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Need recommendation for a book on Napoleonic/French Revolutionary Wars

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Showing 1-16 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 30, 2012 5:22:41 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012 5:23:46 AM PST
Can anyone recommend what they think is the best single-volume narrative history of the wars between France and the rest of Europe from 1790 to 1815. Looking not for a Napoleon biography, but for a good account of the military and naval aspects as well as the international political issues (alliances, treaties, short period of peace, etc). Just started reading the Patrick O'Brian "Master and Commander" series and find that my background knowledge of the events and timelines of that sequence of wars is really not adequate.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 5:33:49 AM PST
B. A. Dilger says:
"The Age of Napoleon," in the Will Durante series "The Story of Civilization." (Basic history.)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 6:42:31 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012 6:44:05 AM PST
First of all thanks for the response! However, I should have noted that I do in fact own this volume, and while I am a big fan of he Durants (I have all11 volumes of the series), I have found that this title is not as helpful to me as I would like. This is mostly because Durant had a tendency to focus on one nation at a time, giving a narrative of everything that was happening in France from 1789 to 1815 in one section, including social, cultural, musical, philosophical, artistic trends, then moving on the topic of Britain from 1789 to 1815 in the same vein, and the actual chronological narrative becomes a bit hard to follow. Also, the military elements in Durant, due to the scope of the book, ar not thorough.

I do very much enjoy all of the works of the Durant couple, but in this particular case, I am hoping to find something a bit more exclusively focussed on the military and diplomatic elements of the era, without the side tracks on Beethoven and Leibnitz, etc.

I suppose what I am looking for is something along the similar lines of what S.L.A. Marshall did in his book "The First World War", or Bruce Catton in his trilogy on the U.S. Civil War (although I am hoping to find a single volume if possible).

Again, your suggestion is very much appreciated!

More input is welcome.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 6:45:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012 6:46:55 AM PST
Debunker says:
I'll give you two volumes:

"The French Revolutionary Wars, 1787-1802" by T.C.W. Blanning

"The Campaigns of Napoleon" by David Chandler. If Chandler's too detailed you might try "How Far from Austerlitz? Napoleon 1805-1815" by Alistair Horne.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 8:33:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012 8:49:59 AM PST
In a way it depends on what you are looking for.

For Napoleon, the soldier, Chandler is the baseline standard for any serious inquiry into Napoleon. His take on tactics is a bit outdated and inaccurate, but his vignettes of the people and operational and strategic thinking is excellent. His discussion of battlefield operations, excellent. If you want a great reading list regarding Napoleon as a soldier (and his insurpassable Marshals [who are a study in themselves] I could give you one. But, the Revolution is bigger than that.

Horne's "How Far from Austerlitz? Napoleon 1805-1815" is probably too limited and does not extend to the revolutionary wars and their amusing caste of characters.

I suspect Splanning's "The French Revolutionary Wars, 1787-1801. " is the ticket. But it really predates Napoleon, but then it doesn't because Napoleon is such a big part of it (if that makes any sense). A personal favorite "The Anatomy of Glory", it is that what and the why of the French Imperial Guard. Exhaustive, grim, touching, and all too human, nothing like it.

Or if a more broad scope, his "The French Revolution, Class War or Culture Clash?" is and interesting take on it. As is de Toqueville's "The Old Regime and the Revolution", but these are interpretations of the Revolution in the context of its times.

I think Schama's "Citizens, A Chronical of the French Revolution" is may be what you are seeking, good overview, basis, events and proximate causes, Napoleon, and general chronology. Best seller back in the day.

But the one you may really like is Doyle's "The French Revolution, A very Short Introduction", 108 pages, fits in the palm of your hand. A fun short little intro. It is really a jump off for what you are looking for. The scope and effect of the Revolution is vast and this is a really readable road map in which to go elsewhere.

Posted on Nov 30, 2012 10:39:24 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012 11:02:43 AM PST
Debunker says:
I included the three books (two covering the Napoleon period of 1802-1815) because he wanted the entire period covered, including the Revolutionary Wars. I'm not aware of any single book that does that. I'm not an expert on that time period but the books I listed were the books I thought would give a good basic coverage. Obviously if he wishes to delve deeper into any particular events during that time period there is a lot more information out there.

Thanks for the note.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 10:54:56 AM PST
Thank you everyone. Ecellent suggestions, and it appears that perhaps combining Blanning's book on the period 1787-1802 and one of hte books covering the post-1802 period would be the best combination.

I have been reading the Master and Commander series, and I have watched some of the Sharpe television programs, and hope to tackle the Hornblower books in the not too distant future, and I'd like to be able to understand the actual background political and military situation that drives the plots of these stotries - both globally and local to the action. Thanks for the help!!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 12:30:58 PM PST

If it was me and I knew nothing Blanning and Chandler are the first bets. But beware, it will sneak up on you, it is an incredibly addictive period.

