Thomas Cochrane was a swashbuckling naval hero, the inspiration for Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. This representation of Cochrane is certainly objective, which cannot be said of some earlier biographies, but the narrative lacks the drive that was one of the subject's characteristics; Cochrane's personality only really flashes from the page occasionally.
Cochrane was a mass of contradictions; he was not only a naval hero but a radical politician. Unfortunately, his most notable political characteristic was to shoot his mouth off, usually producing the opposite effect to that intended. He appears to have suffered from a persecution complex, and his intemperate performances in the House of Commons only meant that his disgrace in 1814 brought pleasure to his many detractors. Much of this animosity can be traced to his pursuit of Admiral Lord Gambier in the House following the attack on Basque Roads in 1809 which only succeeded in making more and powerful enemies, and as a result he found himself closer to a state of paranoia, one that afflicted him for the rest of his life.
The heart of Mr Cordingly's book is the action at Basque Roads and its repercussions; thereafter things quieten as the story turns to his romantic attachment and marriage, and his downfall. Despite his success as a frigate captain Cochrane would not desist from political activity. (Had he been as skillful a politician as he was a commander, it might not have mattered.) Following his disgrace he went to Chile to command the new country's navy in her struggle for independence from Spain, and also served in Peru, Brazil and Greece. But these episodes don't receive the same degree of attention as his Royal Navy exploits. This is a pity, because they hints at what might have been had Cochrane been more diligent in his naval career.