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Monday, 29 July 2013

Napoleon - a good read

After a detour through a little 18th century North American history and some British fortification books, I thought I would get back to my core subject, French military history. A couple of years ago I read some books on Napoleon's late campaigns because I had come across a reference to the 1814 invasions of France in a book on the Franco-Prussian War. The books were :

"Wellington Invades France, the Final Phase of the Peninsular War, 1813 - 1814" by Ian C Robertson.

"Napoleon 1814" by Andrew Uffindell.

"Waterloo The Hundred Days" by David Chandler.

All very enjoyable and informative, particularly the Uffindell book. (Holts Tours have sent a provisional list of tours for 2014 that includes a tour of the area east of Paris covered by the Uffindell book, I shall put my name down for that.)

I thought I have read a lot of books on Napoleon's campaigns but never a biography and there are hundreds to choose from. What a dilemma. Apply pot luck. I went to the York branch of Oxfam Books and I bought a copy of"Napoleon" by Frank McLynn for £1.50. What good luck that was. I knew about the battles and campaigns but this was the first time I have read about them in chronological order. Another aspect I had missed was Napoleon's personality, his family and his coterie of military men. The majority of them do not come out well, the ideals of the Revolution were quickly forgotten by a group of avaricious, covetous and rapacious men  and women. The book has reinforced my long time impression of Napoleon, namely a great start to a career by an extremely talented young officer who spotted his chance and seized it, peaked at Austerlitz and with his legal reforms, then went on a slow decline. I am left with two more questions. First, why did he put up with such incompetence from some of his generals, such as Bernadotte? Second, was he a brilliant general up to an Army sized force who overstretched himself with Grand Strategy? Oh, a third question, what was his charisma, what was his hold over such a large part of the French, indeed European, population?

The second book was "Incomparable , Napoleon's 9th Light Infantry Regiment" by T.E. Crowdy. This book has been reviewed with great praises. I am supporting those praises. This is a great insight into the world of Napoleon's French Army at  a grass roots level, that of the ordinary soldier, NCO and officer. Terry Crowdy has researched the available letters, journals and diaries of the men and their families. A very good history that I recommend.

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