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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful addition to a crowded field
Napoleon's story has been told again and again and there is a veritable industry set around the Napoleonic wars, but this book aims to be different. It doesn't go over old ground recording every detail of Napoleon's campaigns and battles (indeed there are none of the usual maps and diagrams of the famous battles) but seeks to show the effect Napoleon had on Europe at the...
Published on 1 Sept. 2008 by Big Jim

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could do with a rewrite
As someone who has read most of the literature on Napoleon in English I found this book frustrating to read.

Esdaile has a potentially good book here about the relationship between Napoleon's complex personality and the power politics of the age but the book is ruined by an anal-retentive style. No sooner has one got on the thread of one story than Esdaile...
Published on 22 Dec. 2012 by Book Hawk


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful addition to a crowded field, 1 Sept. 2008
By 
Big Jim "Big Jim" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Paperback)
Napoleon's story has been told again and again and there is a veritable industry set around the Napoleonic wars, but this book aims to be different. It doesn't go over old ground recording every detail of Napoleon's campaigns and battles (indeed there are none of the usual maps and diagrams of the famous battles) but seeks to show the effect Napoleon had on Europe at the time and the consequences of his actions. There are some lovely colour plates and some useful maps of various bits of Europe, but ironically by taking this less obvious path the author loses some of the impact of the period and some passages drag a little. On the whole though this is still a readable book but better informed students of the period will have to put it in it's appropriate place in the Napoleonic library.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When strengths can be weaknesses!, 9 April 2011
By 
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Paperback)
If warmongering was Napoleon's chief strength, it was also his downfall. If thoroughness is Esdaile's... Well, read on - and read the book of course - and make your own mind up!

I have to confess to finding this book somewhat disappointing. First of all, as another reviewer (Mr Hanna) points out 'International relations, rather than military developments, are the focus of the work'. I suspect this will therefore be more popular with historians than wargamers or military 'buffs'. There were definitely stretches when I read with avid interest, but there were also times when I found myself slogging doggedly on, in an 1812 frame of mind, so to speak. In many respects a very good book, Esdaile compiling and synthesizing huge amounts of Napoleonic scholarship and, if we take him at his own word, resolutely following his own line* (particularly in asking whether Napoleon's character was a primary cause and motivating force in relation to this age of conflict), nevertheless at times it's the very all-embracing thoroughness of the book that's the problem; casting his net as wide as possible, Esdaile's scale and scope are huge and wide. Given his emphasis on diplomacy rather than campaigning this approach renders his account, relative to many others I 've read, fragmented and dry. However, Esdaile certainly succeeds in compressing a lot of information on numerous more obscure theatres (e.g. the Balkans, the Near East and Ottoman Empire, and the Americas, including the oft-overlooked Caribbean and South America), as well as the more commonly covered Euro-centric stuff, into a single volume. At times, busy discussing one thing, Esdaile darts off to cover something else, happening around the same time but in another theatre. Sometimes, but not always, the two are clearly related, with developments in one theatre affecting possibilities in another, and the way this bigger picture emerges is amongst the books definite strengths, but this jumping around does disrupt narrative flow.

Another problem arising from Esdaile's lofty overview (Speaking of which, he quotes Napoleon: 'I strike from too great a height.' Fuel for the comedic view of Napoleon's wars as the working out of a height-related inferiority complex?) is the loss of engaging ground level detail, battles for example, frequently becoming no more than names (and again this book differs from many on the Napoleonic era in eschewing maps of battles altogether). I imagine many readers of Napoleonic history, whether scholarly or just generally interested, relish the details of the often epic campaigns and battles. But, as Esdaile points out, there's plenty of that kind of material out there already. In preferring to trace the broader arcs of grand politics, Esdaile sacrifices this Holy Cow, and I have to say that, for this reader, the book's poorer for it. It's now standard practice for books like this to draw heavily on primary sources, and Esdaile is no slouch in this respect, but his protagonists are almost exclusively bigwigs from the upper echelons, with their eyes on posterity, very little detail coming from the groundlings. This is in keeping with his grand overview approach, but it does make for a drier (and sometimes more pompous) reading experience. Personally speaking, I think books like this benefit from broader social representation. A good example of a book that not only manages this, but adds the oft-overlooked voice of womankind is Amanda Foreman's excellent A World on Fire. To convey what I'm trying to get at, I hope an artistic analogy isn't deemed too fanciful: Esdaile's book is, perhaps, a little like a Vermeer painting that's missing a character. The contextual information, rugs, maps, walls, furniture etc., is immaculately (if coolly) recorded, but some of the personal detail and human interest, literally and metaphorically (e.g. this can be considered to include details of individual battles as well as details of individual characters) is missing.

Possibly admirable (depending on you view of the subject) for putting Napoleon back in his 'proper' contextual place in history, Esdaile is perhaps slightly too bent on debunking the mythic/heroic Napoleon he characterises as the 'bogeyman' of modern Europe. Certainly amongst people I know Napoleon's long been recognised as a warmongering imperialist despot, not particularly to be admired! But equally, one has to concede that advancement via merit through the ranks of Napoleon's army, and in the secular French society of his time, was a more common thing than it was in the ranks of 'Ancien Regime' powers, such as England or Austria (read Jack Gill's excellent three volume Thunder On The Danube series to learn how hamstrung Austria was in the 1809 campaign on account of the dynastic and gentrified modus operandi that operated at the command level), and clearly Napoleon's character cannot be simply written out as an interchangeable cog in the machine of the history of the world at this particular time. On the other hand, Boney introduced conscription. One could argue that his troops, in the parlance of modern Europe, were stakeholders in a potentially more liberal state. In England we avoided overt conscription, but not from magnanimity, but rather because introducing it might perhaps have fomented the kind of rebellion and change in the social order that the nobs here dreaded, especially having seen what'd happened in France. Against all this Esdaile quite rightly points out that, ultimately, 'Boney was a warrior' (as the old song had it), and only by acting collectively did Europe eventually defeat him and end the bloodshed. From this viewpoint Napoleon ends up in the odious company of Hitler, as destroyer of the peace.

