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Patrick O'Brian

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.

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.

  • The NY Times - 1993
    An interview by Francis Clines of the NY Times following the release of the 16th Aubrey-Maturin book, The Wine-Dark Sea.
  • Audio of NPR Interview - 1995
    The article itself is about the 2003 release of the movie, Master and Commander, but there is a link at the top for an NPR interview with O'Brian from 1995.
  • Recollections of America
    Technically not an interview, O'Brian documented some of his reflections on his trip to the United States in 1993 for a publicity tour. This is followed by answers to a few reader questions.
  • Barnes & Noble - 1999
    A brief bio followed by a Q&A with O'Brian.

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.

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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 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.

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.

O'Brian Short Stories

O'Brian Tribute Sites

  • In Memoriam by Geoff Hunt
    A tribute to O'Brian by Geoff Hunt who created the cover art for each of the Aubrey-Maturin books.
  • The Patrick O'Brian Compendium
    A site honoring the author complete with glossaries, additional reference links and a comparison of the 2 most popular O'Brian biographies.
  • Gunroom Guide to Patrick O'Brian
    A very comprehensive guide to O'Brian web resources.
  • WikiPOBia
    A collaborative project to provide "information and analysis intended to increase readers' understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of O'Brian's work and world."

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...

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...

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

Write Your Review

BarbaraCasey on September 19, 2012:

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 on September 19, 2012:

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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