Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Real Master and Commander

Fans of Patrick O'Brian will probably know that the purposeful hero of his books - 'Lucky' Jack Aubrey - was closely based on a real naval hero and adventurer. Cochrane: the real master and commander by David Cordingly details the meteoric rise - and sharp downfall - of one of the British Navy's most colorful characters. His exploits during the Napoleonic Wars caused the Emperor himself to nickname him "the sea wolf". He was handsome, very cunning about naval matters, and phenomenally successful. Until it came to business matters. In 1814, an acquaintance of Cochrane's started a rumour of Napoleon's death and he, Cochrane, and 4 others were found later to have made a vast sum of money selling stocks while the rumour was flying. A one-year prison sentence was devastating to Cochrane's naval career (see The Reverse of the Medal for the Jack Aubrey version).
Cordingly writes an account of Cochrane that is just as interesting as the novels of C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. The fact that these exploits were real just adds to the excitement. The book flows well, there are lots of illustrations of the prominent names of the time - Lord St. Vincent, Admiral Lord Keith, General Bernardo O'Higgins - and nice appendix. Cordingly includes a glossary, a diagram of the frigate Imperieuse, and a thorough bibliography, as well as footnotes and index. For true lovers of naval history, this is a great book.

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