Sumptuous storytelling recreates the first worldwide war.
Known as “The Great War” until World War I, the Napoleonic Wars embroiled Britain and other nations in conflict with France for a decade (1804–15), as Napoleon Bonaparte sought to create an empire in Europe. In this vivid history, husband-and-wife historians Roy (Nelson’s Trafalgar, 2005) and Lesley (Empires of the Plain, 2004) take us from the audacious, supposedly invincible Napoleon’s disastrous effort to conquer Egypt to his complete military defeat at Waterloo and England’s rise as supreme naval power. Besides recounting major sea battles (involving Spain, Denmark, Russia, Turkey and other nations), the authors illuminate aspects of life at war and on the home fronts, quoting from diaries, letters and journals. We see Britain wild over Horatio Nelson after his defeat of the French at Trafalgar (“Joy, joy, joy to you, brave, gallant, immortalized Nelson!” wrote Countess Spencer in London); sailors suffering from lack of food and water and the scourges of smallpox and yellow fever; the brutal recruiting (impressments) of seamen to build the British navy; and the imprisonment of more than 100,000 captured Frenchmen in cramped British hulks that became tourist attractions. In that low-tech era, information about the enemy was hard to come by, communication difficult (even within one’s own fleet) and hysteria rampant: Many British wondered whether the relentless Napoleon (seen only in drawings) was a creature from hell. American inventor Robert Fulton figures in the story, working for the British under the code name “Mr. Francis” to devise torpedo bombs used against anchored French ships. While charting the bitter rivalry between Britain and France, the Adkins also show how British trade restrictions plunged the young United States into the War of 1812, which destroyed Washington, D.C., but ranked as a mere sideshow for England.
This real-life action will delight fans of fictional heroes from the same war—Horatio Hornblower (C.S. Forester) and Richard Sharpe (Bernard Cornwell).