The War of Wars: The Epic Struggle Between Britain and France: 1789-1815 by Robert Harvey is a good read about the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars at more than 700 pages. Although this seems to be a lot of pages, consider how much occurred during this time period – the overthrow of the French monarchy and wars across continental Europe and across the world’s oceans.
Here is a brief synopsis of the book from the publisher’s website:
At the turn of the 18th century the greatest nations in Europe offered history two distinct ideals that would shape the new century: England was a democratic, constitutional monarchy; while France had suffered the cataclysm of Revolution that ripped the absolute king from the throne and replaced him with the mob. Out of this maelstrom emerged a military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, commander of the revolutionary army, who would conquer Italy and Egypt before returning to Paris to proclaim himself emperor.
As Napoleon gained power in France, the world stood on the brink of total war. By 1805 the general was making plans to cross the channel and invade England. The subsequent drama reaches from the frozen plains surrounding Moscow to the Caribbean waters, from the debating chamber of the Parliament to the muddy fields of Waterloo. The Great French Wars (1793-1815) can truly be called the first global war; it was also the first conflict driven by industrial might. As Napoleon’s revolutionary guard ravaged Europe, men like the Duke of Wellington, Horatio Nelson, as well as their allies, Duke Charles of Hapsburg and Gebhard von Blucher stopped his complete domination of the continent.
This book is considered a popular history because Harvey does not cite his sources. Although some people may look down upon this type of history, I enjoy them because they are normally easier to read. I understand that some readers like to know the sources from where an author draws from; I do not particularly care in most instances.
With that said, Harvey’s book is extremely easy to read and for the most part is a quick read (more on that below). Harvey’s chapters flow well together. Some chapters are stronger than others, but I think that can be said of for most books.
This is not a totally objective look at the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As the title states, Harvey clearly looks at the Wars as being fought between France and Britain – which I think is mostly true. Yes, the Austrians, Prussians, and Russians did periodically fight against France, but Britain was France’s biggest and longest lasting rival. When the British were not fighting the French, they were financing those who were fighting them. This is not to say that the other allies did not do their part in defeating France (Harvey does give them credit for that), but it means that if it was not for the British, the continent would have been ruled by France for much longer than it was.
This is the first book that took Napoleon to task on everything. Harvey rightly criticizes everything from his strategy and tactics to his diplomacy to his blatant nepotism. As Harvey points out, Napoleon was an excellent “small” army strategist and tactician (look at the northern Italy campaign), but he was horrible in large army campaigns (look at Russia). Napoleon also made some huge mistakes diplomatically – rather than taking peace when he had a chance, he chose to invade Spain.
The only real fault I have with the book is the poor editing. I am not an English Nazi, but I do think that the poor editing takes away from the full effect of Harvey’s points.
This book is an excellent description of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars all in one volume.