Patrick O'Brian (1914-2000) is the author of what the NYT once called "the greatest historical novels ever written." It's known to readers as the Aubrey-Maturin series and is set in the days of the Royal Navy's wooden ships and iron men during the Napoleonic Wars. Capt Aubrey and Ship's Surgeon Maturin are the main characters in all the novels in the series. There are 20+ novels in the series, set in chronological order. O'Brian was also a scholar who insisted on accuracy as well as a good read. In some cases, while taking his characters into another naval battle, he would -- with proper acknowledgment, to be sure -- take sections from the ships' logs of the historic naval commanders during a battle, putting his fictional commanders into the places of the actual commanders. At one point he modestly explains that he couldn't improve on the historical record. Small wonder that O'Brian's readers can almost hear the cannon's roar and feel the concussion rattling his walls. A good place to start is the first in the series, Master and Commander.