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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793-1815
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on 21 March 2018
This well written and superb book is not about the great battles and high politics of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, indeed they are barely mentioned, rather the sinews of victory, the administration, the industry, the mechanics of how Britain ground out victory after two decades of struggle. In many ways, as this book makes clear, the national effort and peril Britain went through was the equal of 1940 if less well remembered.

The book is set out in themes, each with interesting and apt contemporary sources under each heading, so we have chapters on food, how the army was fed and transported , how Whitehall worked, shipbuilding , it sounds dull but it really isn't and the everyday struggles of a whole range of officials come to life. This approach allows little know aspects of the wars to be covered but it does bring a couple of issues, for example a degree of prior knowledge of the period is assumed and required, each chapter covers similar periods from different view points so without an overarching knowledge of the war you may be left adrift albeit there is a chronology in the back of the book.

The author writes in a clear style and the text is interspersed with the odd useful map, ditty or aside such as how Weevils got their name, there is perhaps an over reliance on footnotes thorough, every page seems to have a couple and it breaks the flow, it smacks of an author who is desperate to include everything and a bit more pruning was maybe required.

There is the odd assertion that I don't necessarily agree with such as Napoleon securing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, it was more a case that Francis II abdicated and removed the Imperial regalia to prevent Napoleon usurping the Imperal title but this is a minor quibble. What is more annoying is that the themes chapters result in events not being explained, such as Pitt, the Prime Minister fights a duel but we 're not told why, there is a premptive attack on Copenhagen against neutral Denmark but it's only in a different chapter on a different subject that the reasons behind it are explained.

Overall though this is a valuable and enjoyable addition to the subject which should be read by anyone with any interest in the period and definatly recommended.
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on 14 January 2014
This was my choice for my economics book club, and it almost caused a rebellion. Although very positively reviewed everywhere, the book we read was dry, overly detailed and overlong. A few members accused me of having wasted a week of their lives, and spoilt their christmas holiday. Here are my notes:

Some interesting information, but overlong, over-detailed, poorly structured, and lacks context. In particular if the aim is to compare the performance of Britain with France, then some discussion of French performance is required. To those of us interested in the broad themes of history, rather than the minutiae of which historical character did what, when, this book could form the basis of a useful pamphlet. It really needed a good editor.

The good:
1. Very good on logistics. I had not appreciated the difficulties of transporting an army to the continent and keeping it supplied. It is clear that Britain had no chance of confronting Napoleon on the field given its logistical problems. It could never hope to land an army larger than 70,000. Also, I had not appreciated how Britain's dominance of the sea gave it a communications advantage, in that messengers could travel more quickly by sea than overland.
2. Although it is not stated explicitly it is possible to see how the need to fund Britain's war effort led to a widening of the tax base, which in turn led to both demands for a widening of the franchise and reform of govt institutions. Middle class tax payers demanded both that their money were spent wisely and efficiently, rather than on patronage, and that they were represented in parliament.
3. Footnotes. As in many dry academic text most of the entertainment was to be found in the footnotes.

