Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How We Decide (Lehrer)

Again, I wrote my review of this book on my chess blog since there is so much cross-over.

My review here.

The next review will be of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I plan to start that book tonight.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Art of Learning (Waitzkin)

I wrote my review of this book over at my chess blog since there was so much cross-over.

My review here.

I've started reading How We Decide which seems so closely related to Art of Learning.  I suppose that review will also be over at the chess blog.

For Christmas, I hope to get the Millenium Triligoy by Larsson (see my queued up section).  The movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes out next week - these books intrigue me intensely - so I'm taking a break from my "Western History and Military" bug to delve into these.  Then I'll pick up Hanson again.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey was published 7 years ago in 2004.  It was published under the title of "21" in the United States.

The typewritten script, of course, was easy to read as they just printed that.  But there were several pages that were not typewritten; they were just hand-written.  I could read some of the words, but I could not get the gist of it.  So in this case, the wikipedia summary really helped.

It had the makings of another great POB book for sure.  But I somewhat like that the last fully published book was Blue at the Mizzen as it ends with Jack "on top" rather than on a low ebb.

There is no doubt POB could have kept on cranking these books out year after year.  But has his wikipedia entry states (along with the post script in 21) he was living quite a lonely life.  His wife had died in 1998.  He died two years later in 2000.

The Aubrey-Maturin Series
So it really is finished (for me).  I started reading Master and Commander in Yellowstone while on a family vacation back in the summer of 2010.  And now a year and a half years later I'm reflecting on what a great series it has been.

That bug, which I wrote about in my review of M&C, as diminished.  But the love of reading about these two amazing figures continued.  I actually became more enamoured with Maturin.  One is seemingly led to believe he is just a flimsy naturalist - a soft medicoe.  But he is a savage spy and duelist.  He is a cold reptilian to Napoleon allies, but a warm, kind soul to those he medically helps and to those who are his friends.

Jack - is a true sailor through and through.  His passion and drive for a blue flag is relentless and he wears his heart on his sleeve while around Stephen.  You can tell he loves his men and officers.  He is quick to save a life and slow to physical punishment.

It's a fantastic series.  I've not really found a negative critic of the series.  In fact, it is so highly regarded, at the bookstore or library, it is not placed under fiction or sea-fiction, but rather under Literature.  It belongs with Dickens and Austin - it is that good.

So if you're curious about the series, I heartily recommend jumping in with both feet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian

I've been reading passionately the last few days.  This is the last fully written book by Patrick O'Brian.

The title, obviously references the blue flag an active admiral hoists in his ship ... a full admiral as opposed to an admiral in name only - a yellow admiral.

This book had elements from many of the other books.  It had doldrums; rounding the horn in horrific weather; reports of animals, birds, flora and fauna; fighting; sea-battles; cutting-out; political intrigue and spying ... all for glory and prize.

In the backdrop is the question whether Jack will receive his flag or not.

Stephen explains to a colleague, "he is a post-captain near the top of the list.  But he is at that stage when some members of the group with approximately the same seniority are selected for flag-rank as rear-admiral of the blue.  By no means all can be chosen: those who are not chosen, those who are passed over, are colloquially or by way of derision known as yellow admirals, admirals of a non-existent squadron.  And that is the end of the poor man's hopes: there is no return to eligibility.  Merit has something to do with this vital step, yet influence has more - political and family influence have more, sometimes much more; and Jack Aubrey has not always been politically wise.  He is very much afraid of picking up the Gazette in the next few months and of seeing men junior to himself being given their flag, a blue flag, to be hoisted at the mizzen, if my memory serves: a piece of bunting extraordinarily important to a man who has pursued it with such ardour for so many years.  And now that we are no longer at war, now that there is virtually no chance of his distinguishing himself, it is understandable that his light should at least grow dim: there is the real possibility that it should go out entirely.  And there is nothing that can restore it, nothing but that piece of cloth.  Nothing."

