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on 28 January 2012
Similar to Simon Sebag Montefiore and Max Hastings, Saul David is accomplished at blending together scholarship, narrative and argument. This book is ambitious in its scope, but yet more than any other book on the British Army released over the past few years All The King's Men meets most of its ambitions. Biography, military minutiae, frontline accounts, set piece battles and the burdens of leadership are all married together with intelligence and style.

If I had to have one small criticism I would say that the chapters on the American War of Independence do not quite stand up to those that come before or after, but that may partly be put down to the nature of the war and our defeat.

I sincerely hope that the author is planning a follow-up to All The King's Men. Professor David has written with authority and affection recently about General Slim, in his short but superb book Great Military Commanders. I would be interested in his views about how the British Army performed in WWI and WWII. All the King's Men gloriously recounts how we passed muster in numerous conflicts which came before.
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As a reader, whilst I'm fairly up on the General's points of view on various wars, it's how the rank and file troops were armed and equipped that always kept me interested. This book by Saul David takes the reader by the hand and gives you the information on how the soldier changed from the Restoration (the 1660's) through to Waterloo (1815) via the various equipment changes and also the training alongside how they interacted on the field.

War is an ever changing beast yet this title by Saul really does bring it all to life, allowing the reader to follow the information in an easy to understand method as well as making it easy to recall. All in a cracking title and one that I'll be referring to time and again. Great stuff.
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on 16 October 2013
Although I would not wish to question the depth of research which went in to this book nor the gripping style in which it is written, I have to confess to a sense of disappointment at the end of reading it. As a biography of some of Britain's most famous army commanders and yet another epic account of the battle of Waterloo, the book delivers on most counts. As an insight in to the "redcoat" and his travails and triumphs it falls well short of, for instance, works such as Richard Holmes' "Redcoat". Of course the literacy standard of the average soldier during this period was such that well documented accounts of their military lives are few and far between. All the more reason therefore to more wisely choose the book's title and content. At no point could I conjure up the excitement, fear and camaraderie of the battlefield from a "redcoat's" perspective...and I write as a former soldier. It is however a well researched book, equally well written and it does rattle along at a good pace. Unfortunately it is the rattling of the officers' bridlery and swords rather than that of a musket volley or bayonets being fixed which ultimately resonates. Musket and Bayonet should have been at the heart of the book but somehow subsided to the periphery.
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on 28 January 2012
This book is informed, argumentative and elegant. Saul David, who has written definitive books about the Indian Mutiny and the Zulu War, has now turned his attention to the 18th century (and up to and including the battle of Waterloo). The book is worthwhile for its portraits of Marlborough and Wolfe alone - but All The King's Men also encompasses the virtues (and vices) of ordinary Redcoats and includes some wonderful set-piece accounts of great battles, such as Blenheim and Quebec.
All The King's Men is far from a hagiography though - and the British Army is rightly criticised for its performance in the American War of Independence (albeit this is partially through the fault of its commanders at the time). There are wonderful nuggets of trivia and the author quotes well (from officers and ordinary soldiers alike) and even though I have read widely on Wellington and Waterloo for instance, Saul David has been able to mine new information from regimental archives.
All The King's Men is also the perfect complement to the author's recent short book on generals and generalship, Great Military Commanders, in which Professor David argues who is Britain's Greatest General - Marlborough, Wellington or Slim. I will not spoil it for readers who may wish to know the author's answer to that question but what I will say is that, from reading All The King's Men, we can be justly proud of having a great British army throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Required reading.
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on 11 July 2013
First let me state that my disappointment isn't with the writing or the accuracy.

This book is subtitled "The British Redcoat in the era of sword and musket". The jacket synopsis reads: "Between 1660 and 1815 British supremacy on foreign soil was near total. Central to this success was the humble redcoat soldier who showed heroism in battle and stoicism in peace, despite appalling treatment. This is his story: of brutal discipline and inedible food, of loyalty and low pay, of barracks and battlefield - of victory, defeat, life and death."

