A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  1,628 ratings  ·  59 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)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Sea of Words, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Sea of Words

The Endurance by Caroline AlexanderEndurance by Alfred LansingSailing Alone around the World by Joshua SlocumMaiden Voyage by Tania AebiKon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
Sailing Cruising
79th out of 143 books — 113 voters
Six Frigates by Ian W. TollIn the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel PhilbrickThe Pirate Coast by Richard ZacksLongitude by Dava SobelCochrane by David Cordingly
Age of Sail Nonfiction
79th out of 116 books — 24 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,485)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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
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 detailed...in 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...more
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
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...more
H. Paul Honsinger
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
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
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...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
Chris Conrady
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
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.
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
Mar 05, 2014 Charlotte added it
Shelves: for-sale
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!
Christopher H.
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.
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!
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.
I wanted to rate this higher because anything that enhances the reading of the Aubrey-Maturin tales is a plus, but as good as the lexicon is:
1. It lacks many geographical references and maps...you need Harbors and High Seas
2. It isn't comprehensive on ships of that era
3. More and better illustrations would be a plus and would have me reaching for it more often
Ann Michael
I have not read the entire O'Brian series, but I adore this lexicon. If you are a 'word person' who likes to browse dictionaries, learn antiquated words, and glean information about technologies of times past, this book is for you. And yes, it is also a handy reference when one is reading historical fiction--particularly of the nautical variety.
Jul 24, 2012 Ginny rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
This book is an invaluable companion to the Aubrey-Maturin series. I wish I'd picked it up earlier in my reading of the books, but I'm looking forward to rereading them with this next to me. It greatly enhances one's understanding and appreciation for the books, and the essays at the beginning are interesting and useful as well.
This book is a fantastic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels, and generally comes down from my shelves each time I finish a jaunt with Jack and Stephen. Of particular value to nerds like myself are the illustrations of different kinds of ships, as well as different riggings and labeled sail diagrams. Studding sails aloft and alow!
Chris Johnson
If you plan to read the Aubrey/Maturin series from Patrick O'Brian this is an excellent companion volume. Essentially, it defines hundreds of now-obscure naval terms and general terms from the early 19th century. Also has some opening essays that give a good overview of the times.
Roger W.
May 02, 2008 Roger W. added it
Recommends it for: Readers of Patrick O'Brian
This is one of two great reference books to go along with the 20-volume Aubrey-Maturin series of Patrick O'Brian. One can check on any obscure term appearing in those wonderful novels, whether nautical, medical, ornithological or what have you.
This is an amazing book that is a very helpful companion to patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books. It defines all terms and unfamiliar phrases and has information about historical figures. It's also interesting in and of itself.
This is a marvelous book that provided me with all kinds of information, while I was reading O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books. Not being familiar with all the nautical stuff, I was able to look up things I didn't quite understand.
Excellent reference source for anyone who reads a lot of maritime literature. It has helped me more with reading the sea fiction of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville than Patrick O'Brian's books (which I haven't read--yet).
If you're reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin books you're going to need a lexicon in order to understand the nautical terms. This book has been helpful. I just wished the ship schematics were more detailed.
Doug Vanderweide
Doesn't contain enough references to colloquialisms and terms contained in the novels. Too small to be comprehensive. A great premise that would have been better executed as an online wiki.
Aug 10, 2012 David added it
Patrick O'Brian is the bedrock for my Mount Rushmore of authors! If you enjoy reading, you will find his books worthy of your time and probably will find them as favorites.
Helped me a lot while reading Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey novels.

The Age of Sail is so fascinating, but my nautical vocabulary does need the help of books like this.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 82 83 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Patrick O'Brian's Navy
  • Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels
  • Men-of-War: Life in Nelson's Navy
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
More about Dean King...
Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys, The True Story Harbors and High Seas: An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O'Brian Patrick O'Brian: A Life Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival

Share This Book