Later, much later, in the book, after all the battles and hardships, Jacob carries a half-decoded dispatch to Stephen with some exciting news.  We all knew it was coming!  And despite that we all knew it was coming, the passage that describes the scene still made me smile more broadly than any other passage in all the books!

Stephen reads the message to Jack, "Immediately upon receipt of the present order you will proceed to the River Plate, there joining the South African squadron: you will go aboard HMS Implacable, hoisting your flag, blue at the mizzen and take command of the blue squadron."

"Jack sat down, bowing his face in his hands: he was almost unmanned, but after a moment he did say, "Read that again, will you Stephen?"

And now, all that I am left with is 21.  I'm not sure it will provide much pleasure, but I see it more in the light of curiosity - just to see what thoughts might have created the 21st book.

After I peruse it's pages this week, I'll offer some thoughts on it and the entire series in general.

I can't help but admit that I am sad, having finished this book.  I've been so thrilled to come to the very end and to have that sense of accomplishment, but now that I'm here ... it's just plain said ... like an life-long friend is about to depart forever.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian

Three long-standing characters die in this book.  Diana and Jack's mother-in-law die in a carriage crash.  It was quite shocking to read of Diana's death as it was practically mentioned in passing at the beginning of the book.  I stopped and re-read the passage several times to be sure I was getting it.  The third is Barret Bonden who dies in a battle between some Moors and the Surprise at the end of the book.  Again, in one sentence, Bonden dies - rather shocking.

Other than those bookend deaths, The Hundred Days was a rather normal POB book.  At the end of Yellow Admiral, we are left wondering what is in store for Jack.  Stephen helps him improve his prospects of becoming a full-fledged admiral by finding work for Jack in Chile.  But then Napoleon escapes Elba the the hundred days begins.

They are to convince French ship-builders to fight Napoleon.  If not convinced, they are to fight and burn all ships.  They are successful.  The mission behind the mission is for Maturin to seize gold from some Muslims who are determined to help Napoleon.  Both Stephen's intelligence and Jack's navel know-how are needed to reign-in the Moors.
Overall, it was a good book and had all the normal ingredients of a POB book.  I enjoyed the passages of Stephen killing the lioness - that got my heart beating a bit.  The action was good in this book as well.

In reading the back cover of Blue at the Mizzen, it appears the Stephen and Jack are continuing with original plans to help out Chile.  This will be #20 and the last completed book by POB.  #21 is not completed, as far as I understand.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian

The Yellow Admiral was the best non-action book of the series.  There are very few battles in this book and they being quite mellow at that.  There is a lot of talking and contemplating in this book as well.  Much of the book takes place on land.

Again, I'm not sure if O'Brian is getting better and clearer in his writing as the series progresses or if I'm just use to his prose, but despite all the "talk" I understood pretty much all of it.

Jack does not necessarily become a yellow admiral, but it still seems to hang in the air at the end of the book.  Granted the book ends on an exclamation point, but the doubt persists.

The overall plot proceeds well enough along.  A few loose ends are tied up (Jack-Amanda Smith and Sophie finding out), Stephen getting his fortune back.  I quite enjoyed the chapter on Bonden boxing as well.

Another great POB book under the belt!

Three more to go!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Commodore by Patrick O'Brian

I have now finished the 17th book in the Aubrey-Maturin series.

The Commodore has all that you would expect from a Patrick O'Brian novel.  It has intrigue, love, botany, sailing, sea-battles, cannons, navel history, 19th century medicine and surgery, nautical jargon and everything else you would want to read about with regard to life in the early 1800's.

The wikipedia summary does a good job if you want a quick summary.  But the pleasure only comes when you actually read the book.

No passages really stood out to me (and none have for the past few books) and therefore I've not made any dog-ears lately.  To be quite honest, I am just simply enjoying reading the books.

There were a couple of parts that remain vivid in my mind ... the first was the details of the slave-trade.  I can't even try to fathom what a slave-trade ship and life was like.  What a horrendous practice!