I may be alone in reading the above and imagining accounts of the lives and conditions of ordinary British soldiers in the period. However, probably owing to a dearth of material, the book is nothing of the sort.

What it is (however readable), is an account of the generals of the period. True, the reader is provided with snippets from the few diary or letter sources written by rank and file soldiers or junior officers but hardly enough to warrant the subtitle or synopsis.

It is readable but I'm left with the sense that the author set out to document the period from the perspective of the ordinary soldier but finding that there just isn't enough material to do so, wrote about the various generals instead.

Whether the cause and effect of this approach explains why so much is dedicated to the French Revolution and to Napoleon's victories before any British redcoats ever faced his troops is a question that only the author can answer. The fact remains that a rather large chunk of the book is not about British redcoats, not even their generals.

This book fails in the stated aim (at least as far as the jacket proclaims it to be). There is very little about the ordinary soldier that even the most superficial reader of military history would not know before picking up this book. If the point was to provide an anthology of British generals, it almost succeeds but not quite.

None of the above renders it a bad book. Sadly it isn't a good one either hence the rating.
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on 1 September 2013
The best descriptive account that I have read of the reality of close combat war. A very illuminating account of Wellington's childhood, background and sometime faltering military career. Quite the best account of The Battle of Waterloo that I have found.
Better more comprehensive maps would enhance this work. Fold out maps would be brilliant but perhaps not possible in paperback binding.
I would recommend this work to anyone who has an interest in Military History in the 17th to 19th Centuries
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on 13 September 2013
Book was for my husband to take on holiday so for 14 days all I kept hearing everyday was "this is a great book" and he couldn't put it down! He reads a lot of history events and this has been one he has really enjoyed so would recommend this to anyone interested in historical military actions.
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on 23 January 2014
I must confess that the opening to this book put me off. The author suggests that the great battles and leaders of the British Army in the years 1660-1815 have been neglected in preference to the exploits of the Royal Navy. Nothing could be more further than the truth. Richard Holmes has recently written about Wellington and Marlborough and Stuart Reid about Wolfe - to name but two authors. Christopher Duffy and Jeremy Black have also published widely on eighteenth century matters. Soon after this author tells us that a battalion had 800 men - not in reality (Argyle had under 400 men per battalion at Sherriffmuir for instance).

The author seems unaware of other works of scholarship for his pages on Culloden (Prebble's book is very dated and those by Duffy and Reid are far better). Nor does he delve in the War Office papers at the National Archives which give a great insight into the common soldier; as regards wounds, pensions, desertion and enlistment. This book also contains numerous errors of fact. Cumberland did not have 2,400 cavalry at Culloden, his army was not 'English' but British, the Jacobite army included Lowlanders, Irish, French and English not just Highlanders. The aftermath of Culloden is more complex than imagined here. Marlborough did not direct the campaignh in 1715 but the Secretaries of State and Secretary at War, and most troops were not rush northwards but sat in garrisons in suspect towns and cities in England. Major battles recveive little attention, eg Fontenoy, whereas a small battle such as Sedgemoor is given much space because Churchill was present. The Peninsular camapign in the Spanish Succession War is ignored.

The author also wastes pages with accounts of the French Revolution and Napoleon's early campaigns.

I don't think there is much here that is new.

However, the book is aimed at a popular audience and in its limited and mostly unoriginal remit of great geenrals and battles, with a little about the social and political background, it suceeds in its aim. The battles are mostly described well enough and few cannot be stirred by the heroism at Waterloo and elsewhere, and marvel a the inspired generalmanship of Wellington and Marlborough. I found myself liking the book despite my caveats above.
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on 13 July 2013
As a pacifist I find it rate I enjoy any description of war, but this book is a masterpiece, combining actual soldiers descriptions of the battles, with cool prose describing what happened. I had never appreciated how poor a general Washington was, or how hard soldiering was for the ordinary soldier.
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on 8 February 2013
Delivery was good and condition great. The book is a fantastic read dealing with the army from the restoration through the european battles, the war with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the scotts, the battle for Quebec and the American war of Independance up to the Battle of Waterloo. Highly recommended.
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