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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Atty, the long-nosed bugger what beats the French"., 12 Dec 2013
By 
D. C. Stolk (The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814 (Hardcover)
"Wellington: The Path To Victory, 1769-1814", the new biography of the Duke of Wellington by Rory Muir, is simply put the best biography of the Iron Duke now available. It supersedes any previous bios and is a prime example of how biography should be written. Although a massive tome (744 pages in the print edition) it is still only the first book of a two-volume set, the fruit of a lifetime's research and discovery into Wellington and his times by author Rory Muir.

As the author noted in his preface, Wellington was not, in the usual sense of the phrase, "a political soldier", but both politics and the army were intimately entwined throughout his career, from the very beginning until the end. He was a Member of Parliament before he saw a shot fired in anger; when he died (1852) he was both Commander-in-Chief of the army and an elder statesman of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords.

This has led author Muir to write a two-volume biography that is a thorough reassessment of Field Marshal Wellington's entire life from the cradle to the grave and in which three strands are constantly entwined: Wellington's own actions and perspective; the history of his military campaigns and the political debates in which he was engaged; and the way he was perceived by his contemporaries, or the history of his reputation, which was itself a significant influence on his life and actions.

"The Path To Victory, 1769-1814" covers the first forty-five years of his life. Alas, for the Battle of Waterloo (1815), Wellington's crowning glory, we will have to wait for volume two. Rory Muir shows that the 1st Duke of Wellington, arguably, the greatest and most successful of all British generals, was a far more complicated man than the Victorian image of this national hero, the cold and haughty aristocrat nick-named the "Iron Duke", would let us believe.

The book has 34 chapters, divided over four parts, which take the reader from his birth in 1769 and an unsettled childhood to Toulouse and the end of the (Peninsular) War in 1814. Although the battles inevitably take center stage from chapter six on, the author meanwhile examines the many strengths and the flaws that together made him a complex and interesting man as well as a great soldier.

Muir's thirty years' research into the Duke of Wellington and his times, has debunked many myths concerning the Iron Duke. This author also pays attention to periods in Wellington's life that have been skipped over by other biographers (take for example the years between his return from India and the beginnings of the Peninsular War, covered in chapters 11-14 in this book) more interested in his military history, as well as a host of other elements of both his public career and private life that never before have received detailed scrutiny.

To give a few examples: Although regularly attributed to him in dictionaries of quotations, Wellington never mentioned that "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton"; that quip was invented by the French journalist Charles Montalembert three years after Wellington's death.
And there's the oft-used quote (also used as title of this review): two privates when ordered to march of by one of Wellington's staff, said they knew who it was that ordered: "`Atty the long-nosed bugger that beats the French", while the original source reads: "It was that long-nosed beggar that licks the French."

To sum it up: this is an eminently readable book that provides an incredible amount of new information on Wellington and, while especially the military campaigns are exactingly detailed, never gets bogged down. Rory Muir, one of the leading authors on the subject of the Napoleonic Wars, managed to hold my interest throughout the narrative. Recommended!

Although a massive tome, it should be noted that "only" 65% of the book is text. The last 35% of this volume is taken up with a brief chronology of Wellington's life and career to 1814; the extensive endnotes, and a wide-ranging bibliography and index.

The book is also lavishly illustrated: it has 66 illustrations, both in color and in black & white and with extensive captions, as well as 26 maps of his campaigns and battles. These maps provide the only major point of criticism: most of these are "satellite-view" charts of where the battles took place, not military-style maps of the battles itself. Had these also been provided, would have really put "the icing on the cake", so to speak.

Volume 2: Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace, 1814-1852 will be available in spring 2015, and I am eagerly awaiting this sequel, which will cover Waterloo and the remaining years of Wellington's (political) life until his death in 1852.

Now for the added value provided by the author, which raises this book to Five Star Plus status if possible to award: the website is mentioned in the book, but search online for "life of wellington rory muir" and you'll discover the UK website that is home to the accompanying Commentary of this biography. In his research, Muir made many interesting discoveries which, for reasons of space, can only be touched on briefly in the biography. This extensive Commentary (about the same length as the main narrative) is available to read online and as a free download. As Muir notes on this website: the Commentary adds a third layer to historical writing: a parallel text that elaborates, divagates and illuminates, and whose online format makes it easy to search and explore.

For further reading on the Napoleonic Wars, I recommend:: "Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket" by Richard Holmes, "The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War" by David Gates and "Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793-1815" by Roger Knight.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched book, 8 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814 (Hardcover)
This excellent book by Rory Muir is well researched and insightful.

Positioned as the first of two volumes on the life of Wellington this biography will be hard to better in the inevitable rush to publish books in the lead up to the 200th anniversary of his victory at Waterloo.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid and thorough, 23 May 2014
By 
Michael G. Hinton (Dover U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814 (Hardcover)
This is detailed and substantial biography which paints a vivid picture of its subject. The chapters on the Peninsular War do not break much new ground, but the account of Wellington's earlier years does. I look forward to the second volume.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 6 Aug 2014
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Jmg Mcdonald - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814 (Hardcover)
Best book
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Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814
Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814 by Rory Muir (Hardcover - 4 Oct 2013)
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