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Patrick O'Brian Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions for Master and Commander, The Aubrey/Maturin Series, and The Yellow Admiral
SPOILER ALERT: Some of the discussion questions give away plot points! Read them AFTER the book!
The World of Patrick O'Brian
On the foundations of an unlikely friendship that began with a dispute at a concert in Port Mahon, Patrick O'Brian has written a series of novels about the sea, history, the Royal Navy of Nelson's era, the early stirrings of modern science, and a whole raft of other subjects that rivals The Iliad for narrative sweep and has been compared, for its attention to detail and social nuance, to the work of Jane Austen.
Richard Snow describes Patrick O'Brian's work in his celebratory 1991 article in the New York Times Book Review:
"Patrick O'Brian presents the lost arcana of that hard-pressed, cruel, courageous world with an immediacy that makes its workings both comprehensible and fascinating. All the marine hardware is in place and functioning; the battles are stirring without being romanticised (this author never romanticises); the portrayal of life aboard a sailing ship is vivid and authoratitive. But in the end it is the serious exploration of human character that gives the books their greatest power: the fretful play of mood that can irrationally darken the edges of the brightest triumph, and can feed a trickle of merriment into the midst of terror and tragedy. Mr. O'Brian manages to express, with the grace and economy of poetry, familiar things that somehow never get written down, as when he carefully details the rueful steps by which Stephen Maturin falls out of love. . . .begin with the first of them, Master and Commander, and there's a good chance you'll find yourself at the final installment all too soon. You will have read what I continue to believe are the best historical novels ever written. Along the way you'll not only have witnessed the unfolding of a tremendous story, but the very beginnings of the world we now inhabit. In one of the books Maturin nearly propounds a theory of Freudian psychology; in another he falls just shy of the immense implications of evolution. His is the kind of questing mind that made the late 18th century such an age of revelation; his counterpart Jack Aubrey personifies the raw energy that fueled the epoch. On every page Mr. O'Brian reminds us with subtle artistry of the most important of all historical lessons: that times change but people don't, that 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, New York Times Book Review, 1991
Patrick O'Brian is the author of the critically acclaimed 20-volume Aubrey/Maturin series. He has also written biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks, and has translated both the novels and the memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir. His first novel of the sea was The Golden Ocean, a fictionalized account of Commodore Anson's expedition to the Pacific to disrupt Spain's gold shipments, which O'Brian says he wrote "in six weeks, laughing much of the time." He published Master and Commander, the first of the Aubrey/Maturin series, in 1970 and Blue at the Mizzen, the final volume, in 1999. Patrick O'Brian passed away in January 2000 at the age of 85.
For DiscussionMaster and Commander | About the book
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