BookPick : May, 2021
Two hundred years ago this month Napoleon Bonaparte died, aged 51. It’s claimed that more books have been written about him than about any other person who ever lived, around 200,000, (although the French maintain that the number is closer to 400,000!). Tyrant or military genius – whatever your feelings about him, the man had a profound influence on European history. This BookPick highlights four volumes dealing with his life, the Napoleonic wars – and the man who defeated him at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington.
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Napoleon and the Art of Leadership by William Nester
Bonaparte understood and asserted the dynamic relationship among military, economic, diplomatic, technological, cultural, psychological and political power. War was the medium through which he was able to demonstrate his skills, leading his armies to victories across Europe, although he never conquered the seas. He overthrew France’s corrupt republican government in a coup then asserted near dictatorial powers. Those were then wielded in transforming France from feudalism to modernity with a new law code, canals, roads, ports, schools, factories, national bank, currency, and standard weights and measures. With those successes, he convinced the senate to proclaim him France’s emperor. Professor Nester has written a psychologically penetrating study of a leader who had a profound effect on the world around him.
Napoleon’s Peninsular War by Paul L. Dawson
Historian Paul Dawson tells the story of the early years of the Peninsular War using eyewitness accounts and other documents. These include the horrific Siege of Zaragoza, in which more than 50,000 soldiers and civilians were killed defending the city, and the cataclysmic Spanish defeats at Medellin and Ocaña. Interspersed are details of campaign life in the Iberian Peninsula and the struggles through the Galician mountains in pursuit of the British army marching to Corunna (which featured in my book
The Iberian Flame). As well as portraying the drama of the great battles and the ever-present fear of Spanish guerrillas, Dawson draws on the writings of the French soldiers to examine the ordinary conscript’s belief in the war they were fighting for their emperor. This study of the Peninsular War from the French perspective is an important addition to our understanding of the war in Iberia.
Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars by Kevin F. Kiley
Bonaparte began his military career as an artillery cadet and artillery played a fundamental part in all his great battles. Until the Napoleonic Wars artillery had been seen as a supporting arm to the infantry, but Bonaparte changed that. He massed his guns in huge batteries to blast holes in his opponent’s line. He even used the artillery to charge the enemy, the gunners galloping up to the enemy to open fire at pointblank range. The Napoleonic Wars was a time of innovation, with the introduction of shrapnel shells and military rockets. This book examines the artillery arms of all sides from ‘muzzle to butt plate’. Significant artillerymen of the period, the innovators, scientists, and leaders are also featured, as well the important battles and sieges, significant memoirs and documents, and artillery terms that became part of the military lexicon. A definitive reference on all aspects of artillery in the Napoleonic Wars.
The Duke of Wellington in 100 Ojbects by Gareth Glover
This companion volume to Napoleon in 100 Objects deals with Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. His victories at Seringapatam and Assaye extended British control in India and his famous campaign in Spain and Portugal helped to drive Bonaparte into exile. Wellington, ‘the Iron Duke’, is, of course, mostly remembered for defeating Bonaparte at Waterloo and his prestige after that epoch-changing event saw him becoming prime minister of Great Britain on two occasions. Packed with more than 200 full-colour photographs this fascinating investigation into the life of arguably Britain’s greatest general, sheds light on Wellington as a person, through the objects, large and small, that marked key episodes in his personal, military and public life. Although his reputation may have faded a little now, in his day he was an equal giant to Napoleon Bonaparte on the world stage.