The second part was the description of Stephen's Yellow Fever.  I've had fevers and flus like that ... I could only feel for Dr. Maturin.

I'm am drawing near to the end of this series.  I've enjoyed reading these novels tremendously and can hardly believe it will all be over soon.  Maybe in 10 years or so, I'll revisit these books.  My son has shown an interest in the books ... maybe I'll bequeath them to him so he can enjoy this wonderful series as well when he is old enough to enjoy them.

With four books left, I plan to finish the series by Christmas.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O'Brian

Here is the link to the Wiki summary.  It does a fine job summarizing the book so I don't have to!

I'm glad I found this picture of the front cover, because it is the same version of the one that I read ... meaning it has "National Bestseller" on the front.  It lived up to the name.

What the previous two books failed to do (provide sufficient action and intrigue and actually interesting descriptions of flora and fauna), this one actually delivered.  It was a much, much better read than the previous two.

This book also seems to end the long mission of trying to disrupt the Spanish governments in South America.  I forget how many books ago it was, but a few books ago, Stephen's mission was to start revolutions in South America and he finally got around to doing just than in this book.  Although, he didn't succeed.

So, I for once enjoyed the doctor's descriptions of his botonous adventures.  Maybe it was because I was actually interested in the descriptions this time ... or maybe because it wasn't so foreign to me.  But whatever the reason, I enjoyed it.

The action in the middle and end of the book (battling the pirates and then the Americans) was good action.  Are we going to see Jack with an eye patch now?  I guess I'll find out in the next book.  Stephen didn't come out unscathed either ... he survived a blistering cold night in the Andes, but paid with two of the less useful toes.

As a side note, while searching for a picture of the book cover, I came across another image.  When I saw it, I thought it was of the battle between the Surprise and the Americans ... but I didn't find any titles.  I imagine the battle in that cold South Sea looked something like this:

And lastly, a note about the title.  I haven't read about all of it quite yet, but the wine-dark sea seems to be a phrase connected with Homer.  Let be briefly share a link I found from the NYTimes.  "Homer's Sea: Wine Dark?"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Truelove by Patrick O'Brian

So The Truelove is about a woman named Clarissa Oakes (which is the name of the book as it was published originally) and a ship named the Truelove which was a fur-trading ship.

The book was weird ... I really never got into it.  The key thing you need from this book is that Clarissa Oakes was a prostitute in England, but got sent to the penal colony.  She knows the highly placed government official who has been feeding the French vital information ... the contact that Ledward and Wray knew.

Stephen acquires this information while he and Clarissa were on a walk.  He then gives her all the papers she needs to get back to Sir Blaine and inform him of the highly placed spy.

Other than that, in my opinion, this book was fairly worthless ... a lot of minutiae for a critical bit of plot forwarding.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O'Brian

Well, I guess it was bound to happen at some point.  This book was not that great.  It dragged on.  But being as I was stuck in a car for 52 hours over the course of last week, I had nothing better to do than read this book (while my sweet wife drove and listened to my music on my smart phone).

The Good
NOC starts where 13 Gun ended - with the crew stuck on an island.  The account of their battle with the Dyak pirates was thrilling ending with an amazing cannon shot.

Historically speaking, the description of the penal colonies in Australia was amazing.  I had no idea it was that brutal.  Up to this point, all the novels have had brutality in them, but reading the these parts of the book was chilling.

The Bad
Up to this book, I've thought the naturalist side of Maturin was interesting, but POB takes it to a whole new level in this book.  Granted the part about the Orangutans in the monk monastery mountains was neat; but the rest was kind of monotonous.  I kept asking my self, "when is this going to end" while reading the dialogue between Maturin and Martin.

