brian wrote over seventy-some-odd years is infused with his passionate belief that "times change but people don't, that the griefs and follies and victories of the men and women who were here before us are in fact the maps of our own lives" (Richard Snow, in a cover story in The New York Times Book Review, January 6, 1991).
O'Brian was an indefatigable researcher. His books breathe the air of the turn of the 19th Century. If it appears in an Aubrey-Maturin novel—be it cuisine, wine, weapons, slang, music, how to keep a sinking square-rigger afloat—you can be sure it existed back in the days of wooden ships and iron men.
Accordingly, not only are the books wonderful adventure tales and psychological studies, but they are a kind of collective time machine, something we in our fast-paced gigahertz world would do well to attend.
I came upon the series late, perhaps twelve tales in, and I'm very happy about that because for the real fans, the ones who discovered O'Brian early, it must have been agony waiting for the next installment. Nothing compares with the feeling of setting down a good-story-well-told and knowing that you have another one waiting in the wings.
Richard Snow, in his cover story for the Times, said it best—"The best historical novels ever written."
Stephen Becker, in his blurb for the paperback edition of Master and Commander went even further:
"Certain authors we read because they enlarge us, because they offer experience, wisdom, beauty of language, a sense of fate and the only defense, a sense of humor: Fowles, Drabble, Nauipaul, O'Brian.
To compare Patrick O'Brian with "writers of sea stories" is to compare Proust and the Orchid Fancier's Quarterly. O'Brian is literature. I am one of your surly pragmatical polyglot landlubbers, and I read him and reread him with awe and gratitude.
His Aubrey-Maturin volumes are in effect one great book, and if I could keep only half a dozen contemporary writers, O'Brian would be one of them."
I believe Patrick O'Brian has perhaps more import for us here at Everything2 than, say, the average reader for entertainment, though God knows, he could certainly entertain.
Patrick O'Brian was a writer, through and through. He faced that dread white emptiness each morning of his very long life, right up until the end, and he filled it with himself, from his head and his heart, for us.
Read him and learn.