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Eminent Victorian Soldiers: Seekers of Glory
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is a detailed overwiew of the lives and military careers of eight prominent Victorian Generals and as such it represents a very interesting insight in the higher echelons of the British Officer Corps during the XIX century. Spanning from the Napoleonic Wars to the First World War, the narrative brings to life the experience of these leading figures of British military from the professional as well as human point of view. Often at loggerheads with the political authorities on the spot and at Home, these Generals (Hugh Gough, Charles James Napier, Charles Gordon, Garnet Wolseley, Frederick Roberts, Evelyn Wood, Hector MacDonald and Herbert Kitchener)were nevertheless the spearhead of the expansion of British Empire during the Victorian Era. Their failings as well as assets are presented by Farwell with fairness, even though this is not enough to conceal a slight preference for Lord Roberts, undoubtly the best person of the lot. Through the life ot these leaders of men the reader has a better understanding of the different motivations behind the "imperial adventure" of Britain. The author does a commendable work in bringing to the fore the often original, quizzical or downright ambiguous personality of these "empire-builders". As a scholarly work the book is a bit superficial: the influence of the cultural and social background of the charachters remains to be analyzed and the problems of the relationships between the Army and society are not properly stressed. These failings apart, I found this a high recommendable book for anyone interested in Victorian Colonial history and one of the very few sources of information now available about XIX century British Generals.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This is a fine selection of off-the-wall & varied characters. From the cold, calculating introverts to magnificently brave & foolish show-offs. Their strengths &, many times their weaknesses, are developed with brutal frankness. For almost every positive trait there is usually a corresponding defect, that many times went without notice during the charater's lifetimes. This "warts n'all" approach, whilst probably being completely libelous (if the guys were not long dead), has a humanizing effect that increases both the credibility of the stories, & the reader's interest in the subjects. What all the Generals certainly have in common is an implacable desire to succeed at all costs. Completely oblivious to personal danger, & most, in their thirst for victory, having a callous disregard for the lives & general well-being of their soldiers. The content is varied, the style is fast, well written, & above all, enjoyable. History at school should have been as much fun to read as this!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This compendium biography presents a fine sketch of the eight prominent Victorian generals who commanded during the Little Wars of Queen Victoria. The often respressed and somewhat bizarre characteristics of these men seems typical of the Victorian mind-set. While they were certainly eccentric, these men personified the times they lived in and in their actions pursued the notion of the White Man's burden to civilize the dark regions of the world.
In the politcially correct times that we live in today perhaps some of these notions will appear offensive, but in order to appreciate these man we must understand the times they lived in and try not to impose our own values upon them. Indeed, many Victorians would find our social values today strange to comprehend as well. Byron Farwell specializes in the Victorian military experience and his writtings on this topic are always witty and informative.
The reader may find it surprising that homosexuality was present in several of these gentlemen, namely Charles Gordon and Hector Macdonald. Again, we can attribute this to the oddities of the age which repressed such feelings on the surface, thereby encouraging their lurkings behind the scenes. It is doubtful that any of them would have preferred to advertise their inclinations as seems to be the norm today. Homosexuality was more discreet then, and perhaps that was a good thing in a way.
The military life that these men pursued perhaps inclined them toward a different lifestyle as the compnay of women was often infrequent in far outposts.
The talents of these generals certainly expanded the British Empire and made it one of the great epochs of its day. Farwell has provided a worthy addition to Lytton Strachey's earlier work, "Eminent Victorians". The reader will find all sorts of interesting and amusing aspects of these Eminent Victorian Generals.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Farwell has chosen eight men who became national heroes in England during the reign of Queen Victoria (he has a subsequent book called "Queen Victoria's Little Wars). The first two men in whose stories are presented (Gough and Napier) made most of their early imprints during the Napoleonic Wars and later starred in India. Farwell's stories about them are straight forward chronologies of their careers.

The third man to be bio-ed is Charles "Chinese" Gordon who made a name for himself during the Opium Wars in China, but later lost his life in the Sudan at Khartoum. He is the first of the group to be seen with a more critical eye; including the one that intimates that his death was partially self-inflicted by his arrogance.