And then there was the bad as in bad-ass!  Maturin does not like Captain Lowe's opinion of the Irish and is disgusted with him.  But Captain Lowe takes it a bit too far.  Read this incredible passage:

Stephen looked at him attentively.  The man was in a choking rage but he was perfectly steady on his feed; he was not drunk.  'Will you answer for that, sir?' he asked.

'There's my answer,' said the big man, with a blow that knocked Stephen's wig from his head.

Stephen leapt back, whipped out his sword and cried 'Draw, man, draw, or I shall stick you like a hog.'

Lowe unsheathed his sabre: little good did it do him.  In two hissing passes his right thigh was ploughed up.  At the third Stephen's sword was through his shoulder.  And at the issue of a confused struggle at close quarter he was flat on his back, Stephen's foot on his chest, Stephen's sword-point at his throat and the cold voice saying above him 'Ask my pardon or you are a dead man.  Ask my pardon, I say, or you are a dead man, a dead man.'

'I ask your pardon,' said Lowe, and his eyes filled with blood.

The Ugly
The ending was "blah"-ugly.  Really?! It ends with Maturin getting pierced by a male platypus.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Thirteen Gun Salute by Patrick O'Brian

A quick word about the picture ... the version I'm reading is nearly identical to the one shown, except instead of cannon, it has a square knot.  But I like the cannon!  I've never seen a book cover with the cannon on it.

As usual, I won't summarize the book.  The Wikipedia entry does a perfect job summarizing this book.

Stephen is a cold-blooded reptile when it comes to intelligence and revenge.  After Ledward and Wray are banished from the court and shot in the heads, Stephen and a fellow intelligence agent dissect and dispose of their bodies!

With their long voyage, Jack has ample time to teach and train his young officers.  They have daily lessons on a variety of subjects.  One of these subjects were "general knowledge and literacy."  Jack had just given some feedback on a journal entry of one of the midshipmen and then asked him, "What do you know about the last American war?"

"Not very much, sir, except that the French and Spaniards joined in and were finely served out for doing so."

"Very true.  Do you know how it began?"

"Yes sir.  It was about tea, which they did not choose to pay duty on.  They called out No reproduction without copulation and tossed it into Boston harbour."

Jack frowned, considered, and said, "Well, in any event they accomplished little or nothing at sea, that bout."

Later, Jack asked Stephen about that battle cry to which Stephen told him the correct phrase!  It was quite a witty passage!

Overall - it was a boring book.  Indeed there were parts that were exciting, shocking and amazing, but you had to endure extremely long stretch of seemingly unimportant minutiae.

I'm finished with the 13th book (I wonder if POB intended that?)  I'm going on a week and half vacation now and plan to take Nutmeg of Consolation with me to read.  I've only 8 books left!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Letter of Marque by Patrick O'Brian

Wow - as quickly as Jack's and Stephen's fortune turned sour in Reverse of the Medal, they just as quick turned out quite well in Letter of Marque.

What is that literary term ... deus ex machina?  In one swift book, Jack is practically restored his navel commission, turns exceedingly rich - his father dies and he receives the government seat his father sat it ... Stephen falls into seemingly billions of pounds of riches - he gets Diana back.

All the luck is back in this novel.

So ... although enjoyable ... I was a little let down to find that all is well at the end of the book.  I was expecting Jack and Stephen to be pirates a little longer than one book.  I was expecting that the process of restoring Jack would be long and hard-fought ... but no.

Things are even better than they were at the beginning of the Reverse of the Medal.

Bottom line ... another great book (the reading is still getting easier!) ... took me only two actual weeks of reading 284 pages.  I couldn't put it down once I got into it.  But I was a bit surprised at how quickly POB turns Jack and Stephen's fortunes around.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian

Excellent, excellent book!  Like a clock with so many turning wheels and cogs, this books turns on so many points - on a macro, as well as a micro scale - therefore the title.  I figured I 'smoked' the meaning of the title, but I finally confirmed it with a little googling.  This bunch of bookworms sum it up well.  I'll paste the relevant posts below.

