The Campaigns of Napoleon, by David G. Chandler ([1966] 1967)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Although David Chandler’s The Campaigns of Napoleon was written nearly half a century ago, it remains the standard work on the subject and represents a monumental work of scholarship. Do not read this book in order to get a sense of Napoleon the man, or indeed the politician and Emperor, but solely of Napoleon the soldier, as the reader is taken minutely through every one of Bonaparte’s sixty battles in campaign after campaign.

Along with dozens of excellent maps, Chandler’s terse prose explains the military situation in great detail, in the old-fashioned way of military historians who fully intend to inform but do not deign to entertain. Although it assumes no prior military knowledge on behalf of the reader, the many hundreds of pages detailing the movements of virtually every demi-brigade in the French army require a good memory and strong interest in the subject. The sheer number of engagements that Napoleon fought between the siege of Toulon in 1793—after which he became a general at the age of 24—and his disaster at Waterloo twenty-two years later makes this book weighty physically as well as intellectually, but it’s well worth the long route marches. Of course Chandler wrote many other books, both about the Napoleonic Wars and other conflicts, but this one is undoubtedly his masterpiece.