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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

“The Glory Years, 1805-1807: Napoleon and Austerlitz”, by Scott Bowden

528 pages, Emperor’s Press, ISBN-13: 978-0962665578

The Glory Years, 1805-1807: Napoleon and Austerlitz is one of the best Napoleonic books that I have read in years. Scott Bowden has provided the serious Napoleonic student with one of the best books on strategic and tactical history of perhaps Napoleon’s greatest campaign. The details about the organization and tactics of the armies, combined with the specifics of the Ulm and the Austerlitz campaigns (which include the very detailed tactical description of the fighting, especially the combats around Ulm) simply cannot be found anywhere else. What’s more, the text is complimented by a great number of maps and artwork, making the layout what I wish every military history book looked like. It is a splendid work that deserves inclusion in any Napoleonic library.

Now, for the downside. While beautifully presented, this work is heavily reliant on French sources. Rather at sea when discussing the powers allied against Napoleon, it is based on secondary sources missing some important ones, and often presenting footnotes that are irrelevant, anachronistic, or flatly contradictory to the text they purport to support. This book is indeed “unprecedentedly detailed”, sometimes too much so. The author is weighed down by far too many details and trips over them quite frequently. Instead of moving with the lightning speed of Napoleon, he slothfully crawls along like Kutuzov; for instance, there is absolutely no need, in the middle of the narrative on the battle of Austerlitz, to tell us the number of effectives in EVERY regiment in the French army, on the day of the crossing of the Rhine, at mid-point in the campaign, and on the day of battle itself. It shows that the author was a good student and did his homework, but it weighs down the story of the battle and slows it to a crawl, and it’s the battle itself that most of us want to read about.

But for all that, to cram so much information on one of the most important and history-altering campaigns in Europe’s history within less than 600-pages is truly an astounding feat. I could nitpick ‘til the cows come home about every little thing, but that would be a disservice to what is really a remarkable piece of scholarship.

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