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Marlborough: England's Fragile Genius Hardcover – 5 May 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 564 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; 1st edition (5 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007225717
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007225712
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 380,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘Richard Holmes goes far beyond the life of John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, to depict the moral and political landscape of an entire age in this rewarding biography of the British general…Holmes is as thrilling on his subject's romantic devotion to his wife…as he is on the battles.’ Sunday Times

‘We should…welcome a new biography of the man who was so admired by Napoleon and…Winston Churchill - especially if the biographer is Richard Holmes, whose background is a happy blend of military academia and media friendliness. Professor Holmes tackles his subject at a Light Infantry pacem cracking through a wide-ranging biography with confidence and good humour.’ Independent on Sunday

‘The appeal of Holmes’s books is not merely their authority but their style. His lightness of touch makes these 500 pages a joy to read as well as an education.’ The Times

‘Richard Holmes’s new biography…is probably as comprehensive an account of Marlborough as any single volume can hope to be…there is nobody writing who can move from column into line quite as smoothly as [he] does.’ David Crane, Spectator

‘When it comes to balancing tales of Marlborough’s flaws with those of his genius for war, Holmes discharges his material relentlessly…His descriptions of the general’s tactical system, the way he ran his armues…are all excellent.’ Waterstones Books Quarterly

‘His lucid descriptions of the battles…make this work outstanding…Holmes has written what must be the best, because fairest, biography of Marlborough.’ Daily Telegraph

‘Mr Holmes argues persuasively that the duke’s skill lay in probing his opponent’s defences, then moving quickly and committing troops when a weakness opened up.’ Economist

Praise for ‘Tommy’:

‘Holmes is one of our foremost military scholars and a skilled writer who knows his audience well. This is excellent popular history: scholarly, highly readable and utterly absorbing.’ Daily Telegraph

‘Monumental…Every page of this is worth reading.’ Time Out

Praise for ‘Redcoat’:

‘“Redcoat” is not just a work of history but of enthusiasm and unparalleled knowledge. This is a wonderful book, doing justice to men who have long deserved a chronicler of Richard Holmes’ skill.’ Bernard Cornwell

‘It would be hard to exaggerate the excellence of this book. Vivid, comprehensive, well-written, pacy, colourful.’ Simon Heffer

‘“Redcoat” is the story of the British soldier from the Seven Year War through to the Mutiny and Crimea. It is consistently entertaining, full of brilliantly chosen anecdotes and rattles along at a good light infantry pace.’ David Crane, Spectator

‘All the best-known soldier writers are discussed here, and their anecdotes are told with enthusiasm and aplomb…This is an army from another world, and Redcoat is a splendidly entertaining, moving and informative description of its strengths and foibles.’ Hew Strachan, Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Celebrated military historian and television presenter Richard Holmes is famous for his BBC series ‘Rebels and Redcoats’ and ‘Wellington’. He is the author of the best-selling and widely acclaimed ‘Redcoat’ and ‘Tommy’ and his dozen other books including ‘The Western Front’, ‘Dusty Warriors’ and ‘Sahib’. He is general editor of the definitive ‘Oxford Companion to Military History’. He taught military history at Sandhurst for many years and is now Professor at Cranfield University and the Royal Military College of Science. He lives near Winchester in Hampshire.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By Big Jim TOP 100 REVIEWER on 23 May 2008
Format: Hardcover
Yet another great biography of a great man that I have read in the past few weeks. There must be something in the water that encourages authors to turn these out!
This a very readable and informative biography of someone who is possibly not as well known or appreciated as perhaps he should be as he was directly and indirectly responsible for much of the Europe we see today, so his legacy truly lives on. The fact that he is probably best known as an ancestor of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana does him a great disservice as his life story is so remarkable that in the hands of such an experienced and skillful biographer as Mr Holmes it fairly leaps from the page, and makes this book, (cliche alert!) a real page turner...sorry but it's true. Although the author's expertise is towards military history, he does touch on the importance of his personal relationships and political machinations that went on around him, but not in as great depth. Hibbert's book "The Marlboroughs" which has more detail on his relationship with his wife Sarah and her equally remarkable story is probably as good a book as any for that.

By all accounts Marlborough should be held in as high esteem as Nelson and Wellington in the English/British psyche, and this book goes a good way to supporting that thesis.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's always nice to see another talented historian breaking into the mainstream with a first-class biography for the general reader. Although Holmes is a military historian--and it shows--this isn't a book for anoraks. The earlier sections of the book explain a lot about the financial and political minefields trodden by men and women of property. This is a great help in understanding how Churchill--whose father was on the wrong side in the civil war, and emerged almost destitute--schemed, fought and slept his way to a Dukedom (and even a German Principality). The portrait that emerges is, on the whole, quite sympathetic. The comments of his subordinates weigh very heavily on the positive side, and if his loyalty to James, William and Anne was less than absolute, he never deserted his allies Godolphin, Cadogan or Prince Eugene. He was clearly besotted with his appalling wife, who was finally more of a hindrance than a help to him, and his behaviour towards her was entirely honourable.

Holmes does a very skillful job of weaving narrative, comment and well-chosen contemporary quotations. Churchill/Marlborough was unquestionably a genius, combining the political skills to keep his disparate alliance together, and military skills that were more than equal to the finest that France had to offer. We should never forget that the French were, at the time, the unquestioned masters in all things military, and that their population was about three times that of Britain's.

As a biography, this book can perhaps be excused for its very sketchy coverage of the Spanish theatre of war; after all, the war was fought to keep a Bourbon off the Spanish throne.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marlborough, England's Fragile Genius by Richard Holmes is a very good book about arguably Britian's finest general. It is a well-written book with a good pace and a clear narrative which makes it a very enjoyable read. Although as you would expect the military exploits of Marlborough are the dominant part of the book it is not wholly about his career on the battlefield. Indeed it also deals with his private and political career and is actually an interesting account of the wider time period of the Civil War to the Hanoverian succession. The only slight flaw is I believe the opening chapter which sets the scene and in my opinion is a little too long and detailed for its purpose. Overall though it is a very enjoyable read and a very good book.
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Format: Hardcover
A fine overview of the life of Marlborough with some interesting details and fascinating insights. This may not be the definitive book on Marlborough (I think that honour still lays with Churchill's 3 volume history of his illustrious ancestor) but it would serve as a useful companion to the Churchill series giving some much needed balance to Churchill's occasionally one sided view.
The book has a minor but niggling weakness in that the title, 'England's Fragile Genius' seems to have little connection with the contents. It mentions his headaches and various illnesses but he doesn't seem to be portrayed as particularly fragile.
The major strength of this book is Holmes descriptive capabilities. I've previously read descriptions of the Battle of Sedgemoor and been quite baffled but Richard Holmes made it quite clear what the movements of troops meant to the outcome of the battle and gave some indication as to where mistakes were made and how each side capitalised on the mistakes or misfortune of the other.
A fine book - a good overview and a sound objective analysis of the life of the first Duke of Marlborough.
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I can watch Richard Holmes on the TV but I found this book quite a slog to get through. I wish I wasn't saying that because I do read a lot of history books and wanted to enjoy this more. I do find some history books are so full of life and stories that they read like a fast paced novel but this wasn't one of those... I did learn a lot though and in a year or so may pick it up. I sometimes find a second reading really helps as a reminder and chance to embed.
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