Editor Colson (History/Universite de Namur, Belgium) closely examines the military concepts and strategies of “the greatest warrior of all time,” whose “mastery of mass warfare and his ability to raise, organize, and equip numerous armies dramatically changed the art of war.”
The author has a masterful knowledge of military history, strategy, and tactics, and he uses the structure of Prussian Gen. Carl von Clausewitz’s reflections on the Napoleonic Wars, On War, inserting Napoleon’s writings on subjects such as the nature, theory, and strategy of war and explanations of engagement, attack, and defense. In doing so, Colson exhibits the similarities of their considerations on the theory and character of war, even as the infantryman, Clausewitz, and the artilleryman, Napoleon, disagreed on the importance of their elements. The author prioritizes ideas over events as he writes about Napoleon’s understanding of war and how he viewed it over the years. Colson points out that peace was incompatible with his personality, likely because it included trust and self-limitation. Napoleon felt that monarchy was, by nature, at war against republics. His views on battle are easy to grasp: attack should be swift and simple; artillery should open lanes for infantry; and moral strength, not numbers, determines victory. Napoleon personifies Clausewitz’s formula: political objective determines military objective. As he writes about grand tactics and Napoleon’s views of his troops, Colson succeeds in portraying Napoleon’s military genius as well as his broad intellectual abilities. Napoleon himself said that the qualities essential in a general are an educated intuition and determination. His readings supplied the former, and the latter was part of his natural character. Napoleon envisioned all possibilities and was prepared to adapt, though his victories were less decisive after 1809 because other armies copied his methods.
A thoroughly detailed scholarly work, somewhat repetitious and not for the merely curious or casual reader. For professional military historians and theorists, however, it should be highly useful.