10 Best Books on the Napoleonic Wars

My Top 10 Best Books on the Napoleonic Wars

  1. The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler

This is an all-encompassing tome that truly sets the bar when it comes to Napoleonic era books. This mammoth text runs at roughly 1200 pages and covers the military career of Napoleon in fantastic detail. Chandler studied the Correspondance de l’Empereur Napoleon I and other primary sources to write this book and provides an excellent judgement on many of the historical commentaries written on the subject. All this is done with an excellent narrative that often reads like a novel and the occasional but reasonably descriptive variety of maps. Without a doubt this is the pinnacle of Napoleonic work and should sit on the bookshelf of any self-respecting Napoleonic historian – professional or otherwise.
Check it out on Amazon here.
 

 

  1. Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Vincent J. Esposito and John R. Elting

Whereas Chandler’s “Campaigns of Napoleon” provides an excellent narrative and flow to Napoleon’s military career, “A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars” provides ground breaking visuals to fully show the events of the time.

There are 169 A3 sized maps and even more text based pages to show exactly how the actions of the Napoleonic Wars took place. These range from the opening of the Italian Campaign in 1796-7 right through to Napoleon’s retreat after Waterloo and the initial allied invasions. Each map is painstakingly detailed to give the full understanding of troop movements and what each manoeuvre meant in relation to the strategy at hand. Colonel John R. Elting also provides a very detailed commentary and explanation to the troop dispositions and the events of the day so the reader truly gets a first class understanding of each and every battle and campaign in which Napoleon participated.
Check it out on Amazon here.

 

  1. The Peninsular War Atlas by Colonel Nick Lipscombe

The Peninsular war is poorly covered by the first two books mentioned in my list as they focus entirely on Napoleon and give no real detail to the campaigns in which he wasn’t present. Not to worry though, instead we have The Peninsular War Atlas by Nick Lipscombe which manages to cover in excellent detail that conflict. It has around 400 pages dedicated to maps and the description of the battles and events that took place during this campaign – that’s about the same length that A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars gives to all the campaigns of Napoleon. As you can probably guess simply from the length this is an incredibly detailed book with really excellent maps. Whilst it doesn’t cover any of the other campaigns it truly is essential for those who really want to know what happened in the Peninsular campaign.
Check it out on Amazon here.

 

  1. Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies by Brent Nosworthy

This book provides a deep and detailed understanding of the tactics that commanders used at the time and the impact these had on battles. The exploration of the 3 Napoleonic battles at the beginning of the book is some of the best narrative I have read on Napoleonic battles – but be warned, much of the rest of the book is very heavy going and really gets into the guts of tactics for infantry, cavalry and artillery. Whilst it may be something you have to read in multiple sessions it really does provide you with the knowledge of why tactics evolved as they did and what impact these had.

As the title suggests not just the French are looked at but the other nations involved too with a good section provided on British skirmishing tactics and the impact they had on the Peninsular war.

This is a good book for understanding the warfare of the period which is why I have placed it so high even while it does not provide a great amount of description of the Napoleonic Wars themselves.
Check it out on Amazon here.

  1. Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 by Charles Esdaile

This book cover the period 1803 – 1815, so the actual period that Napoleon was in charge of the French state rather than starting with the Revolutionary Wars. It covers the origins of the Napoleonic wars and, their historical perspective and all of the main campaigns of Napoleon during this period.

This book is good read and gives a good overview of the conflicts but does not flow as well as Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon, and indeed is about half the length. Where the book is stronger is given a slightly broader picture of the Napoleonic wars, including their impact in Colonial Spanish holdings, Britain and the United States.
Check it out on Amazon here.

  1. Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814 by Dominic Lieven

As the name suggests this book focuses on the Russian and French relationship during the Napoleonic Wars. It begins in 1807 and discusses the role of Russia in Europe and the situation after Tilsit whereby France and Russia are allies, before moving on to the events of 1812 and the campaigns up until 1814 with the first abdication of Napoleon. It is a good book for analysing the Russian point of view and the Russian campaign and those of 1813/14 but is obviously lacking a fair bit of the Napoleonic wars as those campaigns from before 1807 and the 1815 campaign are not covered.

Lieven writes well and the book flows, running to about 530 pages all of which are incredibly detailed and well researched. Russia against Napoleon includes some decent coloured illustrations but does not provide any good maps to show the battles which can be weakness and so you may still find you need a map book such as A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars so that you can get the full picture of the battles.
Check it out on Amazon here.

  1. Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793-1815 by Roger Knight

This book has been included due to the unique nature of it. Britain against Napoleon focuses more so on the role of the British state rather than army and navy and how they organized British efforts against Napoleon. It looks at the politicians, civil servants, intelligence services and the population as a whole in how they were geared towards the goal of defeating Napoleon. Even roles such as the bankers and traders of the City of London are looked at in detail and how they managed to provide assistance in bankrolling allied armies on the continent.

Due to the nature of the work it is not always exciting but it offers an incredibly detailed view of how a country could be organized around a goal. It is the sort of information you might see more in world war histories and so a comparable one for the Napoleonic wars makes a very interesting read!
Check it out on Amazon here.

  1. The War of Wars: The Epic Struggle Between Britain and France: 1789-1815 by Robert Harvey

This book focuses almost solely on the relationship between Britain and France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. As such British involvement is heavily detailed and provides an excellent break down of the events. The other campaigns are mentioned but are given more of a brief overview.

I have included this book because it is an easy and descriptive read albeit with a pro-British and anti-Napoleon slant. It is also provides a good counterbalance to the books such as Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon and Lieven’s Russia against Napoleon which do not really cover the British aspect of the campaigns as they are more focused on Napoleon. As with many of these books however the lack of maps can be a bit of a problem and so the inclusion of The Peninsular war atlas may be necessary in completely understanding some of the battles.
Check it out on Amazon here.

  1. 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski

As the title suggests, this book focuses solely on the Russian campaign of 1812 with an extremely in depth look at the gruesome devastation of retreat from Moscow. Whilst it does not cover the other areas of the Napoleonic Wars it truly provides an authoritative piece of work on 1812, giving a brief breakdown of the events leading up to the campaign and a look at the aftermath.

Zamoyski provides hundreds of first-hand accounts from both soldiers and civilians of the impact of the invasion of Russia and destructive retreat. It is needed to see the effects of Napoleonic warfare and why the 1812 campaign was such as pivotal moment in the history of Napoleonic Europe.
Check out this book on Amazon here.

 

 

10.

Waterloo Companion: The Complete Guide to History’s Most Famous Land Battle by Mark Adkin

Perhaps the most famous battle of the whole of the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo is one of those pivotal moments in history and provides many what-if scenarios. The Waterloo Companion is frankly the most detailed book I have seen on the subject, providing page after page of coloured maps and diagrams to explain the strategic movements and the terrain. It gives an excellent Orders of Battle for the Anglo-Allied army, French and Prussians and shows the exact disposition of the all the units on the field and highlights the important terrain features, even showing the height of the ridges and hills!

This book is excellent for detail and provides information not just for the battle of Waterloo itself but for the 4 day period that the actual campaigning lasted, including the battle of Ligny and the retreat afterwards.

This is an excellent authority on Waterloo that any serious Napoleonic enthusiast should check out.
Check it out on Amazon here.

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