The second of three volumes in the author’s sweeping biography of the legendary general and emperor.
Throughout the book, Broers (Western European History/Oxford Univ.; Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny, 2015, etc.) delivers page-turning accounts of the many military engagements of the time. Beginning with Austerlitz, he points out how the superior training of the French army gave them an advantage, producing a Grande Armée that could outmatch any other. Napoleon called for separate columns marching along parallel paths, sufficiently separated that they would be able to resupply from the surrounding countryside rather than waiting for supply trains. He could assess and deploy his formations as events developed. The Russian, Austrian, and British armies devised a plan of action, but there was no commander in chief; this lack of leadership proved fatal. Napoleon’s men were immensely loyal to him, even if they grumbled. He went among them before a battle, encouraging bravery, revealing his trust, taking them into his confidence, and offering the respect due to good soldiers and intelligent free men. Austerlitz was a new kind of undertaking for him, as he had to lead more men over a vast theater outside the normal campaign season. But as the author shows, not all his battles were that successful. Napoleon ran into trouble in the far reaches of his empire and in bad weather, floods, and impassable terrain. He also committed his greatest error in Spain and Italy, dismissing guerrilla warfare. His overreliance on his siblings, especially Joseph, worked against him. Joseph flourished as an official in Paris, but he failed miserably in Italy and Spain. As in the first book, Broers provides an excellent character study of Napoleon. He shows how his subject’s loathing of the Bourbons and the Catholic Church colored the actions of an otherwise steady leader, and he declares his intelligence was matched by few other leaders, among them Alexander I, Thomas Jefferson, and Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Readers will eagerly await the third volume.