The characters are just the stuff of legend. Most are not aware of the personal bravery required of a leader in those days. Many were wounded dozens of time. Even old Blucher, 73 years old, horse shot and fallen upon him, run over by repeated cavalry charges, was found by his troops and gets up to fight at Waterloo two days later. That is tenacity. Napoleon himself was wounded several time. Everyone knows the story of Napoleons disastrous retreat from Russia. Not so many know who the last French soldier out of Russia was.

It bit me in 1978 and it still remains.

I will say, that not so much has been written about the French navy. Which had some excellent crews and ships but was denied access to the sea. It was that lack of access that prevented the French from practicing the naval and sailing skills they would need against the very competent Royal Navy.

But it is a great if chaotic period. Enjoy.

Posted on Nov 30, 2012 6:01:57 PM PST
Bayer25 says:
One of my personal favorites is Leo Gershoy's "The French Revolution and Napoleon." It would be a little too broad for actual battle tactics, but is quite good in terms of international affairs. I bought mine for $1 at a used book sale, and it has been my constant companion.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 7:19:48 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012 7:24:33 PM PST
IGS - Wow, I never knew that Napoleon was wounded multiple times, or the story about Blucher. At this stage, I merely know a few names and the general locations of the most significant battles. It is indeed a fascinating era, with many larger than life personalities and true sense that the very fate of western civilization is hanging in the balance time and again.

I'm really good at WWII, can read a book of fiction or non-fiction and know exactly what the geo-political and military situation was at just about any date during the war, in many cases, even being able to recall roughly where the front lines were at a given date. And I'm pretty good at the US Civil War and the War for Independence, knowing the dates of significant events and campaigns and battles. But with the continental wars from 1792-1815, I need some remedial instruction, because in my fiction reading, I am often wondering just why it is that Hornblower is taken by surprise at a sudden shift in Spain's loyalties, or what is the siginicance of Aubrey being in Minorca in 1800. I know I'd enjoy the books all the more if I knew what was going on in the big picture around the characters.

My thanks to all who have posted suggestions!!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 7:41:53 PM PST
Far Lefkas says:
Debunker wrote: >>>the entire period covered, including the Revolutionary Wars. I'm not aware of any single book that does that.<<<

It's a million years old, but George Rude's Revolutionary Europe: 1789-1815 is very good. I got my copy in a course on the French Revolution in the early 70s. The Napoleonic Empire occupied much of Europe.

I got back to it after reading another oldie on post-Napoleon Germany. Napoleon promoted & subsidized the new industrialization during his reign; the German Confederation tried to return to the old artisan ways after Napoleon, but that turned out to be impractical.

BTW, Rude was a marxist & tends to emphasize the union & dissolution of large groups in his books.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2012 9:39:48 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2012 9:45:28 PM PST

It is an amazing period. The Peninsula Campaign in Spain is a fascinating study in an of itself. They were a tough lot soldiers of that time. Marshal Oudinot was said to have been shot 26 times. Many pieces of metal were in his body until he died.

Marshal Ney was believed to have been the last Frenchman to leave Russia. Red-haired, mud and powder stained remnants of a uniform, finished swimming across the river out of Russia, but defiant to the last, takes two muskets from nearby dead French soldiers, fired then at the pursuing cossacks and then walks out of Russia. In an era of extreme bravery, he was "the bravest of the brave." The Napoleonic period is full of men of that character.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2012 5:01:41 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 4, 2012 4:44:12 AM PST
Jeff Marzano says:
I read War And Peace many years ago. I wasn't crazy about it though.

I used to love Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's books so I read books by some other Russian authors hoping to find that same bond and connection I felt with Solzhenitsyn.

I never did though.

I guess historically speaking Napoleon, like Hitler, was defeated by Russia's greatest and deadliest ally, General Frost.

Jeff Marzano

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 8:20:43 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 10:11:16 PM PST

The most that can be said of the similarity between the two men was that they both fought with Russia. In France's case Russia had fought three wars of aggression against France in the past 15 years and had failed to honor its treaty obligations. Not that it justified France's actions, but Napoleon wasn't looking for "lebensraum". Moreover, like it or not, he spread the concept of "liberte, egalite, fraternite" throughout Europe. That affects Europe today. He may not have intended to, he may not have fully ascribed to it, but that will last maybe forever. Hitler and his bretheren in Japan, left a pile of wreckage and ashes the likes of which had never been seen on this planet. If god is kind, we hopefully never see again. The two men are in no way the same.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012 5:46:07 PM PST
Perhaps I could just mention here that there is a charming half-hour documentary on RT about present-day Cossacks riding from Moscow to Paris. It is in rotation, usually on the half hour, or can probably be viewed ar

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 6:27:14 PM PST
Far Lefkas says:

Minard's flow map of the French campaign is near the bottom of the Wikiped. entry.
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Discussion in:  History forum
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Total posts:  16
Initial post:  Nov 30, 2012
Latest post:  Dec 3, 2012

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