Books: A Square-Rigged Saga

Patrick O'Brian launches volume 19 of his historical novels of blood, storms and friendship

Not one of those overweening lists and counterlists of 100 greatest novels that provoked such harrumphing a few months ago mentioned the remarkable British novelist Patrick O'Brian. This, his beguiled readers could argue, demeans not O'Brian but the lists. To O'Brian loyalists--readers and re-readers, hangers-about on the O'Brian website, buyers of O'Brian calendars, dictionaries, three-cornered hats (a lie) and period foul-weather gear (another)--what might be open to dispute is whether to reserve, say, one slot high on a new "greatest" roster, or 18 or 20 places very close to the top.

This is because the author's masterwork is an astonishing naval...

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