Roberts is one of those men who always seemed to be at the right place at the right time and knew not only what was due from him, but a smart and creative way of accomplishing it. He was a 'soldiers soldier' and was one of the most respected men of his time for his courage, coolness under fire and concern for the men (including those in the ranks) who served with and under him. He was also a devoted family man.

Garnet Wolseley (much like Kitchener) was famous for his "Ring" of officers who followed him around the English Empire. Unless you were one of his, your chance of finding help or work was minimal. This attitude is what set him against his contemporaries Roberts and Wood.

Woods could be described as a plugger, and the longer he hung around the better he seemed to be. He doesn't really have much of a claim to fame but did a lot of the 'scut' work that was necessary in building the "Empire" in India and Africa. His career was unusual in that he originally was in the Navy and through some strange happenstance ended up as an Army Field Marshall

Macdonald was a man who was driven in so many ways by his personal demons. He was one of the few men of his day to rise through the ranks from private to general. This may have led him to always feel that he was under a microscope and had to do better than everyone else. Those he had a reasonable early and middle career, he was destroyed by ascersions of homosexuality and pedophilia, that drove him to eventual suicide.

The last to be bio-ed was Lord Kitchener who was an irrascible and taciturn man who also had his little coterie of officers whom he refered to as his "boys". There were only some hints at strangeness in him, he usually kept a young officer as his aide-de-camp but no improprieties were ever leveled at him. His greatest claim to fame was the conquest of the Sudan and the rebuilding of Khartoum. During WWI he served as Secretary of War and helped raise a Volunteer Army for the early fight in France. He was successful by raising a "Pals" Army that promised to keep groups of men together if they joined at the same time. The problem with this idea was that, men were place in the trenches with their friends and in many cases, the entire young male population of an area or town were wiped out in a single battle. Kitchener died while on a military visit to Russia.

All in all these are interesting stories for what they tell us about politics in the Victorian era (or error) and much about how things were run during the "Scramble for Africa" and the "Great Game" in Asia.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The stories are interesting, the writing is engaging, but the genius of this book is to compress a set of biographies into a single book rather than the current trend of writing definitive 1000 page biographies of even minor figures. In bite sized chunks you can survey the human condition, learn something about the history of a time, and get a great set of stories in a fraction of the time.

I wish there were more books like this. I'd like to write a book like this. The subject matter itself is an acquired taste...but read the book anyway.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
I have found this book to become a permanent part of my humble library. If one was to have only one book about the British Empire, one could do a whole lot worse than this little tome.

It is not for the faint hearted PC historian but a real nuts ands bolts book about the Men who went out with amazingly small but highly effective Armies and made a huge chunk of the map pink. (For those not in the Know, the Old Empire was always coloured Pink on the maps) I can only hope that our Army would do so well in Iraq. I can recommended it most highly as it is with Mr. Farwell's other books
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on December 20, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I truly enjoyed reading this book. It covers a number characters in the grand times of Victoria's little wars. The book provides a view of the men with a bit of review of how they operated, fought the enemy and sometimes each other. The little extra bits from their journals and letters make the people more accessible. This book does not gloss over their shortcomings, but it is not meant to be a critical review them either. I found the stories overall to be balanced and well researched. I loved to have had a bit more on each soldier, but that would be quibbling.

I would highly suggest this book to be on your reading list for this bloody, glorious period of time.
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on February 8, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is a great read and primes you to read more about these interesting and driven Victorian Soldiers. Concise Bio's on these men which leaves you hungry for more. Buy this book and be introduced to some great soldiers that helped shape the Victorian World.
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on September 30, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Excellent book revealing many of the shortcomings of these curious military leaders as well as their abilities. Makes you wonder about how the British were ever successful with their tiny army. I enjoyed it and it is a very easy read. Good author.
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on November 30, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A must read book. You simply can't stop reading it. Good research meets talent for narrative.

A grateful surprise. Few books that size bring so much info and fun on reading.
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