Friday, October 18, 2013

Armies of the Napoleonic Wars: An Illustrated History

Earlier this week, I finished reading Armies of the Napoleonic Wars: An Illustrated History, an Osprey publication edited by Chris McNab.  As is often the case when I am interested in something historical, I gather up some related books for a read, partly as a way to satisfy my interest without spending much if any money, and partly to refine my thoughts on the period as a game.  In this case, being recently interested in the Napoleonic period again, I turned to this book, which I got as a gift from my sister a few years ago.

When this book was listed by Ospery as forthcoming, there was a great deal of interest on TMP, because it was assumed that this would be a collection of the Men at Arms books from Osprey, with all the text and plates.  While it seems unlikely in retrospect that Osprey would take their money making series and provide it in a more economical package, at the time that was the thought, and operating under that assumption, I put this book "on the list" and got it as a gift.

Unfortunately, as it turns out this book is more like an overview of the various armies involved and it has very few plates from the relevant MAA books.  Most of the text for each country deals with high level organization, which as you might imagine changed quite a bit from 1797 to 1815.  There is little in the way of tactical discussion, uniform discussion, or discussion of flags and banners.  Someone without a prior understanding of the period, major technologies, and battles, would likely be lost.

This book also has all the usual Osprey foibles, such as the reproduction of period color art works in black and white, concentration of strange or unusual uniforms in plates, and deep discussion of rare troop types while the common line infantry are skipped over. Smaller countries get little to no mention in the book, and more discussion of Balkan elements of the French army (and more plates!) than for any of the German states, including the larger ones like Bavaria or Saxony.  There is also a bit of editorial bias in this book verging on jingoism, where somehow the peninsular war is the most important theater of battle, but this is common in British texts.

So to sum it up, this book was pretty disappointing, both from a wargaming point of view, and from a history point of view.  It does have some interesting plates and paintings, and does cover a number of nations, but I think it can only be recommended to those who want an overview of the reorganizations of the various armies, and who do not already own the relevant MAA titles.

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