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Publisher's Summary

No military figure in history has been quite as polarizing as Napoleon Bonaparte. Was he a monster, driven by an endless, ruinous quest for military glory? Or a social and political visionary brought down by petty, reactionary kings of Europe?

In the most definitive account to date, respected historian Charles Esdaile argues that the chief motivating factor for Napoleon was his insatiable desire for fame. More than a myth-busting portrait of Napoleon, however, this volume offers a panoramic view of the armed conflicts that spread so quickly out of revolutionary France to countries as remote as Sweden and Egypt. Napoleon's Wars seeks to answer the question, What was it that made the countries of Europe fight one another for so long and with such devastating results? Esdaile portrays the European battles as the consequence of rulers who were willing to take the immense risks of either fighting or supporting Napoleon---risks that resulted in the extinction of entire countries. This is history writing equal to its subject---grand and ambitious.

©2007 Charles Esdaile; (P)2008 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Deft, authoritative, often strikingly counter-intuitive, this is the definitive word on the subject." (Telegraph (London))

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  • Overall

Not bad, nor what I was expecting

This book is great at what it does, but what it does is not what I hoped for.

This is a broad overview of Napoleon, with a particularly detailed examination of his part in the wars that dominated Europe during the early 19th century.

What it is not, disappointingly, is a narrative of the battles themselves.

I had presumed, given the book's title and length, was that I was buying a detailed examination of napoleonic battlefield strategy and tactics. While I have only made it 1/3 through this work, I can confidently state that there is none of this.

Instead, we hear a lot of "and then Napoleon defeated the Austrians at this spot, then they formed an alliance and defeated the Germans at that spot, etc etc."

I should also point out that this book presumes a fairly extensive understanding of European geography (particularly historic geography) on the part of the reader. Without a map of current and past geographic features as a companion, this work quickly becomes inaccessible.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Understanding the age and grasping the facts

This well-narrated and well-written book is giving me the background I need to teach a history-and-literature series on the aftermath of the American Revolution in Europe. The narrative has helped me begin to understand the confusing complexities of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Prior to this book, we read aloud and studied Unlikely Allies, The Great Upheaval, and of course Tale of Two Cities. In conjunction with it we are studying The War for All the Oceans (by Adkins) and Tolstoy's War and Peace (the latter using Audible's audiobook also). In addition, the Sharpe series by Cornwell is providing some additional relaxed level historical fiction as we read through those in order. Esdaile's narration is a pleasure to listen to. (I have a hard copy of the book but am a bit too busy now to sit down with it much, so the audio keeps me going; I drop in post-it notes at the parts I want to relate to my high schooler.) (By the way, I'm a veteran home school mother and a retired physician. All my children have loved history taught using this approach.)

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • Venice, FL, United States
  • 01-18-13

Not an international perspective

This book does not live up to the promise of answering the question, "What was it that made the countries of Europe fight one another for so long and with such devastating results?"

I expected an analysis of the allies, in the style of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals". Or a study of the period and cultures, like Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror".

Instead, the first third is a litany of observations about the decade before Napoleon came to power, that only make sense to someone already familiar with that period of history. If you don't know the difference between a Jacobin and a Jacobite, or the Terror and the Directory, or the story behind a "whiff of grapeshot", you might as well skip this section.

The second section goes into more traditional historical detail about the peninsular war and skirmishes in South America, but they are typically brief and unsatisfying. Foreign ministers are named, and treaties are cited, but with scant detail about motivations or consequences.

The third section pays the usual homage to Napoleon's foray into Russia, interleaving a brief mention of the War of 1812 in the U.S. with the morbid accounts of the retreating French.

It is a thin sketch with few broad strokes, that doesn't provide an overall picture.

The main theme is that Napoleon's Wars were a product of a personal psychological and political need for continual military victories to maintain legitimacy. At every opportunity, when peace was possible and even achieved, Napoleon chose to pick new fights and maintain a perpetual state of war.

David Wetzel's lectures are a much better alternative to this book, such as History 162A - Empires, Wars, and Nations 1648-1914 - Fall 2012 UC Berkeley, available on iTunesU.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Joel
  • Dunwoody, GA, United States
  • 07-10-09

Sounded like a good idea

I guess if you are doing a research paper on the Emporer this might be a good book to have, and perhaps if reading it, it might work, but as an audio it doesn't. It is fairly dry and dull. Napoleon was an exciting leader. I suspect the main purpose of this book is for a college course on Napoleon, if so it is fine, for general reading there are better books.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic Book on the Napoleonic Wars

If you study any of the subjects of this period, then this book you must listen to. It is well researched, fair in my opinion and fantastic on clear points of view. Worth ever cent to listen to this book and don't be scared by the length, it will fly by come to think of it I will listen to it again. This is my favourite book thus far, well non-fiction book on the subject of Napoleon. The next is Tim Clayton's 'Waterloo', which I believe you can get on Audible as well. Well worth the listen to both of these.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Derek
  • Pasadena, CA, United States
  • 07-23-14

Every Part of the War - Excellent

What did you love best about Napoleon's Wars?

Great detail about the wars.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Napoleon.

Have you listened to any of Simon Prebble’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

All War - All The Time.

Any additional comments?

Read books on the French Revolution and Napoleon before you attempt this listen. Otherwise, you'll be irritated because the author doesn't get deep into background material. The title describes the content perfectly. This book would be 4 times the length if he tried to do it all.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Douglas
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 02-23-14

Exhaustive

If someone described this book to me I would be very excited and would anticipate reading something that I would really enjoy. Yet this wasn't one of my favorites. I really didn't think it was possible for history to be boring or indeed "too detailed." However, it became impossible for me to keep from zoning out at times while listening to this book.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if I were all ready an expert in late 18th century-early 19th century European History. That way I could keep all the names and places straight in my mind.

The most frustrating thing was the fact that I was really unable to tell what the truly key turning points in the narrative were. The author would go on and on speculating and dissecting each side's different points of view, taking a half hour to describe the events leading up to the outbreak of war, and then spend 5 minutes talking about the fighting. Esdaile wrote more in this book about the French and Indian War in North America than he did about Napoleon's return to Paris and the climactic Battle of Waterloo combined.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A thorough read, even for the casual history lover

This text shines a light on Napoleon, exposing the man, the myth, and the legend. Though it can be very dense in places, the work is approachable to readers who lie outside the professions of history and expertly communicates the great endeavors that were the Napoleonic Wars. Simon Prebble's delivery was, as always, stellar in all regards.

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  • steve
  • kearny, NJ, United States
  • 09-14-11

So so

This book was just average. For the most part, I found it boring but at the same time, there are some other parts that I found to be very interesting especially the third part.

2 of 6 people found this review helpful