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.
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.