Patrick O’Brian

Patrick O’Brian is the author of a life of Picasso and of a series of naval tales. His study of Joseph Banks is due out next spring.

He lyeth in his teeth

Patrick O’Brian, 18 April 1996

One of this book’s chief virtues is candour. If John Cummins first saw Drake as the knightly figure sans peur et sans reproche who had been held up for admiration to so many generations, it must have grieved him to find how far upwards the feet of clay could reach. But he states the facts with a fine impartiality. This account will have nothing to do with myths such as Drake’s drum (a 19th-century invention, it appears) or the game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe or Drake as the conquering hero in the battle against the Armada; yet even so it is by no means that dreary thing, a debunking book.

Dirty Linen

Patrick O’Brian, 4 August 1994

Both these books are concerned with the sea in the days of the sailing Navy and with the nature of command, so much enhanced in distant waters when communication with government might take half a year rather than half a minute. Drake executed Doughty in Patagonia without a qualm; or at least without being disturbed for doing so when he came home.

Happy in Heaven

Patrick O’Brian, 10 February 1994

In France there have been many studies of Saint-Exupéry since his death in 1944; the five books he published are continually kept in print; and Le Petit Prince is to be found everywhere. In England his following was never so great, and although he remains a very well-known name he has not attracted anything like as much critical or biographical attention: this book, however, provides a full account of his life, with a good deal of information that is not to be found elsewhere.

Some More Sea

Patrick O’Brian, 10 September 1992

The last few years have been rich in Oxford Books, and I have read three of them: 18th-Century Verse and 18th-Century Women Poets, both edited with great skill and erudition by Roger Lonsdale, and Travel verse, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. When I say ‘read them’ I mean I have dipped copiously, as one usually does with anthologies, sometimes taking years to digest the whole. They all addressed a finite but considerable field (there were many more women, much better poets, than I had supposed) and it seemed to me that they did so most successfully. The fourth to come my way was the Book of the Sea, and this time I read the whole collection right through, together with the preface; perhaps this was not the cleverest way of dealing with the book.

Das Boot

Patrick O’Brian, 30 August 1990

The first of these books is of a kind that rarely comes into the hands of a general reader: it is a highly-detailed account of the submarine war seen from the German side and it was written by a Kriegsmarine officer after the war at the request of the Admiralty and the United States Navy Department. Fregatenkapitän Hessler commanded a U-boat in 1940 and 1941; he then served on the staff of the Flag Officer, Submarines; and for the purpose of writing this book he and the German naval officers who helped him were given access to the War Diaries and the primary sources of the Kriegsmarine. Hessler was also Dönitz’s son-in-law. Few men could have been better-informed; and as he was methodical, conscientious, untiring, he and his assistants produced a work in three volumes, abundantly illustrated with charts and diagrams, of the first importance for anyone interested not only in the strategy, tactics and technology of submarine war as it was then fought and the impact of intelligence upon it, but also in the day-to-day running of a U-boat and life aboard.

When Meredith Potter, the producer, asks Stella, the heroine of An Awfully Big Adventure, what she thinks J.B. Priestley’s Dangerous Corner is about, she says: ‘Love. People loving...

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Crow

Peter Campbell, 5 January 1989

I never knew – I’m not sure I’m pleased to know – that a gull fed an Alka Seltzer sandwich will explode. That, along with a lot of information about what is done to a...

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Toad-Kisser

Peter Campbell, 7 May 1987

That Patrick O’Brian would write a good book about the early life of Joseph Banks was to be expected. Banks combined the enthusiasm and practical competence of one of O’Brian’s...

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