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Recommended Books on Napoleonic Warfare

If you have navigated this far in, you probably share an interest in this period of history, and are perhaps on the lookout for some worthwhile books to read.

 I have collected some of the works which I particularly enjoyed reading in to this page.  It’s not so much a review, as a mark of approval, since it would take far too long to go back and re-read enough of all of them to make a decent review worth writing or be representative of my collection.

There is no particular order, and some will prompt me to add a few words, while others will not, but do not take that as any particular measure of quality.  Presence here indicates a book worth looking out for, according to me.

I break my Napoleonic books up into categories.

I think that to get a grip on this period, you need a few good overviews on the period, to put the whole thing into context, then some tactical and weapon study sort of books, to understand the kit, and then a mix of battle and campaign studies, to get the specifics.

Uniformology is of less interest to me, since I play in smaller scales, so I don't need to care about the buttons and cuff trimmings, but some of them are useful to have too.

Period Overview                                                                                                          back up

 
 

David Chandler 

The Campaigns of Napoleon

This is the basis for most wargamer’s interest in Napoleonics.

Some of it has now been improved upon, but that cannot take away from the importance of it to anyone interested in the period.

Absolutely essential

 
 

John R Elting

Swords Around a Throne

Another magisterial work, now also somewhat dated, but still absolutely full to the brim with useful things to know.

For the mechanics of Npaoleons Army, it is another must have.

 

Tactical Studies                                                                                                          back up

My three pillars. 

I recommend three books for understanding the tactical experience on the Napoloenic battlefield,

Between these three books, I think any reader will get a sound working basis for understanding any tactical questions they may find in further reading, and from which they can appreciate any discussions on the battlefield experience which they come upon.

While individually there are questions about parts of each of these, I am convinced that there is no better place to begin reading than with these three.

So far, I have not found anything to replace these for the detail and authority they provide, but I am always on the lookout for a fourth !

 

 Rory Muir

Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon

One of my favourite works.

Based largely on memoirs, it offers a fascinating view on how the men themsleves saw the battlefield, and is highly readable too.

Highly recommended

 

Brent Nosworthy

Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies 

Based on the drill manuals of the time, it paints a full picture of what the troops were doing and how they went about doing it.  This was the first tactical book I read on the period, and one of my favourites.  It really gets you picturing things as you read it.

It has a different title in the Americas, apparently.

Highly recommended

 

 George Nafziger

Imperial Bayonets

Statistics heaven.  Not the easiest book to read, but worth the effort in the end, it takes the minutate of the knowledge we have and paints a picture of what the drill manuals were all about.

 

Other useful tactical works
 

Paddy Griffith

The Art of War in Revolutionary France

 Pretty much essential, since it covers the gound work on which all the later inovations were built

 

Gunther Rothenberg

The Art of War in the Age of Napoleon 

One of the first books I remember wanting to own - I first saw it as a school boy.  Luckily, the public library had a copy of Chandler, so I was able to read that instead, but I made sure to pick this one up when I saw it.

 

John A Lynn

Bayonets of the Republic

 A very interesting book on the early years of the northern army of the republic - c 1791-94 as it struggled to emerge from the chaos of the revolution.

Most of the book is taken up with motivation and control, which is interesting in itself if a little dry, but it has a neat little summation of the campaigns of this period to open the book, and a good section on the tactics used by the troops to close.

 

Pascal Bressonnet's

Napoleon's Apogee (Tactical Studies 1806)

An outstanding book.  I took a week's holiday to read it because it was too oversized to potter through in the evening, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The detail in this is amazing, not just in the extra features added by the ultra flash edition, but in the text itself.  If you can afford to blow a years book budget on the full volume, its worth it.  If not, find a simple translation of the text.

 

 

Campaign Studies                                                                                                          back up

 
 

 Frederick Kagan

The End of the Old Order

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It is easily the most enthralling and illuminating history of 1805 I have ever read.

Kagan has astonishingly good, and this is promising to be the first of a four part series covering the Napoleonic wars.  Sadly, his 'day job' seems to have thrown any release schedule for that out, but it does give something to look forward to.

Highly recommended

 

 John Gill

Thunder on the Danude (3 vols)

Curently topping many wargamers wish lists, these three books delve into as much detail as you could want, and then some - the appendices are astonishing.

Excellent books, and well worth looking out for, as they are already becoming 'hard to get'

 

 Dominic Leivin

Russian Against Napoleon

The Battle for Europe 1807 - 1814

A ground breaking study of Russia's contribution to the Napoleonic wars.  Written with access to the Russian archives, it dispells a number of myths, and is an excellent book.

Essential for anyone interested in the Russian army of this period and its campaigns.

 

 James R Arnold

Crisis in the Snows

The go-to book on the Eylau campaign, as they say.

I raced through this, and have no hesitation in recommendign it as the first place to look for anyone interested in this campaign.  Arnold does everything you want him to do, even changing maps after only two pages, in order to make the narrative easier to follow.  The orbats in the appendix are as good as those in Gill's Danube trillogy.

Most interestingly is his clear analysis on the pro and con on whether this was a true defeat for Napoleon.  A lot of folk simply will not accept that Napoleon was defeated in this campaign (many of them also call Aspern a draw and Brondino a win), Arnold's picture of the effect on the men themselves - who only a couple of months earlier had destroyed the Prussians in one day yet by the end of this campaign were effectively ruined as an army, paints a vivid picture of the face of this battle.

That Napoleon had to call up teenagers eighteen months early aver the end of this winter stands as testament to how great a victory this was for the Russians and their Prussian allies.

 

 James R Arnold

Napoleon's Triumph

It is inconceivable that you could not have Arnold's Eylau and not this book on Friedland (or vice-versa), they are both excellent.

I am now hoping that he continues with these German campaign books, as similarly detailed volumes on Jena and on the 1813 wars of liberation would be most welcome.

Essential for anyone with even a passing interest in these campaigns.

I fear I shall have to get Crisis on the Danube too.

Battle Studies                                                                                                          back up

 
 

 James Arnold

Marengo and Hohenlinden

 Comparing these two is a valuable exercise.  It reads a lot like a first book, when compared with the majesty of Snows, for example, and in a way it is a little thin on either one battle to properly satisfy, but it is still a great asset to any library to have this book.

To say Napoleon was a lucky general is an understatement.

 

 Guy Dempsey

Albuera 1811

The Bloodiest Battle of the Peninsular War

Well worth reading, even if you have little interest in the Peninsular sideshow

 

 Robert Goetz

1805: Austerlitz

An absolute cracker of a battle study.

highly recommended

Reference Books                                                                                                          back up

 
 
 
 

 Anthony L. Dawson, Paul L. Dawson and Stephen Summerfield

Napoleonic Artillery

A bit of a train spotters book this, as it deliberately passes over the tactical application in favour of the technical detail, but nonetheless an impressive book.  I really must get around to reading the Kiley one too.
 

 

 Otto von Pivka

Armies of the Napoleonic Era

Mr small beer himself (Digby Smith), this was also a book from my local public library whcih I could not pass up when I saw a copy on sale. 

 

 Digby Smith

The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book

This is the same author under his real name.  First stop on any fact numbers or date based question on the period.

 

 David Johnson

Napoleon's Cavalry and its Leaders

All very boys own stuff, but a great read none the less.  This is history seen as heroic tales of mighty characters.  Well, if anything historic qualifies for that treatment, then surely the cavalry arm of Napoleon did.

I first found this book in my High School library, of all places.  I wonder if it is still there now.

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