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Good, not great

Napoleon's Wars: An International History - Charles J. Esdaile

Decent overview of Napoleon's rise during the French Revolution, through his stints as First Consul, Emperor, and instigator of about 20 assorted wars. It's reasonably balanced, in that the author is pretty obviously a fan of Napoleon's, but still manages to speak evenhandedly about his lapses in judgment (trying to put his brother on the Spanish throne, against all prevailing social, economic and personal considerations; his ill-conceived foray into Russia; and his willfully unrealistic attempt to retake Belgium- ending at Waterloo).  As other reviewers have pointed out (and I may not have noticed)- the endnotes and bibliography indicate that the work was exclusively drawn from British and French sources... kind of odd that other major players like Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the Ottomans were not represented in any of the source material. WTF, Prof. Esdaile?


Still, this is a nice all-purpose overview of the Napoleonic Wars. This is a subject I know almost nothing about (thanks, public school education!), and I found it to be a good introduction. It was a good follow-on to Will and Ariel Durant's Rousseau and Revolution.

The final chapter was very insightful, showing how the Congress of Vienna (where the peace treaty concluding the Napoleonic Wars was drawn) set the stage for English-Russian conflict in Iran and Afghanistan; and for Prussian-Russian tensions in Poland. The seventh great alliance (the last one; the one that took Napoleon down- because the allies couldn't get their shit together the other six times) was an early foreshadowing of how multi-state warfare would be conducted in the 20th century.


There's more, but I kind of don't feel like going on about it right now. Britain's uncontested naval superiority put it in a such a strong position, it was even able to endure Napoleon's many attempts at a Continental Blockade.  Admiral Nelson's famous victory at Trafalgar occurred during this time, in the Peninsular War (England backing Portugal against Spain under French control). Napoleon's Wars reminded me that I keep meaning to read A.T. Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power Upon History (1688-1815). Maybe that can be a good New Year's resolution for 2014.