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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 12 January 2006
This book definately deserves 5 stars in my opinion, but only if we take it for what it is; a good general history of the man and his life.
A comparison in thickness with Elizabeth Longford's two volume classic clearly indicates that Holmes' book can't be exhaustive, but this is in no way a criticism in itself. In fact I would say that it is one of the book's strongest points. Wellington, the Iron Duke is extremely readable, almost addictive in the way only a great novel can be, but without recourse to dumbing down. Holmes manages to recount the Duke's life and deeds both on and off the battle field with enough detail to inform, yet without becoming boring or pedantic. Here we see not only the Iron willed disciplinarian but also the man who cried when he saw the slaughter of Badajoz. He also endevors to give a more balanced assessment of the context in which Wellington lived and fought in battle and in parliament than has often been done (particulary with reference to the peninsula) and allows us to see how Wellington's experiences and background helped to shape his world view.
In short Richard Holmes seems to be that rare animal: an academic who can really write and communicate with readers. Wellington, The Iron Duke may not be adequate for hisorical researchers, but it's certainly an excellent and informative read for the rest of us with an interest in the man and his world.
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on 16 March 2003
Richard Holmes should be applauded for this fantastic biography of Wellington.
He manages to expertly combine Wellington's military and personal history, with a pace that never slackens and holds the reader's attention throughout. With so many battles to describe Holmes could easily have bored or confused me, but he did not, and actually gave me a new interest in them. Holmes provides a balanced portrait of Wellington, describing both his talents and his faults. Holmes also provides beautifully written portraits of Wellington's peers, such as Richard Wellesley (Wellington's brother),and his wife, Kitty.
Wellington: The Iron Duke is an excellent companion to the television series of the same name, as it can go deeper into the events of Wellington's life than the three hour series.
Unfortunately, like Wellington himself, this book has some faults. With so much to describe, it cannot go into as much detail as I would have hoped for. But as a book to gain the reader's interest in a subject, and as a precursor to wider reading around it, I don't think that I shall ever see its equal.
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on 30 August 2007
Although I finished this book with more knowledge on Wellington than I had at the start, I felt the book dwelt too much on detailed descriptions of military encounters, rather than giving me an insight into the man himself. Whilst I accept that his battle field encounters did much to shape his character, there is just too little about his domestic life, the relationship he had with wife and children, the reasoning behind his marriage and its failure, and his subsequent life in retirement.

Whilst accepting and understanding that Richard Holmes is a brilliant military historian, and this is his sphere of knowledge, a bit more was needed on non military matters.
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on 17 July 2002
First and foremost, i think this is a really good book. It ties in with the material covered in the three television programs and expands on the details which have been presented on the small screen. It reminds me of Simon Schama's books of his series "A History of Britain" and, as reading this for my own interest not for research purposes, i think it has been worth my while. In my opinion, it gives just about the right amount of coverage to each stage in Wellington's career thereby avoiding making him seem like a "one hit wonder" in the Battle of Waterloo.
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on 7 August 2004
A brilliant book. Made me look forward to getting on the commuter trains from London Bridge and Paddington so I could read the next few chapters. if that comes out has been a popularist then good because i didn't see any of the TV programmes but enjoyed the book!
One really minor criticism, which is probably very pedantic, is that many dates are quoted as day and month without the year. So I had to refer back to know which year we were talking about.
Other than that the simply conclusion is buy and read it if you have any interest in Wellington and his period.
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on 4 July 2016
An excellent primer about the life of Wellington.

I seem to be reading a lot of novels, at the moment, that are set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. Be it just a cameo appearance, or the central character The Duke of Wellington always makes an appearance. As a consequence I wanted to learn more about the real man.

Richard Holmes's book was set at the ideal level for me. Very easy to read, almost like a novel in its style of writing. There were times when I would not have been surprised had Richard Sharpe turned up. But it did achieve the goal of letting me know and understand the man better and that was all that I needed.

