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Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 Hardcover – November 13, 2008
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"A joy to read . . . Attractive, well written and, on occasion, pleasantly idiosyncratic . . . A splendid book."
"Deft, authoritative, often strikingly counterintuitive, this is the definitive word on the subject."
-Telegraph (UK), Books of the Year
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is really quite good. Lucid, intelligent, and for the most part very well written. The preponderance of detail is with the diplomatic rather than the strictly tactical or... Read morePublished 7 months ago by AG
In my opinion, this book is THE definitive authority on the Napoleonic Wars. Instead of coming up with a linear, casuistic narrative, Esdaile looks at the Napoleonic Wars as a... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Suvy Boyina
This book by Charles Esdaile deserves better treatment than what it gets from its reviewers on Amazon. Read morePublished 12 months ago by R. Sam
This is a massive narrative that examines the political history of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. Read morePublished 16 months ago by AW
Esdaile has written a very readable book on the Napoleonic Wars - what sets it apart from the others is that he doesn't focus on the fighting, but on the international context... Read morePublished 21 months ago by R. W. Levesque
What is history, and how important is Napoleon in the "Napoleonic Era?" I am again amazed, reading some of the reviews, what people think history is and is not. Read morePublished on July 9, 2014 by Paul Krause
I bought this book with great expectations, as the subject interests me, and Charles Esdaile has forgotten more about Napoleon than I will ever know. Read morePublished on July 24, 2013 by Matthew Stevenson
This was an excellent book dealing with the Napoleonic Wars taken as a whole. It dove into the other minor theaters of the war that are often called by different names. Read morePublished on May 19, 2013 by Nicholas Roberts
"Every book is worth reading at least once."--NOT! The most biased of the trio British historians of Napoleon: Dwyer, McLynn and now this guy. Read morePublished on January 12, 2013 by Kaye Molavi