Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain
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Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  116 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Edward Pellew, captain of the legendary Indefatigable, was quite simply the greatest British frigate captain in the age of sail. Left fatherless at age eight, with a penniless mother and five siblings, Pellew fought his way from the very bottom of the navy to fleet command. Victories and eye-catching feats won him a public following. Yet he had a gift for antagonizing his...more
Hardcover, 354 pages
Published October 15th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 1st 2012)
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Pellew was England's greatest Frigate captain. He won his spurs before anyone had heard of Nelson. But (although arising from similar simple and plain-spoken origins), Pellew lacked the grace, devotion of subordinates, and Nelsonian quasi-religious martyrdom at Trafalgar. He suffered fools poorly, had no idea how to fit within London society (despite a term as MP), and became life-long enemies with Jervis (St Vincent), a figure whose style should have complemented Pelew's.

This is a very good re...more
Jonathon Dyer
Sir Edward Pellew - later Lord Exmouth - is one of the great, relatively unknown heroes of the Napoleonic era. Born of common stock, he acquitted himself as a sailor, tactician and leader of men from an early age in the American Revolutionary War (or the War of Independence, as the other side referred to it) in a boat battle against Benedict Arnold's forces in Canada, and went on to be one of the highest prize-takers in the British Navy. Captured enemy ships were taken as "prize", with the Navy...more
Though he's best known today from the fictional Hornblower series by C.S. Forester, the real Sir Edward Pellew - later 1st Viscount Exmouth - was a far from obscure figure. From his first command in the American Revolutionary War, where he played a key role in the the defeat of Benedict Arnold's makeshift American navy on Lake Champlain, to his success in the decades of war against France after the revolution, troubled Indian command, and the bombardment of Algiers (also related in Gile's Milton...more
EXCELLENT book. Sir Edward Pellew / Lord Exmouth was far more famous as Horatio Hornblower's mentor and for serving as a model for Jack Aubrey in the Aubreid. But fiction did not do him justice. While Nelson is the Immortal of the British Navy of the age, Pellew fought a number of single-ship frigate actions (far rarer than fiction would have you believe, it seems) that marked him as the most capable seaman and captain of his time. He excelled at training his crews into a very cohesive fighting...more
I was very excited to read this book, but it took me ages to finish. It's a bit dry and a bit repetitive (writes the lawyer, used to reading dry, repetitive books).

There's a bad error made about Pellew being "overdue" to promotion to admiral, when the reality was promotion was strictly according to the Navy List (that is, by seniority -- once you made captain, you had to wait your turn; if you lived long enough, you'd make admiral). That's Age of Sail 101. It's possible the author meant somethi...more
I really enjoyed this book. The subject, Edward Pellew, is a fascinating and compelling character. Pellew was a powerful, vital sea commander of great courage and zeal. He treated his crews fairly, fought his enemies fiercely, and loved his family deeply. His career showed what a leader can do who is willing to lead from the front, treat everyone with respect, and clearly focus the team on their goals. The author also touched on Pellew's weaknesses such as pushing his older sons too fast into ca...more
Susan Paxton
A well-written and carefully researched biography of one of the less well-known heroes of the Royal Navy during the wars against France, Sir Edward Pellew. Taylor's book is thorough, perceptive, and an excellent introduction to Pellew, who has become unfortunately mostly a footnote thanks to his role in one of C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels. Great reading, a fine and sympathetic portrait of a very complicated man, and highly recommended.
An extremely good biography, told at just the right level of detail.
Ein Glück, dass sich nach bald schon wieder einem Jahrhundert ein neuer Autor dieser faszinierenden Persönlichkeit angenommen hat.

Das einzige, was sich dieser Schreiber im Vergleich mit seinen Vorgängern vorwerfen lassen muss, ist, dass er ein wenig trockener schreibt. Was für eine Biografie allerdings kein Genickbruch ist. Zumal ich, wie in den anderen Reviews schon angedeutet, mich bei den Vorgängern durchaus oft gewundert hat, was der ein oder andere Paragraph überhaupt in einer Biografie ve...more
"Navy Captains were usually thought respectable suitors, although whether Edward Pellew fitted Jane Austen's genteel model for the type is another matter". -Stephen Taylor "Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain" pg 55

"Succouring the helpless was bound up with his ideals of the knight-errant - ideals that smack today of quaint romanticism but chimed with Jane Austen's notion of a fraternity of Navy officers, described - in Persuasion - as having in "their brotherl...more
Jul 09, 2014 Leelan added it
Shelves: history
Christmas present. My wife really loves me!


