26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2002
The popular viewpoint of these famous foes is that Napoleon totally underestimated Wellington therefore his defeat at Waterloo was inevitable. Author Roberts examines their relationship in great detail and his conclusions regarding their opinion of one and other will startle most readers.
Although most of what's written here is of a highly conjectural nature, there is little doubt that there was much more of a psychological battle brewing between these rivals than most historians will care to admit. Was Napoleon's "bad-mouthing" of Wellington merely "sour grapes" after Waterloo? Roberts points out that Napoleon was certainly saved from execution after the battle by Wellington, but the Duke probably had alterior motives besides humanitarian reasons.
Roberts gets some good mileage out of the fact that the Europe of today is much more in line with the vision that Napoleon had two-hundred years ago.
Wellington's old-school aristocracy is merely a remnant of the past now. That shouldn't prejudice the reader, however, to favor the Emperor over the Duke. Wellington did have the distinct advantage of out-living Napoleon by nearly forty years although his own political career as Prime Minister of Great Britain was less than successful. Political and military accomplishments aside, Wellington made it a point during his long life to at least publicly admire Napoleon "the general" even if he regarded the ex-Emperor's reforms with distaste. To his credit, despite all the honors and glory heaped upon Wellington after Waterloo, he never bragged about the victory or used it, either publicly or privately, to insult the vanguished prisoner on St. Helena. His real true opinion of Napoleon, like Napoleon's own viewpoint, will never be known. Roberts at least gives us an insider's view on what might have been. It makes one inevitably sorry that these two titans of the 19th Century never had the opportunity to sit down for a nice long chat.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2005
Roberts sets out his ideas in a lucid and impartial fashion, allowing events to speak for themselves. Beginning with a brief outline of the two men's similarities - we then discover the fateful steps which demand that their fates must intersect. Waterloo is the venue of that junction - with Wellington's star still in its ascendancy, and Napoleon's upon the wane. On the day, Roberts shows us Wellington as a man who's militaristic skills have been honed directly by confrontation with the best marshals and generals Napoleon had previously mustered against him in Spain. Napoleon himself described the Peninsular War as a 'school for British soldiers'.
Wellington is obsessed with tiny details, and so respectful of Napoleon's tactics, that he anticipates wide flanking manoeuvres and plans pre-emptive measures against them. Napoleon, by contrast, is a man in ill health. Perhaps unaware of the number of Wellington's true force, delegating responsibility to a level that he has never before adopted. A man of previously great strategies, wearily repeating himself - the best of his army lost in Russia, three years earlier. On the day, Roberts shows us Wellington as the man prepared. The aftermath of Waterloo sees a profound change in both men. Napoleon, wrongly believing Wellington responsible for his exile, becomes bitter and mean-spirited towards the man he once respected. So petty that he even bequests 10,000 francs to Wellington's failed assassin. Wellington, the man actually responsible for Napoleon's continued existence, becomes a somewhat ghoulish collector of Napoleonic ephemera - and spends the rest of his life referencing his greatest battle, either as a 'party piece' or correcting the mistakes of an antagonistic press.
Roberts paints an equally vivid portrait of the environments these two men inhabited. Napoleon, becoming an icon within his own lifetime, invulnerable to criticism - controlling the domestic press. Whilst Wellington is often undone by the actions of his own countrymen - whether it be the leaked dispositions of British troops or Napoleon deriving ceaseless encouragement from his British 'fan club' of Whigs. Ultimately, Wellington seems well aware of his subordinate place in history. And, astonishingly, in the later years of his life, even questions the benefit of Napoleon's removal - over the continuance of the Bourbon thrones. Such is the power of Robert's writing, the reader may ask themselves the same question.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2011
Andrew Roberts is a prolific writer and lecturer on English and British history. He is particularly well known for `Eminent Churchillians' (1994), a collection of essays about prominent figures of the twentieth century; and `Salisbury: Victorian Titan' (1999), the authorised biography of the Victorian Prime Minister. Both of these are excellent; and I found `Salisbury' particularly illuminating, because figures of the Right seldom enjoy sympathetic treatment.
This book is highly original and very well written. I bought it at Apsley House, the London home of the Duke of Wellington, once known simply as `No. 1 London'; and it greatly enriched the experience.
Roberts is always interesting, even when he is not being controversial; but it has to be said that the subject matter of this book is more limited than the title might suggest. It is not so much a book about Napoleon and Wellington, as a book about what the two men thought about each other. Still interesting, but if the reader wants a straightforward account of their careers, he should start elsewhere.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2008
Napoleon and Wellington: the Long Duel is a very interesting work by Andrew Roberts. I have read a number of his works and this is certainly up there with the best of them. It explains in detail how these two men came to meet on a fateful day in 1815 with the destiny of Europe respectively in their hands but it also goes further which marks it out from many books on these two historical giants. It shows in detail how having defeated Napoleon, Wellington proceeded to pour salt in the wound by his actions while Napoleon never seems to have got over the fact that he was defeated by a man he once dismissed as a sepoy general. Overall this is a very interesting work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is an interesting comparison of the lives and military talents of Napoleon and Wellington. In this book it seemed to me that the author was less praising of Napoleon than in his excellent one volume biography Napoleon the Great, and that he was going out of his way to fair and balanced.
