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A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  2,248 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
This comprehensive lexicon provides definitions of nautical terms, historical entries describing the people and political events that shaped the period, and detailed explanations of the scientific, medical, and biblical references that appear in the novels.
Paperback, Third Edition, 528 pages
Published October 1st 2000 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1995)
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Jan 18, 2010 Jason rated it liked it
A Sea of Words is perfectly described by its subtitle: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian. If you've invested any time at all in reading the 22-part Aubrey/Maturin series of nautical tales, you would be painfully remiss in not having by your side for quick reference A Sea of Words. You will not--I reiterate--you will not understand the nautical or medical terms O'Brian pours forth, not even if you're a seasoned sailor or physician. Why? Because these terms ...more
This is another of the reference books on the first shelf in my Shelf-Clearing Project. When I first read Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, it seemed as if there were whole pages on which the only words I understood were a, an, and the. Yet I loved it, and pressed on through many more of the Aubrey-Maturin series. This book was a tremendous help, as it would be for anyone who isn't a lifelong sailor and an expert on the Napoleonic era in sea warfare. It would be useful, too, in reading oth ...more
Aug 22, 2010 Daniel added it
I was excited about this when I got it, and it's been very helpful in general.

But the more I try to use it the more I wish it was slightly more comprehensive. It does not contain quite all of the nautical and technical jargon I want to know. I especially wish that the diagrams in the front of the book showing the anatomy of a ship were much more fact I could go for an extra ten pages or so just of these types of labelled drawings. The big things are listed but there are so many li
Jan 22, 2012 J rated it really liked it
Definitely keep this book around whenever you haul out one of the Aubrey/Maturin adventures. The start of the book describes ship types, the structure of the Royal Navy's bureaucracy, ranks and a lengthy piece about medicine at the turn of the 19th century. These were fascinating and a good introduction to the series. The dictionary part is very comprehensive, I have yet to look up a confusing word from the book and not find it here. The dictionary has nautical, medical and scientific terms alon ...more
Aug 19, 2014 Eric rated it it was amazing
This book is basically a glossary of terms relating to ships, sailing, and the navy as per the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. If you are interested in the English Navy during the Napoleonic Wars it might be of interest to you, otherwise I recommend it only as a pre-read and continuing reference book while you read the O'Brian books.

I started the first book in the series years ago after watching the great film "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World" (dir. Peter Weir) which is now
H. Honsinger
Feb 25, 2014 H. Honsinger rated it really liked it
If you are an Aubry/Maturin fan and didn't actually sail on a British Man of War circa 1807, this book is your essential companion. Here you will learn about the various kinds of vessels that O'Brian mentions (pinks, snows, polacres, etc.) but also all the cat-harpings and hawser-laid cables, and mouses (a part of the rigging) that one encounters in these books. In addition, there is a fascinating chapter on the medicine of the age--what did Dr. Maturin know about the body and what did he do wit ...more
Joe Haack
Nov 11, 2013 Joe Haack rated it liked it
The two introductory essays are very helpful if, like me (and everybody?), you are completely in the dark on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic War. The remainder of the book is a glossary and encyclopedia of terms and events that factor in the O'Brian novels. I am currently beginning the series, so I was excited to happen across this volume. Truthfully, it will probably slow my pace down considerably. I haven't decided if that is a good thing...
Tripp Lilley
May 31, 2014 Tripp Lilley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reference, history
This book is a great companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels. In them, O'Brian diligently maintains authentic dialog, uses accurate technical terms, and doesn't break the resulting immersion by explaining those things. A reference like this is, therefore, absolutely essential to fully appreciating the work that O'Brian has invested in the reader's total envelopment in the world he's both recounting and remaking.

In a complementary work of excellence, King brings us easy access to, and understandin
Feb 16, 2014 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: seafaring
You know your recreational reading has gotten out of hand when you read reference book about it. The historical essays are essential and the the lexicon is very helpful.
Scott Cox
This is one of those books I've lost, and wish I could find again! I used it extensively when reading the first volumes of the Master and Commander historic naval war series by Patrick O'Brian. I found the nautical and ship terminology daunting prior to purchasing this book. However there is much additional valuable information included in this book; it can be considered a primer for understanding the culture and times of which the Aubrey/Maturin series takes place. I really wish I could find th ...more
Neil Coulter

Like the girl in the nursery rhyme, when this book is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid. Dean King's Sea of Words is, as the back cover quote proclaims, "a godsend, a must-have book." Anyone who dips into the Aubrey/Maturin series is overwhelmed by the amount of archaic, period vocabulary on almost every page. And I don't feel that O'Brian is showing off just for the fun of it; I sense that he has so immersed himself of the writing of that time that it flows naturally

Todd Stockslager
Second Edition.

A valuable companion for O'Brian's books that would be even better if included more contextual quotes or explanations of how O'Brian used some of the terms in the books.

