The Patrick O'Brian Compendium©

Reviews of the Work of Dean H. King


Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed (Henry Holt; UK: Sceptre, 2000; Daily Telegraph serialization).

"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."  John Bayley

"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." Wolcott Gibbs Jr.

"Dean King has done a magnificent job here, proving himself an able sleuth, putting real flesh on this immensely gifted, complex--difficult, even storyteller. [An] absorbing biography."  Jay Parini.

"King casts a sober eye but not a cold heart on this secretive writer whose devotees should rejoice at this account of his life, written with appreciative balance, rich with literary insight. His analysis is crisp and engaging. O’Brian endures and captivates readers for reasons this biography sets forth lucidly. King does his memory justice." Los Angeles Times

"A worthy, generous portrait by a true believer that sets much of the record straight." New York Times Book Review

"King’s diligent research yields pleasing details O’Brian addicts will be grateful for King’s efforts." The New Yorker.

"[In] this well-written and researched book ... King has been conscientious, providing just the right balance of detail. King is well qualified to act the biographer to O’Brian, and has, despite the lack of help from his subject, written an excellent book. It will stand for some time as the source for the life of this talented, complex man." T.L.S.

"It is a tribute to King's pertinacity and the admirable fairness of his approach that he has succeeded in producing a fascinating and rewarding study of a uniquely complex man." Nikolai Tolstoy, Literary Review

 "A model enquiry into a life concealed. Among King’s many biographical triumphs is to have firmly anchored the central characters of that series in O’Brian’s life." Sunday Telegraph

"King’s telling of [O’Brian’s] puzzling tale is decent, fair and extremely thorough." Jan Morris, The Observer

"Diligently researched, informative, and ... persuasive." Spectator

"A model of how these things should be: skeptical, generous and almost as well informed as the master himself." Daily Telegraph

Barry Forshaw, Amazon UK: "A superlative celebration of one of the most amazing bodies of fiction produced in the 20th century. Again and again, King performs the key function of a literary biographer: he inspires in the reader an intense desire to return to his subject’s work, armed with a host of new insights. Most of all, though, it’s the communication of the biographer’s enthusiasm for his subject that leaps off the page:

Suddenly, it became apparent that while O’Brian may or may not have surpassed Forester in sea action, he had created great novels that did not look quite like anything that had come before. His evocation of Nelson’s Royal Navy was an escapist world as appealing as J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, as culturally rich as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, and as intriguingly ritualistic as Umberto Eco’s medieval monastery in The Name of the Rose. In this setting, almost flawlessly sustained in the more than five-thousand-page opus, O’Brian had examined his two primary themes, love and friendship, from myriad angles, with extraordinary lucidity and a stylistic range to rival the best novelists. Critics no longer compared him to C. S. Forester but to Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and Homer."

A Sea of Words: A Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales (Holt, 1995; 3rd ed. 00). With Hattendorf, professor of maritime history, U.S. Naval War College, and Worth Estes, professor of pharmacology at Boston University.

 "A Sea of Words is more than nautical terms well explained. It is a guide to the O’Brian library. . . . It includes medical and scientific terms, people and political groups, historical events, literary and biblical references, weapons of war, natural history, curiosities, food and drink, and cultures and customs. . . . I like to think of it as a guide to the fictional world of fighting sail, one very much based on fact and authority." American Neptune.

"A third edition of A Sea of Words . . . has just been published and is an absolute necessity." Boston Globe

"A useful compass... devoted to an analysis of the crucial threads of language and learning." Economist.

"A gem of a book." Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

"A godsend. A must-have book." Irish Times.

Harbors and High Seas: An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Aubrey-Maturin Novels (Holt, 1996; 3rd  ed. 2000) with Hattendorf.

"For armchair seafarers who follow every adventure of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin but have no idea where on earth Christmas Island is, let alone how far it is from Annamooka, here is the ideal Baedeker. Book by book, journey by journey, knot by knot, King provides a geographical guide to Aubrey and Maturin's adventures. In fact, all that's missing here is a do-it-yourself model of Aubrey's ship, HMS Surprise."-- Kirkus Review.

"A worthy, stirring guide to the world of the British Navy in the age of sail." Pequot Pilot.

Every Man Will Do His Duty: An Anthology of Firsthand Accounts from the Age of Nelson, 1793-1815 (Holt; UK: Conway, 1997), ed. with J. Hattendorf.

"Readers of Patrick O’Brian and C.S. Forester will enjoy this collection of contemporary accounts about life in the Royal Navy from 1793 to 1815, many of which form the basis of the fiction series of both writers. With just enough narrative to link the passages, the book moves smoothly from chapter to chapter. Recommended for all collections." Library Journal.

"This volume tops the lists of the Sea History editorial staff. From the French Revolution through the War of 1812, we learn how it was from men at all levels of the naval service and the merchant marines, in peace and in war, at sea and ashore, in scenes of triumph and devastation. This book should not be missed!" Amazon non‑fiction bestseller.

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