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Patrick O'Brian

Updated on November 16, 2014
MacPharlain profile image

MacPharlain enjoys reading good books from many genres. His favorite is historical fiction and his favorite author is Patrick O'Brian.

Patrick O'Brian is one of the best authors of the 20th century.

His most famous novels are the Aubrey-Maturin (aka Master and Commander) series. Less well known is that O'Brian authored a variety of works including novels, short stories, critically acclaimed biographies and translations of French literature.

Read on to explore O'Brian's diverse range of works and interviews with him before his death in 2000.

Photo Credit: WW Norton

Three reasons to read Patrick O'Brian

1. "The best historical novels ever written." - The New York Times Book Review

2. His attention to detail and character development are incredible.

3. A captivating and challenging writing style that draws you into the story and doesn't let you go.

O'Brian's First Book

O'Brian wrote Caesar at the age of 14 and it was published by the time he was 15.

O'Brian The Biographer

Given his passion for research and attention to historical detail, it's not too surprising that O'Brian was a successful biographer.

Picasso : A Biography
Picasso : A Biography
O'Brian knew Pablo Picasso personally and wrote what some reviewers consider the best biography of him.
Joseph Banks: A Life
Joseph Banks: A Life
Sir Joseph Banks was an 18th century British naturalist who explored the globe with Captain Cook and served as president of the Royal Society.

Interviews with Patrick O'Brian

O'Brian was notorious for protecting details of his private life during interviews. The NY Times article in the first link below captures this aspect of O'Brian's personality well.

An Evening with Patrick O'Brian

The following video is from a 1995 interview with Patrick O'Brian at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, before the release of The Commodore, the 17th book in the Aubrey-Maturin series.

The audio quality is poor in some spots making it difficult to hear bits of the conversation, but it's well worth watching the entire piece.

O'Brian's wit, knowledge of naval history and literature; and humor come shining through during the session. His humor is especially evident during the audience question and answer period.

Early Adventures at Sea - Predecessors to the Aubrey-Maturin series...

The Golden Ocean
The Golden Ocean
O'Brian's first naval adventure about a young midshipman sailing on his first voyage. This was the first book I read after finishing reading the "Master and Commander" series. Check out my detailed review of "The Golden Ocean".
The Unknown Shore
The Unknown Shore
A parallel story to "The Golden Ocean".

The Master and Commander Series - aka the Aubrey-Maturin series

The books of the Aubrey-Maturin series are O'Brian's most well known and widely read works. There are 20 books in the series plus an unfinished 21st novel that O'Brian was working on when he died. To learn more about the series and see the full list of books in order, please visit my Master and Commander lens.

Master and Commander
Master and Commander
This first novel of the series introduces Aubrey and Maturin to each other and is a thrilling read. Plenty of action at sea and detail about life aboard ship.
The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Vol. 5 volumes)
The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Vol. 5 volumes)
After you read the first one, you'll want to read the whole series. This hardcover set is a great value.

Not part of the fictional series, O'Brian wrote this non-fiction book as a reference to provide more detailed descriptions of daily life at sea in Nelson's Navy.

Other O'Brian Novels

O'Brian authored novels on a variety of subject matter. Here is a sampling of them.

How many Patrick O'Brian books have you read?

See results

O'Brian Short Stories

Books Translated by Patrick O'Brian

In addition to writing his own novels, O'Brian also translated classic French works into English. Two of those are listed here...

The Coming of Age
The Coming of Age
Original French version by Simone de Beauvoir

Biographies of Patrick O'Brian

As noted above, O'Brian was very protective of his private life. In the interview video above, at the start of the question and answer session, the moderator tells the audience that all questions should be limited to his books only. When answering one of the questions, O'Brian states that he hopes a biography of him is never written.

Two unauthorized biographies were written about him...

Patrick O'Brian : A Life
Patrick O'Brian : A Life
An interesting biography of Patrick O'Brian that relates elements of O'Brian's life to his Aubrey and Maturin characters and their stories. The author, Dean King, is well versed in the Aubrey-Maturin series and has also co-written two non-fiction companion books to the series.
Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist, 1914-1949
Patrick O'Brian: The Making of the Novelist, 1914-1949
Written by O'Brian's stepson, this biography covers the first half of O'Brian's life before he began writing the Aubrey-Maturin series.

Share your opinions of Patrick O'Brian's work in the comments below. What's your favorite O'Brian book?

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      8 years ago

      Really good resource on Patrick O'Brian... now added to the related resources section on my Master and Commander lens. Thanks for visiting and letting me know you had all these treasures.

    • craftycollector profile image


      8 years ago

      I never knew that Patrick O'Brian had written anything but novels. Thanks, I'll have to get hold of them. My grandfather was also in sailing ships. My father went to sea as a galleyboy in 1922, and worked up to Master Mariner. He then trained a s a teacher and joined TS Arethusa, a training ship for boys who wanted to be sailors. That's how I managed to groa up on the Arethusa, and develop an interest in all things nautical. I really appreciate your writings on Patrick O'Brian. I'll be back.


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