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Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  351 ratings  ·  33 reviews
From the bestselling author of Under the Black Flag, comes the definitive biography of the swashbuckling 19th century maritime hero upon whom Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower are based.

Nicknamed le loup des mers ("the sea wolf") by Napoleon, Thomas Cochrane was one of the most daring and successful naval heroes of all time. In this fascinating account of Cochrane's life,
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published September 18th 2007 by Bloomsbury USA (first published July 1st 2004)
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Six Frigates by Ian W. TollIn the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel PhilbrickTwo Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr.The Pirate Coast by Richard ZacksLongitude by Dava Sobel
Age of Sail Nonfiction
7th out of 120 books — 30 voters
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Naval Fiction
24th out of 47 books — 11 voters

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Community Reviews

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Dana Stabenow
Chances are you've already heard of Horatio Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, even Frank Mildmay. But how about Thomas Cochrane, the real life British naval officer upon whose life and career all of these fictional characters are at least in part based?

That's what I thought. Don't worry, David Cordingly's Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander has got you covered.

The best biographies illuminate not only their title character but the time and place in which that character lives, and this book does that i
David Campton
A biography of a naval figure overshadowed by better known contemporaries such as Nelson and Collingwood, at least here in the UK, but who was reputedly one of the inspirations for Hornblower and Aubrey. It reads as well as a Hornblower story and reveals a complex character who was both bold in battle and unusually careful for the lives of those under his command, despite a seemingly haughty demeanour. He was also somewhat paranoid (though perhaps with some cause) and had an obsession with money ...more
Monthly Book Group
Cochrane was a Scot who had led a quite remarkable life. He had fought highly dramatic battles in Napoleonic times, becoming much celebrated, but had also been accused of conspiracy and fraud. He had recovered to have a whole new and highly celebrated naval career in South America. His life was so exciting that he was the inspiration for much naval fiction, including the work of Captain Marryat who served under him, C.S.Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, and more recently Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubr ...more
Gilly McGillicuddy
As per usual, just copypasta from what I wrote in my LJ when I was reading it. Why yes, I am a Patrick O'Brian fan, why do you ask?


I'm trying to figure out just how much Jack and Cochrane's pre-commander careers overlapped. Both were lieutenants on the Resolution! The Reso, the good old Reso. Only for Jack it was at least his second time aboard her. And I love the little anecdote about the first lieutenant sawing his sea chest in half because it was too big to fit. AHAHA. Pwned.


I wanted to read this book to learn more about the remarkable man whose life provided the raw material for the tales of Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower. Cordingly's excellent historical biography deserves to be read on its own merits.

Lord Thomas Cochrane executed such stunningly audacious feats - successfully attacking much larger ships with his small sloop Speedy, leading an attack of fireships on the French fleet at Basque Roads, and helping Chile and Brazil establish their independence -
An interesting and well-written exploration of a relatively unknown figure, who nevertheless took part in or witnessed some major events of the 19th century. Cordingly, well-known for writing about pirates, reveals a polarising naval officer whose pride and unpopular political beliefs led him from command of his own ship and a position in Westminster to financial ruin and self-imposed exile in South America. The author carefully avoids taking sides in some of the more controversial elements of C ...more
Caleb Swaner
A solid, overall enjoyable biography of an astounding man.

Having read Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, it's strange to see that all the things and events that made 'Lucky' Jack Aubrey a great fictional character, are simply biographical for Thomas Cochrane.