Which brings me to a related point: the book's title is, I think, like The Surgeon's Mate, a play on words: this turning of fortune is, I think, the pun meaning of the title's "Reverse", but my question is: what is the primary meaning? The Reverse of the Medal: the only medal I recall mentioned in the book is Jack's Nile medal: is there anything of significance on the back of it? Or is perhaps the title an idiomatic expression like "the other side of the coin"?

I think that "the other side of the coin" is the likely meaning. There is nothing particularly significant about the reverse side of the Nile medal. I'm not sure which side is considered the front, but a goddess (Britannia?) is shown on one side, with a small picture of Nelson, and a fine scene of the battle is on what is probably considered the reverse (though the sun is incorrectly shown setting in the east).

Big OED gives "things turning for the worse" as a 'reverse of the medal' meaning as early as 1641, in the diaries of John Evelyn. 'Le revers de la medaille' is common in contemporary French for 'the other side of the picture'. When I (with the honour of speaking British English, true and pure.........) first saw RoM, I immediately read it as 'a turn for the worse' - though, in truth, I cannot recall ever actually having heard the expression used.

The three posts above, to me at least, confirm that Reverse of the Medal means a turn in luck or a turn of fortune.

The coin flips on so many levels in this book.  The subject of luck had been hit upon before in other books.  But at the beginning of chapter three in Reverse of the Medal, POB lays it on thick, discussing the topic in depth.  Jack's luck had been waning during the last few books.  Now, in this book, his luck does a 180.  And it turned so quickly - one minute he thinks all his money problems will be solved.  Then in a matter of days (weeks?) he is being pilloried.

Stephen - virtually struck dumb about the double-agent Wray - has a turn of luck when Duhamel returns Diana's stone and also reveals who the authors of Jack's bad luck are.

Both HMS Surprise and Jack are flipped from being in the Navy to being privateers.

Another superb book by POB.  I am very excited to get on with the next one.  Having finished this one in 20 calendar days (13 actual days), I think I may begin flying through the remainder of the books even quicker!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian

I'm really cruising through these books now.  I'm finding them much easier to read and to understand.  At 366 pages, I was able to finish The Far Side of the World in under 20 days.

This is an odd book.  Going into it, I figured it would resemble much of the movie - but it did not.  Sure, they fought a storm in the Atlantic, they stopped off at exotic islands, Maturin got hurt requiring a stop on land again, they entered the Pacific, they were at war ... but that is about as much as it resembles.

The ship they are chasing is American.  The Norfolk is going after British whalers ... not exactly the world conquest by the French that we were led to believe in the movie.

Hollom appears in both the book and moving picture.  He's considered a "Jonah" but that is as far as that plot matches.  The book's story-line with Hollom is much more interesting.  He is a midshipman who did not pass to become lieutenant.  He convinces Jack to give him a chance.  He is enlisted and then proceeds to seduce the gunner's wife.  He gets her pregnant.  She approaches Maturin and essentially asks him for an abortion.  He refuses; she goes to Higgens who obliges.  She nearly dies from it.  Later, the gunner (Horner) finds out and then proceeds to kill them both while they are on one of the island stops.  To top it all off, Horner ends up hanging himself for his actions.

This story and the little escapade Jack and Stephen go on after Stephen falls out the back of the ship are the most interesting stories in this book - mostly because they are so bizarre.  The whole sequence of the renegade women at sea who almost castrate Jack is absolutely out of left field!

Anyway, really great book!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian

I was able to knock this one out in 25 days - easy reading because it was such a good book!  The espionage is thick in this book.

If anyone is reading this, and has read this book, perhaps they can help me - does Stephen know Wray is working for the French?  Or am I entirely off on that?  The last lines of the book lead me to believe Stephen still hasn't smoked it out that Wray is the bad apple feeding info to the French.

So I've gotten into the habit of dog-earing pages of passages that I particularly liked.  Here are the passages I enjoyed from this book.

