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Posted on Dec 8, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

The Wars Against Napoleon – Book Review

By Jerry D. Morelock

The authors set about methodically to destroy long held assumptions about Napoleon, and lay out their argument in three sections. The first part of the book is vital to understanding the context within which Napoleon emerged, as it “presents the intractable belligerent situation toward which the First Consul found himself inexorably forced upon his arrival in power, and from which he was never able to escape.” As Weider and Franceschi show, “Napoleon was already condemned to perpetual warfare from the moment of his arrival in power.” Once this fundamental characteristic of the political situation in Europe is understood, the explanation of why Napoleon found himself at war during most of his reign is self-evident. In Part Two, the authors delve deeper into Napoleon’s own personality and beliefs as it “brings to light the fundamentally pacifist character of Napoleon’s politics, founded on his intangible principle of avoiding conflicts.” Skeptics may raise an eyebrow at Napoleon being called a “pacifist”, but they should reserve judgment until after reading the authors’ persuasive arguments that support their claim. And lastly, battle enthusiasts will find plenty of action in Part Three, since it covers the wars Napoleon fought from 1794 until 1815. Yet, the authors’ purpose is not principally to examine the emperor’s unequalled strategic and operational battlefield brilliance — the section’s title, “Napoleon: Enemy of War,” provides a clue to the authors’ purpose in this final part, essentially validating their first two sections. They demonstrate in this concluding section “that wars he never sought or declared constantly intruded on him,” and eloquently answer Napoleon’s long ago appeal: “An historian will prove that I have always been attacked.”

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Those who read the authors’ well-argued, extensively researched thesis with an open mind will likely turn the book’s final page concurring with Weider and Franceschi when they conclude, “We believe we have … exonerated [Napoleon] of the accusation of ‘having loved war too much’” and that “the image of Napoleon will emerge cleansed of his bloody stain.” They acknowledge, rightfully, that such a dominating personality as Napoleon evokes strongly held opinions not easily swayed; yet, the authors are certainly correct in noting that their solidly argued case will make the Napoleon-haters uncomfortable: “Admirers of Napoleon will be strengthened in his convictions, and detractors shaken in their hostility and prejudices.”

The text is enhanced by beautiful color photos and illustrations and contains numerous, easy to follow maps (created by the same outstanding cartographer responsible for ACG’s acclaimed maps, Jason Petho).

Weider and Franceschi’s outstanding new “must read” book shatters the myth of the so-called “Napoleonic Wars” and compels a long-overdue reevaluation of the image of Napoleon as simply a “war loving conqueror.”

Armchair General rates this book FIVE STARS, our highest rating.

ACG Bonus Coverage: See our exclusive interview, “10 Questions for Ben Weider” in the upcoming May 2008 issue of Armchair General to learn more about the fascinating life of this author, soldier, Napoleonic expert and international entrepreneur, who created (with his brother Joe Weider) what became today’s world fitness movement, and founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness.

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2 Comments

  1. Does that mean that France really won the Napoleonic Wars?

    After all, if they were a continuation of the previous wars against Revolutionary France, and if the latter were wars of self-defence, then France would have won them if she emerged without loss of territory or change to her form of government. And this was in substance achieved. While there were some trivial losses on the Belgian and German borders, these were more than offset by other territories – Avignon/Venaissin, Montbeliard, Mulhouse and other enclaves in Alsace and Lorraine – which she annexed in the same period and was allowed to keep at the peace. So France emerged from the Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars with somewhat more territory than she started.

    Ditto for her form of government. When war broke out in 1792, France was a Constitutional Monarchy under Louis XVI. When peace was made in 1815, she was one under Louis XVIII. True, the constitutions weren’t identical, but there was no return to the Ancien Regime, and when Charles X tried to achieve one he was quickly dsiposed of.

    So France came out of the war with a modest increase of territory and not much more undemocratic than before the wars, and thus could fairly claim to have won them. All the same, I wonder how many Frenchmen saw it that way at the time.

  2. I found this book one of the most wretchedly written I have ever encountered. The fact is that the authors do have a case, as is demonstrated in Vincent Cronin’s excellent biography of ‘Napoleon’, but this one eyed nonsense? Had the authors tried to lower their emotional input to about one per cent of what is on offer, it might come across as a serious historical book, but the actual feeling given is that of an irrational school master haranguing a class of nine year olds. If that sort of thing is your cup of tea, this book comes highly recommended, but if you want a seriously argued book covering the same ground but with wit and intelligence, go to Victor Cronin and give this one as wide a berth as possible. Alternatively, I’ll sell you mine -No money back no guarantee.

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