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The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Gunther Rothenberg's "The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon" is a highly readable survey of the changes in the art of war during the 23-year conflict spawned by the French Revolution and the Wars of Napoleon. Despite its brevity, "The Art of Warfare" is remarkably comprehensive, addressing weapons, tactics, strategy, and supporting military services such as engineering and medical care. Rothenberg provides a short synopsis of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and commentary on the military establishments of the principal combatants.

Rothenberg rightly devotes much of the book to the innovations of the French Army as it evolved under the necessity first of defending the Revolution and then under the hand of its martial Emperor, Napoleon I. The concept of the nation in arms made possible mass armies which often overwhelmed the small professional armies of its adversaries. Lack of training led to an emphasis on shock in battle, produced by fast moving infantry columns, massed artillery fire, and operational maneuver against the flanks and rear of opponents. Rothenberg notes the effects of a persistent French failure to build a robust supply system. French soldiers in the field were expected to forage to survive. The Army as a whole was forced to disperse to find food, and Napoleon had to rely on exquisite timing to mass his forces in time for battle. The lack of a supply train imparted operational mobility, but when foraging failed, as it did in Russia, or provoked guerrilla war, as it did in Spain, French soldiers starved or were picked off in ambush.

The many success of the French Army prompted varying degrees of emulation by the Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and British armies. The Prussians sought most to copy the French methodology, while the British prefered to enhance the professionalism of their forces rather than build a mass army.

Rothenberg wrote "The Art of Warfare" in 1978. Close students of the Napoleonic Wars will find a few mistakes, and the volume has a surprising number of misspellings. However, these imperfections really do not detract from what is an excellent work.

This volume is highly recommended to the student looking for a manageable introduction to the Napoleonic Wars, and to the serious student as a superb companion volume to the longer operational-level histories. The casual reader with some background in military affairs may also find this book a worthwhile read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2006
Rothenberg expands on the typical Napoleon book about war by concentrating on the human factor by explaining what the soldiers went through in victory and defeat.

Rothenberg also dissects the French Army like few of his contemporaries by starting with the pre-revolutionary make-up through the advances which made Napoleon famous and victorious.

Well written and educational, necesary as a companion to other classics as Swords Around a Throne by Elting, How Far From Austerlitz by Horne, European Diplomacy by Ross, and biographies by Markham and Schom.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2003
I have several books titled 'Art of Warfare' covering several military history periods, and for the life of me I cannot understand why they are all so thinly bound! I wish Gunther Rothenberg had kept going, but perhaps there is only so much to say on certain topics without getting into the details of decisions made by the commanders themselves. In any case, this book is a prized part of my Napoleonic history collection, and serves as a useful complement to Elting's 'Swords around the Throne'.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This work is a clear, concise and readable work on French organization, strategy, and tactics from the French Revolution to Waterloo. The book also covers the enemies of France during that time period. For such a small book, less than 300 pages, Rothenberg provides a wealth of information. I found myself repeatedly underlining passages in this book. A great reference to be used in any study of the epoch. Well worth the modest cost, highly recommended.
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on June 14, 2014
As a lay reader interested in the period, I found this book to be easy to read. It is chock full of information not easily found elsewhere in one place, and does an excellent job of providing a broad-brush view of Napoleonic militaries and the forces that formed them. The book starts with a review of military thinking and practices of the period just before the French Revolution, and then quickly and easily explains how the cataclysm of the Revolution changed everything -- sooner for the French, or later for most other European powers. There is relatively little description of individual battles; rather the emphasis is on general practices and approaches. Topics include the snap shots of life of soldiers -- not enough to bog you down with detail, but enough to give you a sense of how they lived. Information of weapons of the three branches of the army (infantry, cavalry, artillery) are described and compared across the competing powers. Other topics include the different types and styles of leadership, how officers were chosen, the strategies and tactics explained, the challenges faced in moving large armies without adequate infrastructure (e.g., roads), fortifications and how they were assaulted, camp followers, organization and lack thereof (can you imagine relying on hired civilians to transport your artillery during a campaign?), medical services, and the problems of staff, illness, governmental oversight, planning, and logistics at a time when communication rarely went faster than a man on horseback.

The author, Rothenberg (1923 - 2004), was himself a military man, serving the British Army in North Africa (including service in Intelligence). He went on to become an internationally known military historian, "best known for his publications on the Hapsburg military and Napoleonic Wars." His background in intelligence may help explain how well he has chosen, organized, and presented the information in this very informative book.

The book does suffer from a few occasionally annoying sentence fragments, typos and misspellings. The book also uses British punctuation and spellings. Given the chance, I would encourage the publisher to do a better job of editing. But all in all, these are minor complaints that have little to do with the great content provided. I found the book to be a great overview, filling in a few of the missing jigsaw pieces not covered by the other books I've read (both serious histories and novels) on the period. If you're a lay reader wanting to understand the era's military, this book is an excellent choice.
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on November 18, 2014
Rothenberg's book on the art of warfare during the Napoleonic era is generally referred to as a defining look into the topic. The book is often cited in other historians' works and the content is encompassing. Some pros and cons regarding the book:

Pros:
1. Virtually all aspects of war in the era are covered. Life in the army, tactics and strategy, life for the civilians, etc.
2, The book has some great spreadsheets at the end outlining different battles and sieges which are excellent references.
3. The book is very readable. Divided into subchapters the book is easy to follow and writing in an enjoyable style
4. Although mostly dealing with the French, the book does spend a good chunk of material talking about the life and ways of the different armies facing France including Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria.
5. Well researched and accurate

Cons:
1. The book could have been bigger and gone into greater detail regarding certain issues.

Overall the book is a must for a Napoleonic enthusiast.
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on October 8, 2014
Clear, concise and comprehensive. I found it an outstanding discussion of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with a fascinating amount of detail. I would highly recommend this book to anyone just beginning their exploration of the wars of this era, or for anyone who has been reading about it for some time. I would partner it with Brent Nosworthy's "With Musket, Cannon and Sword". Buy it!
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on July 6, 2015
Great reference. Very well written. If you have interest in the French revolutionary and napoleonic wars, this delves very deep into the details and organization of military tactics of the age. Lots of great history.
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on December 16, 2013
A complete study about the napoleonic warfare and the development of the different Armies of the napoleonic era.
A "must" for the scholars of this matter.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 1999
Rothenberg's book is a highly respected source for those interested in the nuts and bolts of battle in the Napoleonic period. No maps or plates, not a general history. Often mentioned in bibliographies of more recent Napleonic works.
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