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The Generals, the second volume of Simon Scarrow's series on the lives of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Athur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, picks up where volume one, Young Bloods, left off. Napoleon is a young officer in revolutionary France. Wellesley has returned from campaigning in the Low Countries and is stationed back in Dublin. Neither man is satisfied with his position in life and both are seeking advancement; although for differing motives.

From there The Generals follows both men's paths as they begin to advance their careers. Napoleon's takes him first to Italy, then on to Egypt before a triumphant return to France the assumption of dictatorial powers as First Consul. Wellesley's take him to India, where he is destined to remain for most of the book, converting the East India Company's slim holdings into the largest territory in the British Empire.

As a result The Generals covers some of the most fascinating moments in both men's lives in the period leading up to the commencement of the Iberian campaign. It deals with how both men won their reputations as military strategists and the events that shaped their future attitudes to war and politics.

It does all this very well, covering the most important events in sufficient detail but without forgetting that this is history as enjoyable fiction and getting bogged down in minutae. Purist historians will quibble over some minor factual liberties, which Scarrow owns up to in his afterword, and the glossing over of many of the wider political events of time (everything being seen directly from the perspective of one man or the other) but unless you're planning to sit an exam on the subject of either man's life The Generals is a well written, accessible, exciting study of both men's acheivements and personalities that holds the reader's attention.

Of course by trying to cram in years of world changing history Scarrow is forced to skip over some detail. This gives the narrative an episodic feel as it jumps from one 'big' event to another; a sensation that is increased by the need to constantly move from Napoleon to Wellesley and back. Scarrow is to be congratulated on the fact that the need for these constant shifts of perspective and time do not damage the overall flow of the narrative or the enjoyment of it.

What do however, succeed in doing is highlighting the disparity in the level of each man's acheivements. Whilst Wellesley is no slouch, his successes are limited to the military theatre of India, whilst Napoleon must deal with both military, domestic and diplomatic challenges as he assumes greater powers. This gives the book a slightly lopsided feel. When focusing on Napoleon their is a far greater number and wider scope of events to cover, but in order to do each one must be skated over quickly. With Wellesley events are primarily military in nature (although some diplomatic issues are addressed) so battles can be covered in more detail but are not necessarily of as broad interest.

Further imbalance in the narrative is caused by the author having to address Napoleon's private life in some detail, something he doesn't have to do after the first few chapters with the batchelor Wellesley. Moreover, whilst Bonaparte's stormy marriage to Josephine is important to the story of his life, it also requires greater finesse than scenes of political intrigue or military combat. Unfortunately, crammed into a crowded narrative, Scarrow cannot afford it the attention it deserves and as a result it has something of the feeling of a soap opera, with Josephine little more than a characture.

Minor quibbles over narrative balance, pacing and characterisation aside however, The Generals is up to the standard of Young Bloods, and in terms of excitement surpasses it. Its never going to be praised for its depth of characterisation, subtext or historical accuracy, but if you want a broad insight in the lives of two of history's greatest military minds it can be highly recommended.
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I was intrigued by the idea of a novel from the point of view of Napoleon and Wellington. It is an ambitious aim and, sadly, doesn't deliver. It is interesting to read about the development of their careers, but the novel itself is uninvolving and episodic. The story is told in quite a detached manner and the character development is poor. Napoleon, in particular, goes from ambitious and talented young man to a cold, cruel and self-obsessed general in a matter of a few pages. I suppose it is not the author's fault that the characters are bound to be aloof and obsessed with their own abilities, but the writing fails (for me at least) to engage in any meaningful way. I am very interested in the Napoleonic wars, but I struggled with this - there are far better books on the subject.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 June 2011
In this second book of four Simon continues a spell binding tale of two of Europe's best generals, two very different men who we know are destined to meet on the bloody battlefield of Waterloo.
But before they get there Simon weaves a mesmerising tale of hardship, luck and ingenuity that led these two men from military mediocrity to the leading Generals of their nations armies.
Its barely half way through the year and it will take some serious effort on the part of other authors to knock this book off my number 1 book for 2007.
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on 16 November 2008
The Generals is the second book of a four-part series chronicling the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte. The Generals carries off where the first book of the series, Young Bloods, finished. This is turning out to be an excellent series and The Generals is just as good, if not better, than Young Bloods. this is because in The Generals we are in the midst of the Revolutionary (later Napoleonic) Wars - thus there is plenty of military action, much more so than Young Bloods, which was more of a scene-setter.

The book covers Arthur Wellesley's (later the Duke of Wellington) campaigns in India, the highlight of which is his role in the defeat of Sultan Tipoo of Mysore and the capture of Tipoo's capital of Seringapatam. The India campaign also brings Arthur's logistical and tactical genius to the fore. Along with his brothers Richard (the Governor-General) and Henry, Arthur plays a leading role in establishing British control over the subcontinent.