I give it 4/5 stars because I think the author spoils (as much as a historical record can be) the naturally building drama of many of the events by telling you how it turns out before describing the action. I also felt his retelling of
If you enjoyed Master and Commander, or even just enjoy the stories of the British at sea during the peak of their empire, this is a great book for you. Few people know about Thomas Cochrane, whose life was the basis for the movie Master and Commander. Instead of being Crowe-esque, however, Cochrane was a giant ginger who worked his way as a midshipman - all while learning to scrub decks unlike most officers - to becoming one of the most revered captains of his day and to the downfall that follo ...more
Michael Thompson
I read this after finishing all of the, "Master & Commander" series. Who knew the main character in the fictional series did as much crazy stuff in a real-life person? He led one very interesting life. Cochrane was one very ballsy/lucky S.O.B. when it came to military matters and a naive babe in the woods when it came to money. The man also had an appetite for beautiful women, no matter how powerful their husbands were. You gotta love this guy.
Jason , etc.
It's always fascinating to read biographies of individuals whose real-life exploits are so clearly the inspiration for fictional masterpieces. Lord Cochrane's life in both the British navy and his 'freelance' efforts in South America make for great reading (or listening in this case). What gives the book additional depth is the time spent detailing Cochrane's battle with personal and professional demons. It's a compelling story largely due to how, having fallen from grace through (debatably) no ...more
Outstanding! Exciting read about a man I've never heard of until now. Can definitely see from where O'Brian got a little of his material for Aubrey/Maturin.
Bas Kreuger
Nice book on the life of Lord Cochrane, a naval hero in the wars against Napoleon and the South-American wars of liberation in the 1820's.
Well researched and written, it is a bit dry here and there, the extraordinary exploits of Cochrane not withstanding.
Not only gives it an very good example of a most humane commander, it also paints a picture of the social, economic and political life of the nobility in the late 18th and early 19th century. Cochrane is an example how the mighty can fall (and r
This is a good book. It takes one back to the final days of the glorious age of sail. It tells the story of a man who accomplished much in his life. A man that while often larger than life, had an all to recognizable human side. It conveyed to me what can be achieved by taking a few risks in life. While often times these proved to be Cochrane's downfall, they no doubt convey the nature of why he is remembered so many years later. I recommend this book.
Lindsay Eaton
Awesome book by a great author. This is the story of Lord Thomas Cochrane, later the 10th Earl of Dundonald, whose daring exploits as a naval captain during the Napoleonic Wars were the inspiration for much of the naval fiction of nineteenth and twentieth-century novelists, particularly C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower and Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey. Particularly well researched and written, this was a 'can't put down' book for me. Highly recommended
One of the back cover reviews was quite accurate -- as an Aubrey-Maturin fan, I enjoyed reading this book and spotting the similarities between Cochrane's career and Jack Aubrey's. If anything, it made Jack Aubrey seem more realistic, more feasible. As the book goes on, the similarities begin to fade, but it remains an interesting tale of an interesting man, if less satisfying than such a deft set of historical novels.
Alex Stinson
Great biography, and definitely does justice for the inspiration to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey Maturin series.
Politics never change.... And I want to be a Lord
Harry Lane
A well written and researched biography of a little known British captain and admiral, who was also something of an inventor and political figure. Some of his seagoing exploits are quite breathtaking, and justify the subtitle to an extent. The real person, however, is a much more complex individual with some serious character flaws that adversely affected his career.
“Thomas Cochrane was born 14 December 1775. He was in good company that year. Jane Austen was born two days later at her father's rectory in Hampshire; with two brothers in the navy she would take a keen interest in naval affairs, and the life of Captain Francis Austen would cross the path of the future Captain Lord Cochrane on more than one occasion.” p12.
Feb 27, 2010 Burt rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of the age of sail
Shelves: history
Lately I've been interested in reading biographies of the captains in the Royal Navy upon whom the likes of Hornblower, Bolitho, Aubrey, and Kydd were patterned after. This is the most recent. Cochrane was a very complex character. A hero among frigate captains in the Napoleonic era, he had a number of failings as a human being.
Jan (the Gryphon)
Jul 03, 2009 Jan (the Gryphon) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jan (the Gryphon) by: Donna Jo
Shelves: biography
Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, was not the sort of man to suffer fools gladly. Therefore, he did not do as well politically as he did in command of a ship. Because of politics, he could not do well with his inventions. Yet he was a heroic figure, even in his own lifetime.

Russell Crowe did the material credit.
Patrick McFarland
The fascinating story of the man behind the legend of Jack Aubrey. Cochrane was a brash, no nonsense Captain, loved by his crew but hated by his superiors. An unparalleled genius second only to Nelson in military prowess. A great story of a great man.
Really good book. A "must read" for fans of Patrick O'Brian. Cochrane was a complex figure born of the aristocracy that spent his life crusading for liberty while trying to make a buck. Or should I say pound?
Feb 22, 2013 Tracey marked it as to-read
SDMB recco: carnivorousplant "A biography of Thomas Cochrane, Lord Dundonald, a British naval hero of the nineteenth century.
The characters Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey are based on him."
great supplement to my reading of the Hornblower books also supplied history of the liberation of Chile and Peru. This was the day when a sailor may serve in many navies.
Stephen Gagin
If you are a fan of the Patrick O'Brien Aubry/MAturin series, this books tells of the real life British hero "Lucky Jack" is based on.
David Eppenstein
A good biography of the man said to be the model for Patrick O'Brian's Capt.Jack Aubrey. A good read for Age of Sail fans.
Immensely readable biography of the Scottish naval hero on whom many series of books have been based.
Very readable account of a hitherto unknown to me Scotsman.
Peter Sullivan
A little heavy going in places but overall a good read
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David Cordingly is an English naval historian who is considered one of the leading authorities on pirates. He held the position of Keeper of Pictures and Head of Exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England for twelve years.

David Cordingly organised several exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum, including Captain James Cook, Navigator and The Mutiny on the Bounty. Perhap
More about David Cordingly...
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