"History is an argument without end."
A great quote to end a fascinating and, what I found, very personal collection of essays, anecdotes and a semi-autobiographical account from one of the great historians of the twentieth century, Dr David G Chandler.
On the Napoleonic Wars was first published in 1994 following Dr Chandler's retirement as Head of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, a post he held for nearly fourteen years. In a glittering academic and literary career, Chandler's influence and contribution to military history and particularly the Malburian and Napoleonic eras was enormous and extended into all aspects of the subject to include the arts, with his work as adviser to the BBC TV production of War & Peace in the 70's plus other TV and film credits with Channel 4 and NBS.
His support extended to the Sealed Knot and Napoleonic Association re-enactment groups and for our hobby, wargaming, with his editorship at Osprey publishing and his attendance at shows such as the Napoleonic Fair in London where I met the great man in 1996 and got his autograph.
I feel I have grown up under the influence of Chandler's writing and thoughts which have had a great influence on my own thinking particularly about Napoleon's contribution and place in military history and he remains, for me, a huge hero in the subject and a member of that glittering group that included some great names and personalities from that time, such as Brigadier Peter Young, Christopher Duffy, Anthony Brett James and John Keegan.
I was prompted to finally get around to reading this book following its reference in the last book I reviewed back in August "The Peninsular War, A New History" by Charles Esdaile and I am more and more finding this is an interesting way of linking up my reading by following up on referenced books that featured in the one I have just finished.
So this book is a collection of essays presented by David Chandler at various venues and times through his long career. The collection is prefaced by an introduction about Chandler's early life, schooling, joining the army and university education which gives a great insight into the influences and experiences that shaped the man and gave direction to what he wanted to do with his life. This is neatly followed by a short three page summary on what is military history? This question is developed further with a follow up question, what is it for?
Both questions set up the description of the conversation, some might say argument, about our understanding of events and the people that shaped them. The author goes on to illustrate his inclusive approach to the study of history by his welcoming of all those with a passion for the subject, not just the academic elite, adding "all have a valuable role to play providing they accord the same toleration to other views that they require themselves."
What then follows are sixteen distinct chapters covering the essays and lectures with Dr Chandler's introduction to each explaining the background and other additional information about the subjects presented. The subjects covered are varied and range across the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period.
Specifically they are:
1. The Origins of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars
2.The Reconquest of Egypt: the British View
3. The Egyptian Campaign of 1801
4. Adjusting the Record: Napoleon and Marengo
5. The Napoleonic Marshalate
6, Napoleon's Masterpiece: Austerlitz, 2nd December 1805
7. Column versus Line: the Case of Maida, 1806
8. The Battle of Sahagun, 1808
9. Wellington in the Peninsula: a Reassessment
10. Wellington and the Guerillas
11. The Russian Army at War, 1807 and 1812
12. Borodino 1812
13. Retreat from Moscow
14. An Undergroom at War: Edward Healey, 1815
15. How Wars are Decided: Napoleon - the Fall of a Giant?
16. Napoleon: Classical Military Theory and the Jominian Legacy
I have to say I to say I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through this great selection of titles so entertainingly constructed with nuggets of facts that illuminated the work throughout. I found myself wandering what the author would have made of the recent BBC TV production "Napoleon" by Andrew Roberts and I am sure it would have provoked a lot of good natured disagreement and I am of the Chandler school of thought when he described the quote from Clarendon describing Cromwell as a potential descriptor for Napoleon, "a great bad man" adding that he undoubtedly marked history.
This book is a great read for the Napoleonic enthusiast and I would recommend you make a point of getting a copy and reading it if you fall into that category. As before, one book leads to another, and after agreeing with Chandler on how difficult a read Clausewitz can be I am now going to take up his recommendation to get stuck into Jomini's "The Art of War" which has been on my must read shelf for too long and deserves my serious study.
Dr David Chandler sadly passed away on the 10th of October 2004 at the age of 70 and his legacy of great works still informs Napoleonic studies today and he rightly commands great esteem alongside the likes of Sir Charles Oman.