First dog-ear: this one wasn't a passage I enjoyed, rather it was just neat to see my manager's last-name appear in the book - Meares.  I had seen my last name in one of the previous books, I've also seen my wife's maiden name in a previous book and now my manager's last name.

Second dog-ear: Stephen had lost his shoes or something, so he had to borrow some before he walked over to Mrs. Fielding's place.  The borrowed shoes hurt so badly, he had to take them off when he arrived.  The music was of no great importance but once he had slipped off his shoes it was pleasant sitting there with the sound weaving decorative patterns in the warm, gently stirring air: the lemon-tree was giving out its well-remembered scent - strong, but not excessive - and on the side farthest from the lanterns, the darkest corner of the court, there was a troop of fireflies. ... Ponto (Laura's dog) came pacing across, smelt Stephen in an offensively censorious way, avoided his caress, and walked off again, flinging himself down among the fireflies with a disgusted sigh.  Presently he began to lick his private parts with so strong a lushing sound that it quite overlaid a pianissimo passage for the flute and Stephen lost the thread of the argument, such as it was.  This passage made me giggle!

Third dog-ear: This one is a whole page, so I won't type it all out, but the gist of it is that Jack is keenly aware of his luck early in his career.  Now he is thirsting badly for a new run of luck which seems to have eluded him so well lately.  It was as though he were running a race: a race in which he had done fairly well for a while, after a slow start, but one in which he could not hold his lead and was being overtaken, perhaps from lack of bottom, perhaps from lack of judgement, perhaps from lack of that particularly nameless quality that brought some men success when it just eluded others, though they might take equal pains.  He could not put his finger on the fault with any certainty, and there were days when he could say with real conviction that the whole thing was mere fatality, the other side of the good luck that had attended him in his twenties and early thirties, the restoration of the average.  But there were other days when he felt that his profound uneasiness was an undeniable proof of the fault's existence, and that although he himself might not be able to name it, it was clear enough to others, particularly those in power: at all events they had given many of the good appointments to other men, not to him.

Fourth dog-ear: this one deals with Stephen and how he plays cards.  Speaking of how he learned to play cards, he found from his teacher that the pupil of the eye expands and contracts involutarily and that it could be read as if you were looking at your opponents cards.  The more emotional the player and the higher the stakes the greater the effect; but it worked in any circumstances, so long as there was something to win or lose.  The only trouble was that you had to have excellent eyes to see the change; you had to have a good deal of practice to interpret it; and your opponent had to be well lit.  Stephen had excellent eyes, and he had had a great deal of practice, having used the method with remarkable effect in his interrogations.

Fifth dog-ear: Jack was eating his dinner not in the dining-cabin but right aft, sitting with his face to the great stern-window, so that on the far side of the glass and a biscuit-toss below the frigate's wake streamed away and away from him, dead white in the troubled green, so white that the gulls, poising and swooping over it, looked quite dingy.  This was a sight that never failed to move him: the noble curve of shining panes, wholly unlike any landborn window, and then the sea in some one of its infinity of aspects; and the whole in silence, entirely to himself.  If he spent the rest of his life on half-pay in a debtors' prison he would still have had this, he reflected, eating the last of the Cephalonian cheese; and it was something over and above any reward he could possible have contracted for.

The last dog-ear: Stephen slept the longer of the two, but when at last he came on deck he found that he was in time for an evening so perfect that it made all foul weather seem worth while: with a flowing sheet and under an easy sail the Surprise was slipping through the sea: and such a sea, smooth, dreamlike, limitless, with an infinity of subtle nacreaous colours merging into one another and a vast pure sky overhead.  It was one of those days when there was no horizon; it was impossible to tell at what point in the pearly haze the sea met the sky, and this increased the sense of immensity.