This maybe a little on the 'lite' side for the serious historian. But for somebody like myself, absolutely spot on.
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on 31 October 2014
This is a readable book. It is an entertaining excursion through Wellington's life. His title was actually chosen by his brother and he had no close relationship with the town.
What I missed was some explanation of his military talent. Prior to India his military experience was brief, and he owed a great deal to nepotism. Yes ,he had talent and luck and seems to have been a decent man, but how did his military knowledge develop?
This book is something of a light, coffee table affair-enjoyable but shallow.
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on 5 March 2013
There is no doubt about it, Richard Holmes was a splendid writer and has written a splendid book.

Having read some works on the Napoleonic Wars I was unprepared to have the preconcieved nuances of my views on Wellington to be quite so challenged. I had carried the simplistic and certainly conventional thought that the Duke was really just an rather efficient logistician, who fought his war largely by calculating the odds and through exceptional organisation - all rather dull. At a personal level, it wasn't so much his affairs but the offhand treatment of his wife which one found a little challenging. Finally, reading about his political life, I had also found his "high" Tory views somewhat constricted. In short, I thought him a very able general, although a somewhat unlikeable individual.

However, in 300 or so pages, Mr. Holmes has caused me to go back to my book shelves once again and reconsider my somewhat naive views. There are a number of thoughts I took away from this book, but perhaps the most worthy of consideration may be the following:

1) Wellington clearly was more than a great general in the context of the Penisular; He has to be considered a great general for the ages. It is said that he was a defensive, unimaginative and somewhat uninspirational leader - none of this can be true in the context of his outstanding military achievements in both India and the Penisular. Mr. Holmes does well to bring out the strengths which made him the genius he was and hopefully this goes some way to correcting two centuries of negative propaganda around his generalship. I particularly like Mr. Holmes' even-handed approach when dealing with controversies, particularly Badajoz (where it seems apparent he lost control of his troops) and Waterloo (where he was conflicted with national imperatives and the need to support his allies).

2) Touching on his personal life, I am glad Mr. Holmes did not feel the need to go into prurient details, but it was evident that Wellington had an unhappy marriage. How he coped with this seems to have at least involved discretion but what I think brought his humanity to the fore was his observations following his wife's death. Sadly, it also seems clear that his relationships with his children seemed somewhat poor - perhaps, to paraphrase Douro, because they all hard a terrifically hard act to follow. Beyond his family though, there does seem to be strong evidence that he was in fact warm hearted and generous behind the public facade.

3) As to his politics he comes across as man of the times working in a framework of principles, but at least did have the flexibility of mind to shift his position on various issues. His political career was not stellar in any real sense, but I think it hard to see his goverment service as anything but a good man trying, by his lights, to do what was right for the country and his monarch.

In short, no review of mine can do justice to this excellent biography, but I just would have liked to thank Mr. Holmes for vividly showing the Duke to be a much more complex, gifited, humane, interesting and, (dare I say it since Holmes himself may not have agreed), likeable man than I had previously understood to be the case.
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on 11 January 2014
Richard Holmes has always been one of my favourite historians. His research has always been meticulous, and it is a great pity that he has died as his books should be required reading for those with an interest in history.
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on 25 September 2013
A good Biography but abbreviated in strange places for Richard Holmes.
The details of Wellington's personal, political and army life as well as the campaigns are well covered, but I found the writing tone a little pompous (perhaps allowable for the Duke?). His Stoic character combined with his reluctance to accept advice and on occasions even to listen to evidence was well brought out. Unfortunately apart from the battle of Waterloo which was reasonably dealt with, the coverage of his battles, in India and the Iberian penninsula, were far too brief. This was not helped by the maps (paperback UK version) being very small and situated quite a way from the text. Also many of the battle descriptions were 'enhanced' by odd exhortations (may be real or legendary)of leaders or troops. For example: in the battle of Vitoria, only about 650 words for the battle and its effect,one of his commanders Picton is quoted 'Come on ye rascals! Come on ye fighting villains!' for no apparent reason. Perhaps it is supposed to generate atmosphere but no attempt is made to link it to the troops behaviour.

I enjoyed the book but felt it should have been 50-100 pages longer to better cover the battles .
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