I really want to read more about Magellan and his journey toward the west to find a new route to the Spice Islands. Fortunately, I have already a book about this topic on my TBR pile. Chances are good that this book is going to be my next non-fiction read:
(And yes, I´m one of these odd people, who in books like these is more interested in historical tidbits than the actual science)
Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I was checking the publisher’s catalogue and read the comments about this book, that was a reproduction of the original version, and although I’m no expert in military campaigns or Napoleon (although I suspect, like most people, I’m intrigued by that fascinating historical figure) I felt this was the book to get on the subject. I love art, and a book full of illustrations of the period sounded like a must-have. And I was right.
The book, as some of the reviewers have commented, is all the better for being a straight reproduction, without added comments or attempts at bringing it up to date or explaining and contextualising it. It is old-fashioned, but gloriously so. Oh, it isn’t politically correct either, and I’m not sure any French nationals with strong feelings about Napoleon would appreciate the comments, which, as the description says, are pure British propaganda. A lot of the book centres on the campaign in Spain, for evident reasons, and the book is dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, and I think it is a great example of what books of the period on this subject would have been like, and I’m sure its original quality is reflected in the current edition.
I particularly enjoyed the illustrations, which have something of the naïveté of a talented and skilled amateur (they reminded me of the notebooks people kept in the XVIII and XIX century when they were travelling that often included watercolours or pencil drawings of the places they visited). The written accounts of the battles and episodes are aggrandising and do not go into deep analysis, but include war dispatches, lists of some of the fallen and wounded, easy-to-read descriptions of the events (how accurate is another matter), and also letters that at times can bring the real people to life for us. As a small example, the chapter “The Death of Moreau, 28th August 1813” includes a letter General Moreau addressed to his wife, three days after his wounding:
My dear Love, — At the battle of Dresden, three days ago, I had both legs carried off by a cannon-ball. That scoundrel Buonaparte is always fortunate. The amputation was performed as well as possible. Though the army has made a retrograde movement, it is not at all consequence of defeat, but from a want of ensemble, and in order to get nearer General Blücher. Excuse my hasty writing. I love and embrace thee with my whole heart. I charge Rappatel to finish. (Jenkins, 2018, pp. 117-8).
I recommend this book to anybody interested in military history, particularly in the Napoleonic campaigns, in art of the era, or who simply enjoy books from the XIX century and would like to have an excellent quality replica of a book of the era. This is a collectable for those who love books as artworks and it brings to life an era past but not forgotten.
Jenkins, J.J. (2018, originally published 1815). The Napoleonic Wars as illustrated by J.J. Jenkins. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Military.
Time to buckle down and see how many of my planned 2018 books I can finish before the year's end.
Both Doomsday Book and Small Gods will count towards my Science Fiction and Fantasy Project. I think that Small Gods, Nairobi Heat, Second Empress, and Shark Drunk can all contribute to my 24 Tasks of the Festive Season, too. Maybe I can find a way to make Skin Game fit, if I am crafty enough!
I was supposed to meet my new great-niece on Saturday, but my niece's whole household has come down with some nasty plague, so we are cancelling those plans. I guess this gives me a day to get caught up on housework, do some cooking (so I have a Menu Monday offering), and read!
My car & I were reunited yesterday. All seems to be well with the tires, so I am happy about that. Today, I'll be headed off to my retinal specialist for my annual check-up. Just making sure those retinas stay stuck to the back of my eyeballs!
Happy reading, friends!
The second volume of Michael Broers's projected three-volume biography of Napoleon Bonaparte covers the five years of his life between the start of his campaign against the Austrians in 1805 and his marriage to Marie Louise in 1810. This was the period which can be regarded as Napoleon at his peak. With his victories against the Austrians in 1805 and the Prussians and the Russians in 1806-7, the French emperor exercised a dominance over Europe that was unprecedented. Yet one of the themes that emerges from Broers's narrative is the fragile nature of Napoleon's control, as he details the ways in which his power began to evaporate almost as soon as he won it.
As Broers details, the main reason for this was the circumstances in which it was won. When Napoleon led the Grande Armée our of its camps around Boulogne and into central Europe, he commanded one of the finest military forces in existence, one that was well trained and consisted of veterans of the many wars that France had fought since 1792. Yet it was an unsustainable force, one that Napoleon's regime scrambled to finance even as it won its great victories against the Austrians. The end of the Austrian campaign led to the discharge of many of those veterans, who were replaced by younger, less experienced conscripts in subsequent campaigns.
Though Napoleon still won many victories with his new recruits, this was just one of the many challenges he faced. Another was with his efforts to control the lands his forces occupied, as he proved far more successful in defeating the armies of the old order than he was in controlling their territories. Here Broers's expertise as an historian of the era is employed to his greatest effect, as he demonstrates how the French occupation of southern Italy in 1806 foreshadowed the problems the regime would face in Spain just two years later. Napoleon's efforts to establish his brother Joseph as king of Naples proved less than successful, as French reforms such as the end of feudalism quickly turned the Neapolitan aristocracy against the regime, forcing the French to maintain a military presence the region could not afford, and confronting Napoleon with a low-level uprising he did not know how to win.
Further hampering Napoleon's efforts to cement his dominance of Europe was his reliance upon his family as puppet monarchs. Here Broers astutely dismisses traditional criticisms of his use of them as rulers of the regions he conquered, pointing out that the practice was commonplace for ruling families throughout European history, Yet his brothers ultimately did not live up to the (often impossible) demands Napoleon placed upon them, and suffered the fore of his ire as a result. His frustration with them also informed his growing concern over the issue of succession, as his difficult marriage of Josephine had not produced the heir he so desperately desired. Though his efforts to wed a Russian princess ultimately proved fruitless, his negotiations with the Austrians proved more successful, and in 1810 he became the son-in-law of his twice-defeated opponent Francis II. Yet as Broers ends the volume he makes clear that the seeming solidity gained by the Napoleonic regime still rested on a foundation of sand, with Napoleon facing rebellions in occupied territories, resentful monarchs in the rest of the continent, and an ongoing war against Britain that showed no sign of resolution.
Broers describes all of this is a clear narrative that moves briskly through the many of events of the emperor's busy life. Drawing upon the bounty of the ongoing Correspondance générale series as well as recent scholarship on various aspects of his reign by the leading scholars of the era, he provides a fuller picture of Napoleon's rule than was possible for previous biographers. The result is a worthy successor to Broers's previous volume, Soldier of Destiny, and a book which further establishes his biography as the best one yet written about Napoleon Bonaparte.