Book Review: The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871


by Quintin Barry

Solihull, West Midl: Hellion/Drexell Hill, Pa.: Casemate, 2007.. Two volumes. . . ISBN:1874622647

With two excellent studies of the 1870-1871 Franco-German War already available, Sir Michael Howard's venerable classic Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870-1871, Revised Edition(New York: 1961  several revisions since) and Geoffrey Wawro's The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871 (New York: 2003), one might be tempted to wonder why yet a third is needed. 

The answer is "Yes," if Quintin Barry's book is the one we're talking about.  No work can ever cover everything, and Barry's work is less a replacement for these two works as it is a companion and supplement.

FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR 1870-71 VOLUME 1, THE: The Campaign Of Sedan. Helmuth Von Moltke And The Overthrow Of The Second Empire (v. 1). Solihull, West Midl: Hellion/Drexell Hill, Pa.: Casemate, 2007.  Pp. xvi, 342. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $59.95. ISBN: 978-1-874622-64-2.

FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR 1870-71 VOLUME 2, THE: After Sedan. Helmuth Von Moltke And The Defeat Of The Government Of National Defence (v. 2) Solihull, West Midl: Hellion/Drexell Hill, Pa.: Casemate, 2007.  Pp. xiv, 530. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $59.95. ISBN: 978-1-874622-69-7

Barry has given us a look at two areas that both earlier works cover in less detail.  First, he provides more tactical detail about battles and engagements, in addition covering more of them than just the major actions.  This not only gives the reader a much better idea of how battles were fought in the period, but also helps explain how small actions often had cumulative effects on the course of operations.  This is particularly useful since Barry taps numerous letters and memoirs that neither previous scholar was able to use. 

Barry's second contribution is that while both Howard and Wawro devote about two-thirds of their works to the collapse of the Second Empire in August-September of 1870, Barry devotes more attention to the period from September through January, which saw the extraordinary, if ultimately unsuccessful effort of the French 'Government of National Defense' to retrieve something from the disaster.  And even here, he provides more coverage of operations in the provinces than to the defense of Paris, albeit that he covers that well.

In short, Barry's work stands alongside those of Howard and Wawro for anyone with a serious interest in the Franco-Prussian War, the two armies involved, or the development of the twentieth century's way of war.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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