Charles Esdaile’s Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 provides an interesting perspective on the cataclysmic events during the first decade and a half of the 19th century. The focus of the book is, of course, Napoleonic History. It is not, however, a minute examination of his military campaigns beyond a broad brush recounting of the results of battles. Instead, Esdaile examines the political, economic, technological and sociological changes that occurred in Europe that brought a collection of frequently squabbling dynasties (often far more interested in their own localized geopolitical issues) to the point where they could unite simultaneously to overthrow Bonaparte by 1814, and again in 1815. Although Esdaile is clearly no great fan of Napoleon, he is still very objective in his analysis of the Emperor’s driving ambition and his motivation– to be the de facto ruler of Europe by conquest. Napoleon was less driven by political credo than by ruthless realities– he was in turns a Corsican Revolutionary, a Jacobin, a Republican, and finally an Emperor, cheerfully discarding one mask for the next.
Napoleon’s Wars tells most of its story as a treatment of the geopolitics of the era, and most importantly, provides the reader with a decent analysis of the main players in the diplomatic dance of the early 19th century. Much has been written about France and Great Britain during this time period; much less so about Spain, Germany, Prussia, Austria, Russia and Turkey. The great strength of Napoleon’s Wars is the portraits of the other rulers and their localized concerns– and how Napoleon successfully played them off against each other for so long.
I would certainly recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of Napoleonic history, but especially for history fans who are more interested in the political and diplomatic developments during the years of warfare.