Following his defeat of a royalist uprising in Paris, the book narrates Napoleon's rapid rise to become First Consul of France. This includes his campigns in Italy and Egypt and the coup that brings him ultimate political power. By the end of the book, Napoleon is established as First Consul for life and holds a virtual dictatorship (not always benevolent) over France. An important sub-plot is his fiery relationship with his wife Josephine, subject to infidelity by both parties. As Napoleon wields ever more power this has a detrimental effect on his relationship with Josephine, who feels a little left out.

There are one or two typos in the book but they will not detract from what is a fascinating novel. As with all his books, Scarrow's strongest aspect as an author is his description of battles, military action and tactics - in this he excells. Scarrow is also good, in this book, at describing the political machinations and intrigue of post-revolutionary France.

In summary I'd recommend the book and am looking forward to the third installment of the series.
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on 18 November 2015
For many years I have only read factual books relating to World War II originated by my Fathers input as a CPO serving on motor torpedo boats with Coastal Forces, it has been greatly satisfying!
This book caught my eye and based on a lifetime interest in history I thought to give it a try. Based on a background of fact, this book has opened my eyes as to how enjoyable a Faction read can be. Simon Scarrow has a terrific way of capturing your interest and using a great style of writing the story just flows from chapter to chapter.
I have just purchased the other three books in the series, would recommend!
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on 15 July 2015
A fantastic and vivid portrayal of these fascinating Generals. When compared side to side like this the differences are clear to see. Napoleon is spontaneous, aggressive, impetuous and somewhat careless in the loss of his soldiers in the pursuit of glory. Wellington, no less ambitious but well organised, careful of his men and methodical in the pursuit of British goals. In this phase Napoleon consolidates his fame and power yet still in pursuit of peace for France. Wellington is the weapon which delivers British domination of India and untold wealth to the Empire.
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on 14 January 2013
I read the Young Bloods way back. I enjoyed that. I like Simon Scarrow's stories in general. I can get completely immersed in the books. I have just read The Generals and the 2 sequels on the trot, no other books in between. Captivating. One minute I was Wellington and the next Napoleon. And then plastered to pieces by grapeshot.

Great tales based around real events, very plausible dialogues depicting the characters of typical English English and French people.

I'll give it 99.99% as one or two facts were glaringly just literary fantasies, shame.
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on 9 July 2012
This book is part of a set of 4 books that must be read in order. They take you through the lives of two great figures in history and are very easy to read, very well written and very difficult to put down!

Written as interesting novels rather than dry biographies they are a great way to learn history and I recommend the whole set to you. Moreover, I would recommend Simon Scarrow as an author too. He has another series of books featuring two fictional characters in a historical setting (Roman Empire) Macro and Cato - well worth the read! Enjoy
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VINE VOICEon 7 September 2008
Bernard Cornwell generously said of Scarrow that "I really don't need this kind of competition", (although I am not sure, even though this is quoted on the back of the paperback, that he said it of this series). The fact is, however, that this is a very different kind of novel to those about Sharpe, Starbuck or Thomas of Horton, or indeed of Jack Aubrey, Horatio Hornblower , Matthew Hervey or of the many other heroes of historical fiction that are truly fictional. Does historical fiction based on the leading protagonists, especially where they are historically well chronicled, really work?

I have to admit that I struggle to remember reading a historical novel based so centred on real and well known historical characters. Claudius and Belisarius by Robert Graves, Alexander the Great by Steven Pressfield, but it is fair to say that very much less of the context and detail of those protagonists' lives were available to their authors. Wellington and Bonaparte have been documented and analysed to a very high degree. Nevertheless, Scarrow's "The Generals" shows that it can be done. His book suffers from the added difficulty that until they meet at Waterloo in June 1815, there is no direct interaction between the two.

Despite these structural difficulties, however, Scarrow brings alive the lives of Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of Wellington) and Napoleon Bonaparte in a compelling narrative. He does admit that there were occasions when he bent the history and tweaked time to make the story work - but I did not notice these in the life of Wellesley. (My knowledge of the details of Bonaparte's life is much less developed and so I would have been much less likely to have picked up anything there anyway.)

There is the odd anachronism. One of Wellesley's colleagues in India comes out with "Only to the same extent that porcine aviation is conceivable". In 1803? While the phrase "pigs may fly" apparently dates back centuries, according to Wikipedia, the word aviation dates back only to the mid nineteenth century, according to the OED. Amusing, therefore, but ill-disciplined! Wellesley would not have approved.

I shall certainly read the third instalment of this series when it comes out, but ultimately I found it less satisfying than the more truly fictional works mentioned above. Perhaps one of my problems is that I felt that I should have been spending my time reading a "proper" biography. If that doesn't bother you, then that will not get in the way of you enjoying this gripping account of the period when the "revolutionary" wars became "Napoleonic".
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on 8 June 2013
This book is outstanding as a ripping yarn based on historical facts - not an easy thing to achieve. Simon Scarrow has brought his narrative skills to inject credible characterisation to two giants of history. Its scope on a geo-political scale is breathtaking and I found myself imposing a regime of one chapter per day so I could savour the exciting prose moulded over historical events. A must-read book.
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