Lord Cochrane: Seaman, Radical, Liberator: A Life Of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, 1775-1860, by Christopher Lloyd
This is a book with a good purpose, and with some limitations (most notably its dependence on English-language sources), it manages to succeed at a very difficult mission. It is difficult for contemporary audiences familiar with Master and Commander to appreciate just how wide the gulf was in reputation the name of Lord Cochrane was, with historical novelists viewing him as a dashing and brave and historians tending to take a much more negative view of the Lord as an incompetent and insubordinate stormy petrel. In a way, this book seeks to prove both sides right by taking a larger view of the life of a complicated man, from the beginnings of his life as an impoverished Scottish nobleman who profits from patronage and then bites the hand that feeds later on.
In terms of its narrative, this is a mostly traditional chronological story, in which the exceptions from this rule are made in order to preserve different themes in the complicated story of the life of Lord Cochrane, starting with his early search for a naval career, then moving to his disastrously unsuccessful time in Parliament, and then his checkered career abroad in the navies of Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Greece. The book, as mentioned before, is a bit slim on sources from non-English language sources, which is problematic in that it presents a biased perspective given that Cochrane was English and spent much of the prime of his career in South America and the Mediterranean. The book then discusses his later life, where he was restored to the good graces of the public after a disastrous early adulthood that included prison. At least he had a loyal and beautiful wife to run interference for him. So, even if the life story is full of drama and incident, it ends mostly happily with long life and wealth and honor, if a few enemies were made along the way.
There are a few themes with this book that are worth noting. Cochrane is a rebellious naval officer in a very rigid profession. With a gift at making enemies and a terrible lack of ability in politics, he made his own life very difficult. With dodgy financial decisions and at least one uncle who was a horrible role model, getting him imprisoned because of financial speculation, he clearly did not have the best network surrounding him, and if he was principled in seeking liberty at home and around the world, he did not enjoy the comfort of being vindicated until late in life, after suffering decades of political and personal exile and personal difficulty. At least everything worked out in the end, though.
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