There is little here about the political lives, or the civil measures, taken by either man, although one became Emperor and the other Prime Minister - instead the book is mainly about their military campaigns and the contrasting strategies used by each man.
An interesting book, well told, which shows the strange fascination which Wellington seems to have held about Napoleon, and the often disparaging view Napoleon held about Wellington, Waterloo not withstanding. That ii is Napoleon's view of Europe which is largely ascendant today is a fitting ending to the book.However, for me, it is pity that the civil record of each man is not compared and contrasted to anything like the same extent as their generalship
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2015
This is the second book of Professor Roberts that I have reviewed, the first being his recently published "Napoleon" to which I awarded five stars. This book is very good as well but does not merit five stars. It does not recount the battles fought by these two great generals. Rather, it discusses the characters of the two me. Napoleon was the head of an empire, Wellington was answerable to the English Prime Minister and the English parliament. Wellington was an aristocrat, Napoleon was not. Napoleon had commanded huge armies, Wellington commanded for most of his career very small armies around 40,000.Wellington and was a more versatile tactical commander than Napoleon. Wellington had apprised Napoleon's genius far earlier than the reverse. They both read as much as they good about the other in journals and newspaper both English and French. Napoleon did not crack "the thin red line," at Waterloo and that line was never broken anywhere else. Wellington probably saved Napoleon's life by
preventing him from falling into the hands of the Prussians. In the end, Wellington outgeneraled Napoleon at Waterloo something Napoleon could never admit.Napoleon spent the rest of his live (he died in 1821) justifying himself. The books greatest fault is to continue about Wellington after Napoleion's death. Elizabeth Longford's two volume biography of Wellington is the place to learn all one needs to know about Wellington.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2009
Andrew Roberts has the two qualities essential to the historian: academic substance and a good literary style. Both are displayed to good effect in Napoleon and Wellington:The Long Duel. Roberts also possesses a subtle sense of humour - something which, in books of this length, is always a welcome companion.
It is clear from the historical evidence that Wellington began to impact upon Napoleon's awareness from the moment he landed in Portugal at the head of a British army, in 1808. But what is not clear is why - in spite of publicly threatening to do so - Napoleon did not enter the Spanish theatre to confront Wellington in person. Instead he chose to fight him by proxy - throwing marshal after marshal at him in Spain, and then hounding them with distant and irrelevant letters from Paris telling them how to run a campaign of which he was having no direct experience. Was he avoiding Wellington? And if so, why? It was (and remains) something of a mystery, not least to the Duke himself. It was clearly not because the Peninsular War was too minor an affair to engage his attention. And nor was it because he had not publicly promised to personally intervene, or, at one point, to have made the preparations for so doing. And so began this curious "long duel" - between one man who was prepared to fight the other, and the other who seemingly avoided fighting the one. It would end only when they finally did face one another across a battlefield, for both the first and the last time, at Waterloo.
What Andrew Roberts has written is the subtle and fascinating story of the (anti) relationship between these two figures, which gradually emerged and grew during the course of their lifetimes. His starting point - and indeed his starting fact - is the birth of them both in 1769. They were contemporaries. Both of them products of the same historical milieu, who would eventually face one another - finally and decisively - in 1815. This alone gives them more in common than, for example, the subjects of Plutarch's famous Parallel Lives. When I picked up the book I was perhaps expecting Roberts - like Plutarch - to have written two separate biographies of the men within the covers. But this is not the approach he has chosen to take. Rather, he has produced a single narrative which weaves between them as their careers gradually intersect and collide. Napoleon and Wellington is a brilliant study of character, of propaganda, of politics, of war and of history. What emerges are telling pen portraits of the two men, told in terms of their statements and actions in relation to one another. On the one hand we have the terse, intelligent and pragmatic Wellington (who was also something of a beau and a wit) and on the other, the rather overstated and grandiloquent Napoleon: the man who began by saying "I am the Revolution" but who then crowned himself Emperor and had to be addressed as "Your Majesty". In my view, there was something childish about Napoleon. Something not quite grown-up about his dreams and his vanities; which is not to take anything away from him as a soldier. Wellington, by contrast, was not the kind of man to entertain illusions for long - "I must go and take off my muddy boots," he said.
Post 1815 - and without a lengthy war to engage the attention - the narrative does flag a bit. Napoleon in exile on St Helena becomes rather a sad figure - obsessively re-fighting Waterloo in his mind, and finding fault with everyone and everything except himself. It was a sad postscript to a notable, if bloody, career. Wellington - perhaps by nature being the more phlegmatic of the two - generally managed to conduct himself better in the aftermath of Waterloo and throughout the long decades that followed (he died in 1852). Although the clash of reputations and - in some senses - the battle for posterity continues.
Anybody who is interested in the careers and characters of the two men, and in the great battle which crowned the career of one, and ended the career of the other, will enjoy this compelling and well-written study.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2011
a well written book, subjects brought to life by excellent author. highly recommend to someone coming to these people for first time
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2010
Very good which details both men's rise through the ranks to their first and only direct engagement at waterloo
on 8 October 2013
Having already read biographies of both Napoleon and Wellington I wasn't too sure what to expect from this book. I was pleasantly surprised. Mr. Roberts has added to my knowledge and understanding of both men. Yes, there are assumptions made, but he takes us to both sides of the argument and I found it very fair to both of them. The book races along and doesn't get bogged down at all. I thoroughly recommend it.