By Gregory Kirschling
Updated November 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

You’ve seen the movie, now read…all 20 books? Ahoy, mateys, we’re here to help! Russell Crowe’s new epic, ”Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” is adapted from the first and 10th novels in the salty series by Patrick O’Brian (left), who died in 2000. Don’t have the sea legs to read the entire saga of 19th-century British navy captain Jack Aubrey? O’Brian biographer Dean King says these are the five best (all available in $13.95 Norton paperbacks).

POST CAPTAIN (Book 2 in the series) ”This is really the best book O’Brian ever wrote. Probably the most extraordinary episode of all the novels occurs when Aubrey walks hundreds of miles dressed as a bear. I’d love to see them pull that off — Russell Crowe in a bear suit.”

H.M.S. SURPRISE (Book 3) ”This book is exhilarating because this is where he gets his main ship, the Surprise. It’s like getting a new car and driving down Main Street — you get to go on a tour of the globe. It’s fascinating. And there’s enough action to satisfy your bloodlust.”

DESOLATION ISLAND (Book 5) ”People will tell you this book has their favorite battle scene. It’s a riveting chase down into the South Seas into heavy waves, where one well-placed shot will sink either ship. I remember reading it for the first time as clear as day. I went, ‘Wow.”’

THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL (Book 11) ”I’ve heard Charlton Heston read the scene where Aubrey is being unfairly pilloried — Heston thought it was the most moving scene in the books. This one is sad and hard to read. You’re kind of excited when it ends — it’s so painful.”

THE TRUELOVE (Book 15) ”Here they sail to a fictional island called Moahu in the Pacific. They become involved with these beautiful island people who are exotic, intriguing — and also cannibalistic. So you have a fascinating clash of cultures, and a great battle to boot.”

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 139 minutes
  • Peter Weir