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on 12 December 2013
"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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on 23 May 2014
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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on 17 March 2014
"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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This is the second and final part of Muir's excellent biography of Wellington. It covers the period 1814 to 1852. The first part dealt with the Duke's time as a general, this book examines his time as a politician. Muir's account is balanced, informative and written with flair. After reading this book you know a great deal more about Wellington than hitherto.

Of the 30 chapters only the first four deal with the period 1814 to 1815. The topics thereafter covered include: peacemaking; the radical challenge; the Queen's Affair; Verona and Spain; his time as MGO; P M in 1828-30; Catholic Emancipation; out of office from 1830 to 1841; the 1832 Reform Bill; leading the Lords; back in government 1841-52; and C-in-C 1842-52.

Wellington was a pragmatist . His pragmatism was however tempered by flexibility. The Duke had no time for ideology. When formulating policy he asked two key questions: was it necessary, and would it work. He hated the raucous hurly -burly of party politics because he believed it hampered efficient government. He also disliked the press saying it was only tolerable as it was necessary for liberty.

Wellington was in politics during a very turbulent time . He had to deal, for example, with an attempt to murder him and the cabinet, the 1832 Reform Act, violent protests over the demand for more electoral reform, Queen Caroline's divorce, the question of reparations after 1815-which he handled with compassion and generosity, Catholc Emancipation, and the repeal of the Corn Laws. In almost all cases the ex general handled them with dispassionate judgement. In brief, he acted as a true statesman, something that is rare in politics.

Strangely, Wellington has never been fashionable. There has been much debunking starting after his funeral in 1852. This was lamented by Tennyson. Peterloo, unfortunately, has long overshadowed the success of Waterloo. He was also a notorious philanderer. The attraction of Muir's book is that it redresses the balance. Since Longford's great biography some 40 years ago new evidence has been discovered about Wellington's life and times. Muir makes good use of this. He shows how the harsh image of the 'Iron Duke' has been greatly exaggerated. It is true that his political record is marred by errors but he governed with integrity. He never tried to rule like Cromwell or Napoleon. Wellington demonstrated that in Britain the military are subordinate to civilian authority. Only a Wellington could have obtained Catholic Emancipation against stiff opposition in the Lords and in Buckingham Palace. He even fought a duel over it.

Muir's superb biography demonstrates that the Duke was the right man in the right place at the right time.

The bibliography and notes are sound. The maps and illustrations are excellent.

Read it.
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on 8 January 2014
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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on 30 January 2016
An excellent second volume of Rory Muirs biography of Wellington. It starts well covering with the short peace of 1814 and then capturing the drama of the Waterloo campaign brilliantly. I found the section on early stages of Wellingtons political career slightly heavy going, with a seeming emphasis on long quotes and extracts. That said, the book quickly recovers its earlier focus and ease of reading and the last 300 pages, covering some of the most dramatic moments of early-mid Nineteenth Century fly by and are, in truth, hard to put down.

In this and the earlier volume, Rory Muir has succeeded in creating a detailed, yet balanced, portrait of one of the miss important people in British history. Both books are highly recommended.
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on 20 June 2015
The amount of studies and reseaches Mr Muir has amassed is staggering. The Duke's life has always been my favorite subject so I was so pleased to read this and grateful for his tremendous enthusiasm. However, I wish he had more prose and elegant style of writing as the story could become rather tedious at times. The author has a textbook way of explaining things, which is good for historical accuracies but not too good for keeping the reader interested to the last page.
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on 24 March 2014
I originally bought the hardback version which I began to read. However after a few days, because of the size and weight, I developed a strained wrist and, also, as my sight isn't as good as it used to be, I had difficulty in seeing the small print. I therefore splashed out and bought the kindle version which made things more comfortable. I would certainly recommend this solution to anyone with weak wrists or reading difficulties.
The book itself is excellent if you are interested in following Wellington's progress in India and the Peninsular Wars. The latter involved almost 5 years continuous campaigning and each battle and siege is dealt with in great detail, even if one gets lost in the lists of regiments etc involved in each event.
Nevertheless it gives a detailed description of his military leadership and at the end I felt that I had personally experienced and helped to clear Spain of Napoleon's huge armies and finished the book with a sense of relief and jubilation.
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on 3 May 2015
Just got to the 22% on my Kindle and thinking this is a great book for anybody interested in history. The amount of research that has been done is impressive and the book is written in a lively and interesting style. Even the non-military bits are packed with incites and detail that keep you engaged.
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on 11 June 2016
An excellent review of Wellington...not known by me. I'm brimful of knowledge about the great Man...The Author has done a magnificent job in his 2 volumes over 30 years.
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