The theme of Napoleonic character analysis, which by the end of the book feels more like character assasination, in seeking to answer a fundamental question at the core of the book - 'Was Napoleonic Europe...proof of the 'great-man' theory of history?' - finds Esdaile in difficult territory. Seemingly irritated by traditions of pro-Napoleonic history and biography, his recurring criticisms of Napoleon eventually sound almost personal! Rather like Napoleon himself, whose contradictions - 'I have always commanded' and 'I have never really been my own master; I have always been governed by circumstances' - and whose 'ruinous quest for glory' dominate this book, Esdaile tries to have it both ways: Yes Napoleon was a singular man, whose almost primeval force of character shaped events: 'it was the emperor's determination to eschew compromise... that made them [the Napoleonic wars] what they were'. But no, 'the history of Naploeon did not constitute the history of the world, or indeed, even Europe'! Hmm?

Esdaile himself says 'academic historians rarely attract the audience they deserve', and, whilst he succeeds in conveying what he terms the 'pan-European dimension' of these wars, with a locus more centred around Poland and the crumbling Ottoman empire than is normal in Napoleonic histories (indeed, at one point Esdaile states that Russo-Persian altercations, at the time a considered a 'sideshow', may retrospectively be deemed to have 'had greater long-term geopolitical effect than anything that happened in Western Europe'), his book, alas, probably won't change that state of affairs. Nothing if not polemic and thought provoking, this is a very informative, well researched, and detailed book, and one can see it potentially occupying a well-earned place in current Napoleonic scholarship. But for the generally intrigued non-specialist reader, Esdaile's very thoroughness and concern with the broader historical picture might make this a bit on the dryly academic side. Like the reviewer calling themselves 'BHA till I die', I read military history (well, history generally, and Napoleonic history in particular) like some people read novels, and my favourites are the books most like a novel in their characterisations and 'plot' momentum, etc. Some good examples include Barbero's The Battle and Zamoyski's 1812, but these are admittedly focussed on particular campaigns and battles, whereas Esdaile seeks to tell us about the whole period.

My head gives this a five star review, my heart three stars, so I'll compromise and go with four.

* This said, there are other even harsher Boney bashers, e.g. Paul Johnson.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could do with a rewrite, 22 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Paperback)
As someone who has read most of the literature on Napoleon in English I found this book frustrating to read.

Esdaile has a potentially good book here about the relationship between Napoleon's complex personality and the power politics of the age but the book is ruined by an anal-retentive style. No sooner has one got on the thread of one story than Esdaile switches to another subject altogether, or else he goes into laborious detail and loses the plot that way.

When will publishers learn that most academics can't be trusted to write properly and will always need a good editor alongside them?

I would advise readers to purchase instead Adam Zamoyski's wonderful Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna which covers similar ground to this book but with much more panache.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 1 May 2009
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This review is from: Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Paperback)
A superb book. The author shows an understanding of the period that is unrivalled in any other general history of the Napoleonic wars. International relations, rather than military developments, are the focus of the work and even those with a longstanding interest in this era will emerge enlightened. It is, moreover, writen in an engaging, accessible and often entertaining style.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good history but not a great read, 2 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Paperback)
I read military history like I do novels, for relaxation and for fun, and after years of 20th century warfare moved into the Napoleonic era after reading Roy Adkin's fantastic "War for all the Oceans" (which reads like a Hornblower novel)

I then enjoyed getting an overview from Robert Harvey's "War of Wars" and I loved Arthur Bryant's slightly dated trilogy on the era.

This book is a fantastic history of the period and puts Britain's contribution into context - as a land war this was basically a Franco / Russian conflict, and it is strongest when Napoleon goes into Russia. However, it reads like a history text book, with lots of language in the "as we have already seen" "as I will show later" style.

It just doesn't make for a great read for the casual dipper into this period, for that I would recommend the other books I mention above.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Overview of Tumultuous Times, 13 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Paperback)
As a history student studying the Napoleonic wars, I bought this book in order to get an overview of the time period, before studying anything else in greater detail (Adam Zamoyski's '1812' also highly recommended). Though lacking detail in many areas, in particular the Austerlitz and Jena campaigns and the invasion of Russia, it also deals at length with topics which are too often sidelined from the history of the time, such as the Serbian revolts in the Ottoman Empire. I would thoroughly recommend this book to be read by anybody not already extremely familiar with these conflicts, as it will effortlessly provide an excellent context for more in-depth studies. This book is not a major contribution to the field, but it does make excellent use of eyewitness accounts, and is one of the most engaging pieces of historical non-fiction I have ever come across. A masterful summary.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book Dealing with A Tumultuous Period in European History., 1 Sept. 2010
Napoleon's Wars by Charles Esdaile is a good book dealing with the period 1803-1815. It is informative, detailed, opinionated and puts the wars in context. However, it lacks an overarching narrative and theme and therefore I am not entirely sure at times what the author was trying to do or say. Overall, though it is still a good well-written work.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Napoleons Wars, 26 Aug. 2011
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Craig Marner "Peregrin" (Midlands U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Paperback)
I already own a copy of this book and I bought a further one as a present which tells all an excellent book.
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Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815
Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 by Charles Esdaile (Paperback - 28 Aug. 2008)
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