Book Review: Napoleon as a General: Command from the Battlefield to Grand Strategy


by Jonathon P. Riley

London/New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2007. Pp. ix, 227. Illus., maps, diagr., append, notes, index. $39.95. ISBN: 1847251803

A sound overview of Napoleon's way of war, by British military historian Jonathon P. Riley, author ofNapoleon and the World War of 1813: Lessons in Coalition Warfare (2000) andThat Astonishing Infantry: The History of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, 1689 - 2006(2007), and a retired lieutenant general. 

Neither pro- nor anti-Bonaparte, Riley addresses Napoleon's successes and failures even-handedly.  He scatters praise and criticism as seems appropriate, and some of his critical commentary will be unsavory to those raised on the "Napoleonic Legend."  Unlike most students of the subject, Riley correctly takes a more or less chronological approach, thus permitting him to examine how Napoleon's skills as a commander and strategist evolved over two decades of often very hard campaigning, until, toward the end, they began to deteriorate, as he found himself unable to adapt to changing diplomatic and military conditions, particularly as he increasing let his preconceptions get the better of him.  In addition to addressing questions of strategy, operations, and tactics, Riley pays more attention to the usually neglected subjects of logistics and counter-insurgency.  His conclusions, that Napoleon was only a modestly effective logistician, which was generally satisfactory, and very poor at counter-insurgency, relying over much on the "stick" and rarely wielding the "carrot," leading to several unnecessarily protracted and bloody outbreaks -- Naples, the Tyrol, the Vendee -- and the disastrous "Spanish Ulcer."

An excellent look at Napoleon and at European warfare in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Napoleon as a General will likely be dismissed by Bonapartophiles.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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