The bad:
1. Who was this book aimed at? It purports to be popular history but is dry, overly detailed and lacking in colour (for example, he states that Pitt the Younger fought a duel while still Prime Minister, but does not explain why). Yet for an academic text it lacks context and is poorly structured.
2. Lack of context: if Britain is outperforming France in its war financing, as he mentions, then it would be useful to have some information on how the French funded their war effort etc. There was none of this. We thus cannot adequately compare the performance of the French and British states and have no way of evaluating his thesis that Britain eventually won out over Napoleon because of its ultimately superior social, political and economic organisation. An alternative thesis would be that we eventually won simply due to our more balanced form of government: as Emperor, Napoleon, could do as he pleased, eventually leading to the disaster of the Russian campaign of 1812.
3. Poor structure: either choose to structure chronologically or by theme. Don't do both. The result is a bit of a mess. For example, in the later chapter "Blockade, Taxes and the City of London 1806-1812" he refers several times to the "first financial crisis of 1797", which he had covered in a mere half page earlier in the book. Why a whole chapter devoted to finance during the final 3rd of the war, but only brief mentions of it for the first 2/3rds
4. Excessive detail. What I wanted was a broad overview of the performance of the relative performance of the British and French social, political and economic systems. What I got was a vast amount of detail about who did what, when within the British establishment. Amidst all this minutiae it was difficult to keep hold of the bigger picture.
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on 20 January 2016
Roger Knight has done a great service to those of us interested in the 18th century, especially the long wars with Republican and then later Imperial France under Napoleon. So much is written about the soldiers and sailors heroic deeds, while the biographies of the politicians add a human dimension to the decision making process, the battles for party and national interest, and how they grappled with the sheer complexity of events at a time of doubtful intelligence, delays in communications, and the fog of war which enveloped so many countries and territories. Knight's book looks at the men we have hardly heard of, the logistics planners ,the shippers, victuallers, the manufacturers, in short all the back room boys who made it all happen to help Britain cope, then survive, then triumph in the first global conflict. Well written, well structured and well worth the effort of adsorbing the detail that he has put before us.
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on 20 April 2016
This is a very serious and detailed study of the politics of the Napoleonic era in Britain. It is especially valuable for its coverage of the logigistics of the period : how to keep the army and the navy equipped and supplied. Particularly eye-opening is the explanation and mapping of the two wartime innovations : the coastal line of Martello towers and the lines of telegraph / semaphore towers both in England and France. Communications from the front to the Admiralty and War Office were revolutionised. The densely packed book is not an easy read, but it rewards the persevering student.
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on 7 November 2017
This is a really good book, which skilfully highlights the forgotten administrators and politicians whose tireless work lay behind Britain's ultimate victory in the Napoleonic Wars. Knight has a keen eye for telling details and exposes many neglected facets of the war effort; I found the sections detailing the herculean efforts of wartime packet captains to deliver mail to the Continent particularly fascinating. Knight's account, understandably given his maritime history background, pays rather more attention to the navy than to the army, although I didn't much mind this.
Readers looking for swashbuckling tales of martial glory are likely to be disappointed – this is a book about bureaucracy and the British state, but Knight's work is all the more masterful for it. Who knew pencil-pushing could be so engrossing?
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on 1 November 2013
A fascinating insight into the Napoleonic Wars and the logistics behind equipping, organising and financing a major war, starting from the nadir of the 1783 defeat to the American Colonies, when British capabilities were called into question. Mr Knight gives the practical details of how to run a major war, rather than tales of battles and derring-do, yet the book remains easy to read, despite the length,though it is also shorter than the Amazon page length suggests, with 250+ pages of appendices, references and indices. Mr Knight's knowledge and attention to detail are impressive,yet he wears it all lightly. Thoroughly recommended, even if, like me, you know little of the campaigns outside of "Sharpe."
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on 18 January 2014
I think this is a riveting account of Britain's relationship with Europe and in particular the machinations of the French Revolutionary war and Napolionic wars and how they affected Britain and the government of the time.

The book also deals with the British governmental structure, the personalities involved, how they were influenced, the decisions they made, their strengths and weaknesses and the outcomes that resulted.

The work is obviously the product of some extensive and detailed research and comes together in a really captivating read about momentous times for the people of this country under the threat of invasion at a time of sail powered warships.
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on 19 February 2014
It makes me sad to contradict the enthusiastic reviews above, for clearly an enormous amount of research and enthusiasm have gone into writing this book.
But there is no point to these Amazon reviews if they are not able to warn off potential readers, and no point in research if the author cannot communicate its results in an enjoyable form.
In this case, his information having been divided into many separate (and repetitive headings), reading the result is like wading through rice pudding. By the time I found myself revisiting the abortive raid on Antwerp for the fourth time, I decided to close the book for the last time.
Worse, because of its uninformative index, I cannot see it being much use as a textbook or for reference.
A terrible shame.
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on 15 February 2018
Definitive book on the Napoleonic Wars and the threat of invasion. Excellent
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on 18 February 2016
It is an extremely well researched book that builds a comprehensive picture of Britain's long struggle with France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
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