Pair this with Harbors and High Seas, 3rd Edition : An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O'Brian, Third Edition on your reference shelf if you are a real fan
Dec 23, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it
If you are going to read the Patrick O'Brian series, this book is indispensable. From explaining the bells of time for the ship to descriptions of food, including "spotted dick", weapons, and the ships encountered in the stories it's a great companion to the series.
Chris Conrady
Apr 09, 2012 Chris Conrady rated it really liked it
If you are reading O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series and are not already a master of 19th century British jargon, both slang and official nautical terms, primitive medical techniques, famous naval people and battles, and a variety of Latin, French, Portuguese sayings, you should own this book. I'm presently on book 12 of the 21 book series and have this by my side at all times referring to it often. There is rarely a word or term that I've sought out that wasn't there and it helps provide clarity ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Teri rated it it was amazing
This is a great reference companion to use while reading seafaring books such as Patrick O'Brian's, Dudley Pope, Dewey Lambdin, C.S. Forester and even L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series I am currently enjoying. I have even pulled it out to peruse for its own merit.
May 27, 2016 Mike rated it it was amazing
One does not need historical background essays or a lexicon of Napoleonic era naval terminology to enjoy Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, but it sure doesn't hurt. Every time I consult this to look something up (What's the difference between a xebec and a felucca? What advantages might a carronade have over a cannon in a sea-battle? What's the relationship between the Admiralty, the Navy Board, and the Ordnance Board?) I follow threads to other entries and get lost for a bit before I ret ...more
Apr 26, 2008 Siria rated it really liked it
I've only had time to browse through this briefly, but so far it looks to be exactly what I was after. It's quite a thick paper back - nearly 500 words or so - with chapters that cover the structure of the Royal Navy, naval ranks, the Napoleonic Wars, and contemporary naval medicine. There are also maps, diagrams of various types of ships, and a large lexicon covering all the various types of naval jargon and period slang which appear in the Aubrey-Maturin books. I can now happily say that I kno ...more
Chastity Pro bono
Dec 15, 2014 Chastity Pro bono rated it really liked it
Essential for navigating all the naval nomenclature in Patrick O'Brian's wonderful Aubrey/Maturin series.
Oct 04, 2015 Alison rated it really liked it
Great companion for Patrick O'Brian and other books with ships as main characters:-)
Mark Orr
Oct 20, 2014 Mark Orr rated it it was amazing
Great resource for Naval fiction, and the 18th early 19th century terminology!
Jul 01, 2015 David rated it it was ok
Needs a few (or several) dozen more illustrations.
Nan B
Very helpful when listening to the series.
Clay Davis
Aug 08, 2016 Clay Davis rated it really liked it
The author writes on page 382 that St. Helena is in the South Atlantic but on page 498 that that island is in the South Pacific.
Mar 05, 2014 Charlotte added it
Shelves: for-sale
Aug 28, 2012 Bill rated it really liked it
I don't know that this is a book one reads cover-to-cover, but it IS one in which I could spend hours jumping from reference to reference. In front of his nautical lexicon for Patrick O'Brian's stories are articles on the composition of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, 18th Century medicine, and illustrated sail plans and rigging for ships mentioned in the Aubrey-Maturin novels. Get this book and you'll be able to develop a deeper appreciation of O'Brian's masterful works!
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
May 03, 2010 Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) by:
An absolute gem! This is indispensable if one is reading Patrick O'Brian's 'Aubreyiad,' or for that matter, any historical naval fiction set during the Napoleonic wars or War of 1812. This is an incredibly thorough and comprehensive lexicon covering all things nautical, natural science, medical, as well as political and social. I highly recommend having this on the shelf if you are planning to read the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin novels.
This is a MUST READ if you are sloshing your way through the Aubrey-Maturin series. If you know nothing (like me) about ships, sailing, the Napoleonic wars between Britain, France and Spain, this appendix will fill the gaps in.

O'Brian's style of writing assumes that you know just as much as he does about sails, lee, starboard, larboard, etc. etc. etc. ... and that is some of the charm of the books.
Mar 18, 2016 Eric rated it it was amazing
Great companion book to the Aubrey/Maturin series, and a must-get after you're through the first three books or so. I don't refer to it a lot, but enjoy flipping through it and reading bits and pieces of time, and it's a great refresher.

When I re-read the entire series in a few years I'll put more work into understanding the ships from these diagrams, and really absorbing the vocabulary.
Jul 07, 2011 Brett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library
My Endorsement (per Barry):
A must have while reading through the Aubrey/Maturin Novels. I keep mine right on the table under whatever O'Brian novel I am currently re-reading!

My Review (for Barry):
A-B started a little slow, but by C things really picked up. I loved how E followed D, and I never saw the twist ending in Z. Definitely the best dictionary I've ever read!
Dec 16, 2012 Jennifer rated it liked it
This book includes several articles on early-19th century seafaring, some really useful illustrations of ships, and a terrific glossary that covers both elementary and obscure terms. I would have rated this book much higher had the electronic edition been at all Kindle-user friendly--scrolling through 100 pages of terms to find definitions is not my idea of a $9.99 reading experience.
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I like to read, wander cross-country, travel in cultures I don't understand, cycle, play squash, and I'm a foodie. But most of all I like to be in the throes of writing a book. This is invigorating work. The moment when the hard-won research combines with a bit of sweat and blood and occasionally a tear to become a fluid paragraph is like no other. What I hope to achieve is to suspend time and dis ...more
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