Those last two passages are quite remarkable and I read them over and over again - the love of the sea.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian

The Ionian Mission was an OK read.  It really was two books in one ... the first half being the blockade mission with Admiral Thornton and then the actual Ionian Mission under the direction of Admiral Harte.  I enjoyed the first 'book.'  But the 2nd book was a bit convoluted.  This is where the wiki entry helped me a bit.  However, the battle at the very end of the book was actually the best part.

There were a few zingers in this book.  I thought I'd share them.

Bugger old Harte, bugger old Harte
That red-faced son of a blue French fart.

In another part, Jack meets an old flame - Mercedes.  As she was walking down the stairs, Jack made a few mental notes: "Still pigeon-plump, but no vast spreading bulk, no moustache, no coarseness."  No moustache!?  That one had me rolling.

There were a few others, but I either couldn't find the page or didn't earmark it.

Anyway - average book, but not really the best.

On to Treason's Harbour.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Surgeon's Mate by Patrick O'Brian

As always, a clear summary is provided at Wikipedia - click here.

This book sees the return to Europe of Jack and Stephen.  The chase across the Atlantic was pretty interesting.  There was even some juicy parts with Jack trying to deal with Miss Smith telling him that she was expecting his child.

I'm always learning a bit about the Napoleonic Wars.  That era seems to be very fascinating - especially in trying to understand the dynamics of the European powers and the United States.  The whole background to these novels deals with trying to overthrow Napoleon.  It has piqued my interested enough that I may try to find a good book about those wars and perhaps the man too.

This book was no different in shedding some more light on that era.  But of course I'm entirely reliant on Wikipedia in learning what was fact and what was fiction.

So because Wikipedia provides such good summaries, I asked myself the question "why no just read the summaries and be done with it?"  It is because O'Brian paints such a rich picture of that era.  I really do get caught up in the details of sea-life.  Also, I've been really enjoying reading how O'Brian manages to keep Stephen alive.  He puts him in some really tight spots.  The spying and the intrigue are fascinating.  So in summary, the books are far, far richer and enjoyable than the summaries ... which is why we read anyway, right?  To be transported to another place and time.

And one more tid-bit ... this from Wikipedia: "The book title is a triple entendre in its use of the term "mate", referring to a ship's surgeon's assistant, a chess reference to Maturin's successful espionage efforts (i.e., checkmate), and Maturin getting married at the end of the story."

I'm not sure I entirely agree with the chess reference.  If it refers to the defeat of Napoleon, it doesn't work.  However, if it refers to the successful escape (and re-escape) from the American Johnson, then I can see it.

On to The Ionian Mission.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian

This was my favorite book thus far in the series.  I've struggled a bit at times in some of the first books, but this was the first one that I blazed through because it held my attention the entire time.

Maybe it was because I just finished the Ian Toll book which dove heavily into the War of 1812.  Maybe it was because I'm finally used to the sea-jargon.

There were a couple of parts that I really liked.  This first one has to do with Jack and his crew surviving a fire on board the ship after which they must endure the weeks at sea on a small boat.

"A little after moonrise Stephen woke.  Extreme hunger had brought on cramps in his midriff again and he held his breath to let them pass: Jack was still sitting there, the tiller under his knee, the sheet in his hand, as though he had never moved, as though he were as immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar and as unaffected by hunger, thirst, fatigue, or despondency.  In this light he even looked rock-like, the moon picking out the salient of his nose and jaw and turning his broad shoulders and upper man into a single massive block.  He had in fact lost almost as much weight as a man can lose and live, and in the day his shrunken, bearded face with deep-sunk eyes was barely recognizable; but the moon showed the man unchanged."

Again - POB does a great job describing and painting Captain Jack Aubrey.

Another passage I got a kick out of was when POB was describing how couth Diana had become in a life among men.

"A few more years of this company, and she would not scruple to fart."

A just a couple of other comments ... my heart rate quickened when Stephen was reading Johnson's papers when two French agents came in at two different times.  He quickly and coolly killed them.  Maturin is an amazing and complex character and him taking out these two French agents made me wonder if he was the original 007.

