This Week’s Book Review – The Napoleonic Wars

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

A New Look at a Global Conflict

By MARK LARDAS

June 21, 2020

“The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History,” by Alexander Mikaberidze, Oxford University Press, 2020, 960 pages, $39.95 (Hardcover)

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was the world’s first truly global conflict. Although the Seven Years’ War and Wars of American Independence were fought globally, the round of fighting triggered by the French Revolution saw major campaigns on a wider geographic scale than seen previously or since. No war, including World War II saw major fighting in as many different continents.

“The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History,” by Alexander Mikaberidze examines the conflict from a global perspective.

Mikaberidze links all of the different wars fought between 1792 and 1815 into a greater global whole. It reveals answers to puzzles that seem inexplicable when focusing just on the wars directly involving France.

It seems incredible that Prussia and Austria failed to crush the French Revolution in 1792. The conventional explanation is France effectively mobilized its population to repel the smaller professional armies of Prussia and Austria. Mikaberidze’s book offers a more satisfactory explanation. Prussia and Austria were participating in the Second Partition of Poland in 1792. Their attention was focused on that, not France. The distraction gave France a year to reorganize its military. France could have been overrun in 1792; by 1793 it was too late.

The book is filled with similar examples of military billiards. Russian campaigns against the Ottomans and Persia were triggered by Russian truces with Napoleon or curtailed when Russia needed to fight France. England’s dominance of India resulted from the French Revolution giving it an opportunity to crush French interests in that subcontinent. Conquest was forced on an East India Company reluctant to spend funds campaign from a necessity to secure it position in India. Wars of Independence in North and South America began as a result of French occupation of Portugal and Spain.

Mikaberidze’s analysis is not flawless. He overestimates the naval threat France posed Britain after Trafalgar. He highlights French ability to produce ships-of-the-line while ignoring the difficulty of producing crews to effectively man them.  These flaws are minor set against the larger picture he paints.

Just as Victor Davis Hanson’s “The Second World Wars” revealed a larger view of World War II, “The Napoleonic Wars” shows conflicts fought between 1792 and 1815 fit together, almost like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.  Mikaberidze reveals a bigger picture exists behind the traditional and Euro-centric historical view of the wars of that period. Readers interested in this period should read this book.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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5 thoughts on “This Week’s Book Review – The Napoleonic Wars”

  1. Thanks!

    Since it was just the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo on 6/18, and the topic is Napoleonic wars, I have to recommend Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer.   It’s part bodice-rippper romance novel and part meticulously researched history of the Battle of Waterloo.   Apparently she had access to Wellington’s private correspondence.  An Infamous Army is recommended reading at British military colleges.

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  2. Ed K:
    Thanks!

    Since it was just the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo on 6/18, and the topic is Napoleonic wars, I have to recommend Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer.   It’s part bodice-rippper romance novel and part meticulously researched history of the Battle of Waterloo.   Apparently she had access to Wellington’s private correspondence.  An Infamous Army is recommended reading at British military colleges.

    Really?  I love Georgette Heyer! I think I’ve read them all, but I didn’t know this!

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  3. 1000 years of European infantry engagements were 1000 years of killing young men for whom there were no economic berths, and therefore economically and politically destabilizing.  The Church did not tolerate the Devil’s work of progress.  Young women were scythed by childbirth and “doctors.”  The only pauses were the Black Plague about three generations) and WWI (about one generation).

    The first significant Napoleonic crack was rifled gun barrels in the US Revolutionary War – range, accuracy; snipers.  The second crack was the Minié ball in the US Civil War and its astounding lethality.  The last crack was WWI’s Battle of the Somme, idiot British and French foot soldiers charging through barbed wire into German machine gun bunkers to a million casualties.

    Napoleon’s march east to find nothing but frozen Hell and burned out cities without resources was lost on a  German corporal.  1000 mile supply lines are not Blitzkrieg.  Napoleon had 685,000 soldiers incoming, suffered 500,000 casualties, and eventually 4000 survivors returned.

    History is a useful thing…if you have it.

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  4. Uncle Al:  “1000 years of European infantry engagements were 1000 years of killing young men for whom there were no economic berths, and therefore economically and politically destabilizing.

    That is an interesting perspective, Uncle Al.  Perhaps Darwinists might have something to say about the consequences of that long-term culling?

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  5. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Uncle Al:  “1000 years of European infantry engagements were 1000 years of killing young men for whom there were no economic berths, and therefore economically and politically destabilizing.

    That is an interesting perspective, Uncle Al.  Perhaps Darwinists might have something to say about the consequences of that long-term culling.

    Armies seek to recruit the best – tall, strong, and intelligent (officers) – then kill them.  The French are now short, swarthy, perhaps less than fanatically patriotic, and overall a little slow.

    Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara (“Mac the Knife,” a “Whiz Kid” from Detroit who knew the spreadsheet cost of everything and summed value of nothing) used the Vietnam War to enrich his friends and kill off Blacks, dissidents, and frank morons. The US weapon of choice was a jammed rifle. The VC would slaughter then strip, leaving only those rifles.

    It was a new kind of war, and with remarkably good medical support, then filling America’s streets with physical cripples and shattered minds. How did that investment turn out two generations later?  I still have my Draft Card.  Richard Nixon tried to kill me.

     

     

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