The CAMPAIGNS OF NAPOLEON REISSUE
by David G. Chandler
Average Customer Review:
(01 March, 1973)
list price: $85.00
-- our price: $53.55
(price subject to change: see help)
United Kingdom |
Wonderful and readable, with only minor problems
I approached this huge book with a certain amount of apprehension, but was pleasantly surprised at how readable and efficiently edited it was.I never felt like it was getting lost in excess detail: it's size is more a testament to the richness of the period than any wallowing digressions.
If you want to actually figure out who moved where and how far, you may find this book frustrating without some sort of Napoleonic atlas.Chandler describes movements in a point to point fashion and rarely gives a geometric overview, so you cannot picture what's going on without a map.Unfortunately, the maps included opt for a period feel rather than clarity, making it difficult to locate small towns in a jumbled mass of calligraphic labels.Many of the maps span two pages, causing important landmarks to vanish into the thick binding.These problems are very unfortunate, as Chandler's writing has a flowing momentum that is thoroughly spoiled by flipping back and forth between map and text every 3 sentences or so.
Another minor problem is that battles are described almost entirely from Napoleon's point of view, with only a cursory presentation of initial enemy intentions.Thus, his opponents seem to move, appear and disappear with little coherence, and the constant shifts in assumptions, temperment, and situation that drove the decisions of his enemies are rarely revealed.
As a novice, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the book, but from reading other reviews I would warn against using this book to pass judgment on who was right or who was wrong.The ideological controversy over Napoleon clearly stirred up ferocious sentiments that made most source material from the period hopelessly opinionated and even deliberately distorted.It would be impossible, if not dishonest, for Chandler to reflect the unstable nature of this information without some moral and factual ambiguity, and he only rarely lets us in on the frustrations he must have experienced trying to assemble this mass of inflamed data into some sort of coherent narrative.
Dr. David G. Chandler's "The Campaigns of Napoleon" has been in print for over thirty years. There must be some reason why it has remained so important and popular. In simple terms it is a masterpiece. In fact it has on numerous occasions been recognized as one of the most important books on Napoleon throughout modern times. It has of late been recognized by le Général de Gaulle in 1967 and later in 2002 by President Vladimir Putin.
David, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of London and "the doyen of modern Napoleonic historians", is the former Head of the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He is also the author of numerous other books including: Napoleon, Napoleon's Marshals and Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars.
Each of the aforementioned works will be reviewed in time. However, this in-depth review is concerned primarily with the exceptional and scientific achievement of Dr. Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon.
The work is extensive and covers over 1216 pages and weighs nearly 4 pounds. The text, however, is not fluff but is full of the most scholarly data found on the 60 battles of Napoleon's Campaigns. The book, although large is extremely readable and possesses a clarity of presentation and understanding. David attempted in this extensive work to cover with great detail every aspect of Napoleon's military career. Alas at times the work is a little dry but never boring. The text easily carries the reader from page to page and chapter to chapter. The work never missed its mark.
According to the Editorial Reviews "Napoleonic war was nothing if not complex -- an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of moves and intentions, which by themselves went a long way towards baffling and dazing his conventionally-minded opponents into that state of disconcerting moral disequilibrium which so often resulted in their catastrophic defeat."
David seems to paint a vivid historical picture which brings the reader closer with each page to the thoughts, feeling and decisions of Napoleon. An extensive analysis of the campaigns aids the reader in clarifying Napoleon's military intelligence and war strategies.
Some reviewers state that due to Chandlers' British rearing he was bias and always against the decisions of Napoleon and Napoleon the man. However, I believe that the author saw Napoleon as one of the most important men in military history. I see the book as a well balanced thesis on the various textures and colours of Napoleon the man and the varied aspects of the Napoleonic war. It is certainly not bias.
"The book opens with a brief account of Bonaparte's early years, his military education and formative experiences, and his meteoric rise to the rank of general in the army of the Directory. Introducing the elements of Napoleonic "grand tactics" as they developed in his Italian, Egyptian, and Syrian campaigns, Mr. Chandler shows how these principles were clearly conceived as early as the Battle of Castiglione, when Napoleon was only twenty -six. Several campaigns later, he was Emperor of France, busily constructing the Grande Armée."
A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Brigadier General Esposito and Colonel Elting, although in some ways a more descriptive work on Napoleon's military campaigns, merely assists in filling in any gaps which Dr. Chandler may have missed. It is NOT better, just different. Neither book, regardless of its size is a true definitive work on the campaigns. Smaller works, containing only one campaign, although providing greater individual campaign insight do not possess the broad balance and military contrast needed to gain any true awareness of the military achievements of Napoleon.
The book is an excellent reference tool and should be on the bookshelf of any Napoleonic historian. However I also, like Kevin F. Kiley, noted the questionable references used including: "Jomini's work, Liddell Hart's dubious tomes, Marmont's and MacDonald's memoirs, and the dubious memoirs of Bourrienne, which are mendacious and quite worthless, as well as Thiebault's inaccurate ghost written memoirs"
I fear, however, to give this books a bad review shows ignorance of the topic, a poor reading of the text or a total lack of interest in Napoleon. As Gerald Tamura stated in his review, "Most who do will not need to buy another book that covers Napoleon's entire military career. They can spend their hard earned money buying books on Napoleon's individual campaigns, battles, personalities and naval warfare."
Dr. Carl Edwin Lindgren, DEd
Prof of Military History
Member of the Royal Historical Society & Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society
There is Nothing Better
Chandler's work is outstanding in everyway: readability, clarity of presentation, depth of understanding, and the ability to cogently offer it all up to the reader. This book is not for beginners, certainly, for it assumes a basic level of understanding of the Napoleonic era, geography, army organizations, and so forth. However, if you want to reading the single definitive study of Napoleon and his military achievements, this is the volume to own.
... Read more