I'm on page 99 now. It's a fascinating read. Despite the author's initial protestations that the Life of Edward Pellew, the "Commander" and subject of this book, formed the basis for O'Brian's Jack Aubrey, so far I see more parallels to Forester's Horatio Hornblower. It's like Forester stole Pellew's life and gave it to Hornblower. But that's OK. O'Brian is a poor writer when compared to Forester. I read O'Brian'...more
C. Patrick
I found this to be a thoroughly excellent history, well written and paced, and very readable. An amazing story of Britain's greatest seaman, and as the author would out it, the greatest frigate captain. The punitive fleet action against Algiers made for fairly gripping reading, especially since I did not know the particulars of that event. I came to know Pellew through Hornblower, probably like many, and was glad to see him get his due in Taylor's book. Recommended.
Interesting book . Initially not what at face value would appeal to female readers. However, the author creates the story around a man who is brave and heroic yet suffers the human condition of self doubt and interestingly blind to the flaws in his children.
Michael Silberman
For anyone who likes the Jack Aubrey or Horatio Hornblower books, this is the real thing. A well-told biography of Edward Pellew, the real-life model for both of those fictional British Naval captains. Very enjoyable.
A scrupulously researched and very fair telling of the life and achievements of the man who was argueably "The Greatest British Sea Officer of the Age of Sail". He suffered from the effects of living a long life and not the martyred saintdom of Nelson. He deserves to be remembered for who he trully was and not merely the fictionalized mentor of Horatio Hornblower. After all the Truth is stranger(and better) than fiction.
David Eppenstein
If you are a fan of the Age of Sail then you are familiar with Edward Pellew. This was an informative and detailed review of this celebrated British Naval Hero and fictional mentor of Horatio Hornblower. I found the book both entertaining and enlightening.
Excellent revelation of how the vagueries of Celebrity & History can raise or obscure.
The subject Edward Pewell a contemporary of Horatio Nelson & his equal in origins, seamanship & career achievements, yet largely unknown & ignored.
Sam Schreiner
Great read of one of the best Frigate Commanders England had. Somehow Pellew's accomplishments are obscured in Nelson's shadow but Taylor makes that case that he was the better fighting sailor.
Julian Stockwin
Stephen Taylor skillfully paints a picture of a hugely engaging and sympathetic figure. I've always admired Pellew's superb seamanship, valour, gallantry and courage.
Stephen Dennis
Fans of Patrick OBrian novels will enjoy this real life adventure of the Sea Captain that inspired O'Brian. Interesting and fast moving history.
Alex Fernandez
Commander by Stephen Taylor is a fine book with a subject matter I find interesting. I felt it started to drag about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through.
Laurie Looper
As an aficionado of books on the age of fighting sail, I was excited to get this book. While the subject was interesting, the pacing was too slow.
Real life model for Jack Aubrey. "There is not a moment to lose."

Fascinating, detailed description of the Battle of Algiers in 1816.
Paul Downs
If you like Patrick O'Brian's books, this is a nice look at the real-life Jack Aubrey.
Brad Hayes
Wonderful biography from the golden age of sail. Reads as swiftly as Forester of Pope.
Rolf Mueller
cool to read historical basis for much of captain jack aubrey
Loving it!
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Aug 14, 2014
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Aug 19, 2014
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Stephen Taylor grew up in South Africa, and now works for The Times. He is the author of several celebrated books on Africa. The Mighty Nimrod (1989) was praised by Wilfred Thesiger as 'comprehensive and perceptive', while Jan Morris declared his history of the Zulu people, Shaka's Children (1994) a 'generous and truly moving work'. His most recent, Livingston's Tribe: A Journey from Zanzibar to t...more
More about Stephen Taylor...
Caliban's Shore: The Wreck of the Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors Storm and Conquest: The Clash of Empires in the Eastern Seas, 1809 Livingstone's Tribe: A Journey from Zanzibar to the Cape Shaka's Children: A History of the Zulu People Some Ideas on Living in London and Tokyo

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