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Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 Hardcover – Bargain Price, November 13, 2008

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, November 13, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Historians of Napoléon Bonaparte must assess his role in causing the wars named after him. Esdaile assigns heavy responsibility to the first consul and self-crowned emperor yet declines to analyze the period in exclusively personal terms. Rather, he develops the intersection between Napoléon’s militaristic proclivities and the international relations on which he dreamed of hammering his name into history. Much of Esdaile’s narrative recounts conflicting agendas of the European powers and dwells particularly on suspicions of Britain by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. In degrees, these powers all pursued their traditional foreign objectives, sparking several wars entirely unrelated to France’s territorial expansion. In consequence, France, spurred by its leader’s lack of political restraint and thirst for conquest, was able to war advantageously against one or two powers at a time until the formation in 1813–15 of the alliance that finally defeated Napoléon. Recapturing the flux of international diplomacy and Napoléon’s congenital rejection of compromise, Esdaile persuasively places the diplomatic foundation to popular military histories about the Napoleonic wars. --Gilbert Taylor


“Deft, authoritative, often strikingly counter-intuitive, this is the definitive word on the subject.”
--Telegraph (London)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (November 13, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0670020303
  • ASIN: B002ECEVS4
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,337,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Two Tone on May 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Having read various biographies of Napoleon, including this one, I think some of the negative reviewers perhaps need to go back and look at this book again.

Firstly, this is a book primarily concerned with Napoleon's diplomatic and political relations, rather than his military or administrative achievements (which were many and significant)and even French authors (eg Roger Caratini) have been critical of his approach in this field. Esdaile simply makes the point that there were a number of occasions when Napoleon could have had peace on favourable terms but failed to do so, which doesn't seem that controversial to me.

Secondly, I think Esdaile gives a fairly balanced portrayal of why Britain was perceived as an unreliable ally and doesn't seek to gloss over their tendency to pick off lucrative colonies as opposed to anything else.

Thirdly, he certainly doesn't over emphasise Britain's role compared with that of other players, such as Russia, in Napoleon's ultimate defeat - to me, one of the very strengths of this book is putting the British contribution in its proper context and not over-focusing on it. But Napoleon wouldn't have put so much effort into the Continental System if he hadn't himself recognised the importance of Britain's consistent opposition, so I don't think this is simply a case of 'pipe smoking British historians' smugly congratulating themselves as one reviewer seems to think.

My big takeaway from this book (which is one of at least half a dozen that I've read on this subject) is that even after the Russian debacle, Napoleon could have had peace on terms that anyone else would have considered generous but rejected; in the end, it wasn't really the actions of Britain, Russia or anyone else but ultimately his own that caused his downfall.

Maybe that's the lesson that his admirers find hard to accept - a man of genius in many areas undone by his own ego.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on March 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
I'm primarily an American Civil War buff, at least when it comes to 19th Century warfare. I've read some books about Napoleon (I have a copy of Chandler in my living room) and I've often lamented the lack of a counterpart for Shelby Foote (or Bruce Catton for that matter) when dealing with Napoleon and his wars. The closest thing is Chandler; he doesn't really fill the gap, however, because if Napoleon's not on the battlefield he devotes maybe a sentence to the subject. So Spain gets almost no play, and campaigns like southern Italy are almost completely ignored. So when I saw this book I figured I had to give it a try. While it does much of what I'd hoped, it also does some things I wish it hadn't.

Esdaile is apparently a British academic, and no one ever taught him how to write. He presents a great number of facts and information, and it's all rather clear. The author is apparently something of an iconoclast (he dislikes Napoleon pretty strongly) and it shows throughout the book. However, at times the narrative winds up being less than the sum of its parts because of the author's writing style. Sentences run to 5-6 lines in length, paragraphs take up more than a page, and chapters are 70-90 pages in length. The result is a book that at times is exhausting to read, and is never easy, really. Also, I'm not an expert on Napoleon, but when the author does venture somewhere that I know something about, he makes a few errors. At one point he refers to John Adams' political opponents as "the Federalists". Adams was the first Federalist President himself; his opponents were the Democratic-Republicans.

Regardless, I got some of the information that I wanted, but it was like a visit to the dentist's office. Information is good, but the author should get better at presenting it, or have someone help him with the presentation of his information. A copy-editor would be a good thing.
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53 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Arturo De La Fuente on August 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Contrary to a previous reviewer, I found this book terribly skewed. Mr. Esdaile is not merely critic but openly hostile to Napoleon, he unambiguously presents his case from page 2 of the preface. No doubt Napoleon deserves to be condemned for many things but also praised for others, and the other powers of his time should deserve similar treatment. As critic as Mr. Esdaile is to Napoleon, he spares from his fury other countries and figures, starting from this native England, none of whose actions receives any negative judgement. For instance, when the British navy puts fire on Copenhagen it is presented as a mere misstep which some used as proof of British imperialism. The same goes to British-backed conquering adventures in South America or British domination of Sicily, they were just slippery steps or lack of good judgement. Unfortunately, things in real life are more complicated than that. The less I expect from a historian is that his account of facts is not questioned by his judgements. I am afraid this is not the case in this book. I am disappointed because I bought this book after a positive review in 'The Economist' and good feedback here, in

That aside, the book is full of information and it is well written. Mr. Esdaile's scholarship brights best in describing the war in Spain and Portugal, a topic he knows very well. All in all, I found that the most balanced chapter is the last one devoted to the Congress of Vienna, which happens to be the only chapter not dominated by the figure of Napoleon.

If you look for material to fire your fury against Napoleon, this is your book. If you look for a balanced account of history, look elsewhere.
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