Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Far Side of the World

Patrick O'Brian's Travelogue

By David Luhrssen
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 One of the best historical dramas in recent years, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, was a 2003 film directed by Peter Weir and starring Russell Crowe. Crowe played Jack Aubrey, the Napoleonic era Royal Navy officer created by Patrick O'Brian in a series of seafaring novels.

O'Brian was the last word in historical fiction (nautical division) before his death in 2000; little wonder he once edited and annotated a volume of his favorite travel writing from the 17th through early 19th centuries. That book has finally been brought out in a U.S. edition, A Book of Voyages (W.W. Norton). Not every selection is a tale of the sea, but travel by water was often faster and more comfortable than overland in those years, and many Western Europeans preferred catching a ship whenever possible over bouncing along bad roads in a carriage. One observation: then as now, customs agents are habitually curious over whether travelers have come for business or pleasure.

A Book of Voyages is fascinating history and might interest fans of O'Brian's fiction. However, a better gift to his readers would be another great film taken from his series.

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