Book Review:
The Napoleonic Wars:
The Rise and Fall of an Empire

By Gregory Fremont-Barnes and Todd Fisher


If you are looking for something that can explain the remarkable career of Napoleon Bonaparte and major aspects of the Napoleonic Wars in an easy to read way then we obviously have to recommend The Napoleonic Guide.

But if you are after a book that can do the same then one we can suggest looking at is a new title from Osprey called The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire.

In 352 pages the authors Gregory Fremont-Barnes and Todd Fisher have encapsulated the period exceptionally well and boost the information with top-notch graphics and maps and some very high-resolution images.

The book begins with a short introduction and a chronology of the wars before getting into the various phases of the conflict. (I believe each of these were individual books that have now been combined into one volume so check you don't already have them.)

The first is titled The Rise of the Emperor 1805-1807 and this covers the period from the Treaty of Amiens onwards to 1808.

It examines that phoney peace, each of the opponents, the preparations for renewed war, Ulm and the treaty of Tilsit. There are also very fine biographies in these sections and the first includes Jean Lannes and a musician at war, Philippe-Rene Girault.

The second time period covered is 1808 to 1812 and is called The Empires Fight Back.

The authors background the move towards war, the French, Austrian and Russian armies, the 1809 campaign and France's invasion of Russia in 1812. They finish with a look at a French emperor very much under pressure.

The portrait/biographies in this section are the soldiers Barclay de Tolly and Jacob Walter, and a civilian Louise Fusil.

Part three centres on The Peninsular War 1807-1814 and begins with the relationships of the perennial foes Britain, FRance and Spain. The armies are examined, how the Peninsular War broke out, the battles between regular armies and how it was a very different war with civilians fighting back savagely against a brutal military machine.

It finishes in 1814 with the campaign of 1814.

Those people highlighted are Prviate Edward Costello, a rifleman in the 95th, and Britain's Foreign Secretary George Canning.

The final period of the book is The Fall of the French Empire 1813-1815. It looks at the enmity the Russians and Prussians had for Napoleon, looks at the opposing armies, the War of German Liberation and the invasion of France. As you would expect it finishes, along with Napoleon's career, at Waterloo.

Captain Cavalie Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery and Lord Castlereagh are the biographies.

Art in the Empire gets a chapter to itself and while French and Austrian society and culture get concise mentions, most of the chapter is dedicated to Spain's Francisco de Goya and his stunning Disasters of War series.

Finally there is a 17-page wrap-up of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and what happened to world society's after the fall of Napoleon.

I found The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire to be very hard to put down. The information within its pages was well written and interesting and there are hundreds of images that bring to life the colour and flavour of the period. And there are scores of short biographies and portraits of well-known and not-so-well-known figures.

The image quality is superb - although I do have one complaint. When will people learn not to put lovely pictures across two pages? I want to see the engraving, painting or sketch in its entirety - and not have it split by the page fold. Just make them smaller.

- Richard Moore


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