"It is only in knowing the truth about O'Brian's life that we can fully grasp the magnitude and nature of his accomplishment.... His genius was largely that he had connected with his 'different self' to create from disappointing reality--quite magically--extraordinary fiction, fiction that, for so many of us, embodies the sheer joy of reading. --FROM THE INTRODUCTION
In 1991, when The New York Times Book Review proclaimed Patrick O'Brian the writer of "the greatest historical novels ever written," making him an overnight sensation in the United States, O'Brian was already in his mid-seventies and had already had two distinct and remarkable writing careers. In less than a decade, O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, ultimately twenty novels strong, became an unprecedented literary juggernaut, with legions of devoted fans around America and around the world. With O'Brian's death in January 2000, curiosity about the carefully guarded secrets of his life has peaked.
Here, Dean King tells the story of a man, an artist and an intellectual, born Richard Patrick Russ, who first achieves literary recognition as an adolescent, when he publishes a series of popular adventure stories. After the Second World War, he emerges as Patrick O'Brian, a writer of dark, sometimes tortured short stories and highly literary novels. He enjoys success as a translator, even as a biographer. Slowly, the O'Brian persona, forged in his own imagination and refined by years of rumor and speculation, takes form, until his ultimate triumphant arrival as a masterful historical novelist and chronicler of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars.
O'Brian's past--both real and imagined--is linked directly to his writing, as he drew deeply on the painful events of his early life. It has long been assumed that he himself was the model for the polymathic naval surgeon and intelligence agent Stephen Maturin, who, along with rough-and-tumble Captain Jack Aubrey, forms the heart of O'Brian's monumental roman-fleuve. The truth is more complex: each of these indelible characters is wholly original, yet in each we can hear deep echoes of O'Brian's own history.
King's biography, the first ever of this famously secretive man, is an extraordinary achievement, a vivid, searing portrait of an intense and complex human being, whose grudges were as fiercely held as his loyalties; who was as famous for orneriness as he was for brilliant artistic creation; and whose encyclopedic knowledge of everything from ornithology to Catalan history delighted hundreds of thousands of readers and will surely enthrall generations to come.
Los Angeles Times
[O'Brian] devotees should rejoice at this account of his life, written with appreciative balance, rich with literary insight.
My wife, Iris Murdoch, and I fell in love with Master and Commander and Post Captain as soon as we read them. (This was a rare event for Iris, a famous novelist who hardly ever read modern novels. But she was bewitched by O'Brian.) Dean King's biography reveals in fascinating detail that the private man behind the novels was no less of a magician than the author who created them. This is a truly remarkable book which uncovers the secrets of a professionally secretive man.
Jay Parini, Author of John Steinbeck A Biography and Robert Frost: A Life
Like many admirers of Patrick O'Brian, I've always wondered about the man behind that remarkable shelf of books--one of the unexpected peaks of modern fiction. Dean King has done a magnificent job here, proving himself an able sleuth, putting real flesh on this immensely gifted, complex--difficult, even--storyteller. This absorbing biography provides all the details one could hope for, and more.
Wolcott Gibbs, Jr., Patrick O'Brian's First U.S. Editor
Given his subject's passion for self-concealment, Dean king has performed a prodigy of detective research in tracking down the details of Patrick O'Brian's real life. Much more to the point, however, Mr. King has painted a fascinating, compassionate, honest portrait of a complex and difficult man who was also a consummate writer. The Aubrey-Maturin odyssey seems likely to stand among the major achievements of twentieth-century fiction, and Mr. King now makes it possible for readers to properly connect the work and its author.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Ron Hurst
I have just finished rereading the book and confirmed my view after the first reading. It is a superb piece of work. The author acheives a perfect balance between the detailed exposure of O'Brien's private life and the chronological synopsis of the... Read More
The excitement of the Aubrey/Maturin series soars to new heights in this volume, as Jack, again the daring frigate commander of old, stakes all on a desperate solo night raid against the might of the Spanish viceroy in Peru.
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