A doorstop history of the series of wars that represented “a contest of great powers on a truly global scale.”
Mikaberidze (European History/Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport; Burning of Moscow: Napoleon’s Trial by Fire 1812, 2014, etc.) stresses that although the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted from 1792 to 1815, were not the first truly worldwide conflicts, their scale “dwarfed” those that came before. Taken together, they became the “Great War” until a greater one broke out in 1914. “In his efforts to achieve French hegemony,” writes the author, “Napoleon indirectly became the architect of independent South America, reshaped the Middle East, strengthened British imperial ambitions, and contributed to the rise of American power.” Scholars have not ignored the war’s global reach, but Mikaberidze turns up plenty of obscure campaigns in a massive history that emphasizes politics over battlefield fireworks, and he delivers the information in lucid, opinionated prose that will keep the pages turning. The conflict began when France’s Legislative Assembly, “fired up by revolutionary enthusiasm” and convinced they faced an “immense foreign conspiracy,” declared war on Austria and Prussia. Although proclaiming that their armies were defending freedom and would be welcomed with open arms across Europe, French victories were so satisfying that they became an end in themselves, even before Napoleon arrived on the scene. Similarly, their opponents denounced the revolution but gave national interests—trade, territory, money—priority over ideology. The revolutionary-era national interests of Russia, Prussia, Austria, Britain, Spain, and America are no secret to educated readers, and many will have a passing acquaintance with the travails of Denmark, Sweden, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire. The painful experience (or even the existence) of Persia may come as a jolt, but it occupies its own fascinating chapter. Major campaigns involved several still-unconquered Indian principalities, the East Indies, the West Indies, and South Africa. Meanwhile, Spain’s South American colonies fended off multiple British invasions.
An entirely rewarding history of a Europe-based struggle that “influenced the course of events across the globe.”