Book Review: Napoleon's 1796 Italian Campaign


by Carl von Clausewitz, translated and edited by Nicholas Murray & Christopher Pringle

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2018. Pp. xx, 314. Maps, notes, appends, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 9780700626762

The Baron Critiques Bonaparte in Italy

Noted for his theoretical masterwork On War, Baron von Clausewitz also wrote history. In this work, written in the 1820s, but not published until 1833, Clausewitz offers an analytical strategic and operational look at Bonaparte’s famous first Italian campaign.

In retelling the events of the campaign, Clausewitz gives the reader valuable insights into his own military thought and analytical technique, as well as Bonaparte's, while sweeping away some of the mythic lore that has adhered to the campaign within the Napoleonic legend.

Clausewitz by no means attempts a hatchet job on Bonaparte. He often praises his actions, at times when even some French historians have questioned them, such as Bonaparte’s refusal to move against virtually defenseless Tuscany, the Papal States, and Naples after he had driven the Austrians out of Lombardy and Venetia.

To make the text more understandable for modern readers, the editors had added extensive footnotes. These identify people and places, explain obscure measurements and cultural references, and clarify contemporary military practice.

Even more usefully, however, the editors include excerpts from other writers on the subject over the 180-some years since the book’s publication. Some these are supportive of Clausewitz’s account and some critical. While some of the French critics in particular tend to be devoutly Bonapartist, many of the critics have important observations to make, since the Baron often had to work without access to materials in French archives. And then, of course, there are the frequent scathing comments from Antoine-Henri Jomini, with whom Clausewitz often swapped barbs, but which at times are also useful.

Napoleon’s 1796 Campaign is a valuable book for anyone with an interest in the period or in military theory, and arguably one that should be read twice, once avoiding reference to the critical footnotes so as to get Napoleon’s original intent, and then again, perusing the notes carefully to consider the interpretation in the light of the editors’ comments .


Note: Napoleon's 1796 Italian Campaign, is also available in hard cover and e-editions

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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