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Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  703 ratings  ·  61 reviews
From the bestselling author of Under the Black Flag comes the definitive biography of the swashbuckling nineteenth-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
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published October 2nd 2007 by Tantor Media (first published July 1st 2004)
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Dana Stabenow
Oct 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Le Loup des Mers deserves a better bio

I picked this book up on a whim, having recently become interested in the Napoleonic Wars but finding little else on the subject that I could check out from my county’s e-library. Furthermore, I have the first of Patrick O’Brian Aubrey–Maturin books on hold, so it seemed the perfect time to read about the man whom O’Brian’s stalwart fictional hero is modelled on, or as the subtitle tantalizes, “The Real Master and Commander.”

Alas, Cordingly is no O’Brian a
David Campton
Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
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
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
William DuFour
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, military
Outstanding book, read it.
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.


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
Feb 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 -
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting biography of a British Sea Captain during the Napoleonic era. Cochrane was the eldest son of a Scottish Earl who engaged in many dramatic single ship actions and raids and was much admired. However, he appeared to have a persecution complex and always blamed impediments to his career on plotting by others. He was not helped by his Radical views during a repressive time in the UK due to the threat from Napoleon. He was ultimately imprisoned for stock fraud, and after release depart ...more
Feb 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jason , etc.
Jan 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished listening to the audiobook Cochrane by David Cordingly, read by John Lee. Good book, it was more like a nautical adventure novel than a biography; helped by Admiral Cochrane's adventurous life and the narrator's use of accents to highlight the personal quotations. There are many life lessons to be learned from Cochrane's story, some good, others not so much. The biggest is the importance of perseverance. Whether it was a short sea battle or a decades long legal fight, he never gave ...more
Uber Hund
Certainly little doubt can remain that O'Brien drank from Cochrane's biography in deep quaffs to weave his tales of Aubrey and Maturin. Unfortunately, Cordingly's premise is established by dragging the reader through a narrative so academic, so lacking in romance, so devoid of ambiance, one is reminded why so many of us were ruined on the subject of history from the time of grade school.
Mar 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrific biography of the little known navel hero who was the model for Patrick O'Brian to base Captain Jack Aubrey upon.

While Cordingly does take pains not to take Cochrane's autobiography at face value and does include the darker aspects of Cochrane's character, his clear bias in favour of Cochrane diminishes the informativeness of the book. While Cordingly subtly approves of Cochrane fighting for the common sailor and arguing against the huge sums of money some members of the Admiralty made, he glosses over the hypocrisy of Cochrane's own zeal for financial gain (especially in South America). He also glosses ov ...more
Christopher Taylor
A very educational and entertaining biography, in a field that is often very dull and dry. It takes some love of and understanding of Napoleonic sea combat to understand but who else would read such a book?

Cochrane was a very amazing individual of incredible intelligence and courage who was deeply flawed by his crazed ability to turn friends into enemies and take the worst offense when none was intended. His politics were pretty extreme for his day, and he was too stubborn for his own good which
Anthony Nelson
An account of the life of one of Britain's great frigate captains and a champion of radical politics, Cochrane is often considered the model for Jack Aubrey of the Master and Commander series. The book is mostly excellent, with very detailed looks at Cochrane's career both for the British navies and his tenures fighting for freedom in Peru, Brazil, and Greece, but my major complete is that his parliamentary career as a crusading radical reformer comes completely out of nowhere- the reader is giv ...more
Atanas Dimitrov
Feb 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Le Loup des Mers.
Otherwise known as Napoleon's nightmare, the liberator of South America, the radical politician and 10th Earl of Dundonald, and part-time inventor Thomas Cochrane.
Just your regular everyday Joe, right.

By the age of 27 Cochrane had already been the commander of several battle and reconnaissance vessels of varying sizes, participating in dozens - the vast majority of which victorious - skirmishes with Spanish and French ships, embarking on a multitude of coastal raids and proving
Peter Tillman
Good, but overlong biography of a British naval warfare genius in the Napoleonic era. I did finish it, but with some skimming. Cochrane was his own worst enemy, paranoid, devoid of political smarts. But his heart was (mostly) in the right place.

The review that led me to read it was Dana Stabenow's, which is the one to read first:
She liked it a lot more than I did, and maybe you will too.
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, world
This was a terrific biography: honest and balanced, neither worshipping the protagonist or vilifying him, but treating him as a flawed human being. He seems to have been a jerk, but legitimately brilliant and ahead of his time. Fun to read about the real-life brilliance of his fascinating naval actions, even if off of a ship he was not as inspiring of a character (though definitely honorable and honest in his own way). Not a well-known character, but a very fascinating life.
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Well researched and enjoyable biography. Provides historical background for several of the naval actions in Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series. Well worth a read for fans of O'Brians fiction.
Cole Brunton
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think it was a good book because it was interesting to find out more about the topic of the book and I highly suggest anyone interested in pirates or anything about old ships on the sea.
Adam Foster
Eh, interesting enough, but not thrilling. Competent but uninspired, at a certain point in the book, you realize he just wants to get it finished, and so do you as a reader.
Frank Lovering
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun read about an unsung blemished hero!

Loved the storyline about the man., Cochrane. Some parts were a bit dry. All in all, a fun read about a unsung hero!
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you to hear the real historical figure behind Master and Commander as well as Hornblower, read this book. Thomas Cochrane did everything except three times better.
Patrick B
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Another great biography of a Royal Navy frigate captain during the Napoleonic Wars. Some great lessons on how not to act towards your bosses as well.
Jonny Ambrose
Excellent book. Gets under skin of Cochrane and enjoy how Cordingly grappling with pros and cons of whether Cochrane was totally innocent in the Stock Exchange scandal.
Tom Schulte
Aug 18, 2016 rated it liked it
I so like the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World that I wanted to read this book for historical background. Indeed, some of my favorite scenes such as locking with the a larger vessel in a do-or-die maneuver, a sudden timber-snapping turn to face a larger vessel, and setting adrift a phantom lure are all from Cochrane's own life, if at time from his imagined life. Hearing of this Scottish captain's adventures in this Scottish accent of narrator John Lee makes it more the real ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a unique look at the career of Thomas Cochrane. While he was a brilliant naval leader, it seemed as though he became like many individuals who taste glory. His early career told of the dashing naval hero but his later life sounded almost like a man who felt he had been cheated of his destiny and he must regain his rightful place. While there were some who were jealous of his successes and wanted to see him fail - to the point of making sure his reputation was destroyed - Cochr ...more
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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

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