Doug Vanderweide's Reviews > The Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars by Gunther E. Rothenberg
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Jun 29, 10

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bookshelves: history, military, politics, napoleonic-era
Read from July 11 to August 11, 2009

The Napoleonic Wars is lavishly illustrated, meticulously edited and generally well-written. But unless you are already well-versed in the personalities, geography, politics and military of the period, you're going to be disappointed.

The book essentially takes thee parts: Opening chapters covering Napoleon's career as a general, the formation of his basic fighting principles, and a quick account of his ascent to the throne; several chapter-based reviews of his campaigns prior to the fall of Paris and exile; and a final chapter on Waterloo.

In that the book is so well-written, it's not a total loss for the neophyte; you will leave knowing more than when you started. But total beginners, like me, are going to forget 90 percent of what's here, thanks to it having little to no context. Unless you want to know about a particular battle or campaign, there's no point behind reading this book; it's all trees, no forest.

For example, like most pre-World War I histories, this volume doesn't provide a period political map that can be easily referenced when long-since-departed regions and towns are named in the narrative.

There is a glossary of notable characters at the rear of the book, but it's worthless because there's no attention paid to anyone except as proverbial chess pieces. Characters are examined only within their value to a given battle's outcome; their names might as well be "rook" or "bishop."

Another nice addition would have been tables of organization and equipment for typical army and corps units of the nations in question. This book focuses extensively on Napoleon's improvements to force size, organization and equipment. A few TO&E charts would have helped clarify the differences.

That said, the maps and battle diagrams in this volume are outstanding, but lose value due to the trade-paperback size and binding; they're just too small to fit on a single page, and the binding too deep and fragile to stretch effectively over two pages.

Had the Smithsonian History of Warfare trimmed the narrative by half, doubled the number of illustrations and maps and increased the page size fourfold, they would have produced a beautiful coffee table book that I would have looked at, admired, then passed over in my efforts to learn about Europe's Napoleonic era.
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