And the other comment was the happiness in reading the note Diana had written to him ... they she would happily marry Stephen.  The poor fellow, after that rough night, got some good news!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Six Frigates by Ian Toll

What an amazing book!  This book caught my eye while perusing Half Priced Books a while back and I've been itching to read it.

The six frigates the book refers to are the original ships of the line the United State built to form its Navy.

More than anything, this book seemed to be more steeped in history than strictly sticking to the frigates.  And this is so because these first battleships were closely intertwined with the politics of the Adams, Jefferson and Madison administrations.

I learned not only about the beginning of the Navy, but about world history in the period leading up to and including the War of 1812.  I was quite ignorant about this period of history.  Having read this book will also give me a stronger background for the Patrick O'Brian books.  In fact, Toll quoted a part of The Fortune of War which described the battle between Constitution and Java (both wikipedia entries have a section describing the battle between these two ships).

As a side note, when I decorated my office, I wanted a model ship on my shelf.  I ended up finding an old beat-up model at a garage sale.  It is a replica of the Constitution.  I never knew this battleship was so famous and amazing - again, this shows my ignorance and is therefore another reason I'm reading all these historical books.

Toll also provides an epilogue as well as some major events in the Navy and history of the six frigates leading up to 2005.  One of the nuggets he shared was Theodore Roosevelt's obsession with the Navy and some of his policies.  That might be another future book I'll be reading.

Overall, Six Frigates was exceptional.  It held my interest, was very informative and is well written.  It comes complete with an index and references.  Toll did history a tremendous favor with this book.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian

Desolation Island was a very good read.  The actual island Captain Aubrey landed on after being shipwrecked is now called today the Kerguelen Islands.  I also need to start including links to Tom Horn's site in these posts.  Here is his mapping of Desolation Island.  It's a very useful site for tracking voyages.

The book started off a bit slow, but then began picking up as the Dutch ship began tracking them.  The usual battle ensued and Lucky Jack survived another injury that should have killed him.

After they hit an iceberg and damaged the ship, they wobbled along eastward hoping to land on some island.  Jack had a number of plans running in his head ... all different sorts of variables needed accounting.  It was at this point that I read the following passage:

These and many more were decisions that only he could take.  Collective wisdom might do better, but a ship could not be a parliament: there was no time for debate.  The situation was changing fast, as it often did before an action, when a whole carefully worked-out plan might have to be discarded in a moment, and new steps decided upon.  This rested on him alone, and rarely had he felt more lonely, nor more fallible, as he saw the headland advancing towards him, and with it the moment of decision.  The lack of sleep, the pain, the confusion of day and night for weeks on end, had told upon him; his head was thick and stupid; yet a mistake in the next hour might cost the ship her life.

Does that passage not describe a captain's life perfectly?  I really enjoyed that paragraph.

Then a bit later on in the book after they had landed, Jack confided this in Stephen:

It is a great relief to whine a litte, rather than play the perpetual encouraging know-all, so I lay it on a trifle thick: don't take me too seriously, Stephen."

This sentence reveals a bit more of the burden a captain must bear.  He cannot afford the luxury of not knowing or of showing any despair.  Ever the optimist and commander he must be.

And lastly - it was a pleasant surprise to hear the name of the American captain who rescued the Leopard: Captain Winthrop Putnam!  And I got a good chuckle when learning of Captain Putnam's ailment ... a swollen, decaying tooth!  My son just went to the doctor to have a swollen, decaying tooth removed (he just didn't want to pull this tooth!)

I am taking a quick break from Patrick O'Brian.  With Desolation Island being part the of the War of 1812 arc, turning to this next book will be quite informative.  Desolation Island introduced a number of Americans as well as a few of their ships.  The book I began reading today is Six Frigates by Ian Toll.  It is about the founding of the United States Navy.  I have only ready 13 pages of the book and I have already had a few "tingles" ... I know it will be an amazing book!