I've just finished Loraine Petre's 'Napoleon at Bay', his description of the 1814 campaign and it's quite the worst piece of history I've read in a long time. The problems:
- page after page describing the movements of this corps and that, often to places that aren't on any of the maps and often of very little significance in the wider scheme of things, he just didn't know how to select;
- a complete inability to describe troop movements in broad, easily understood terms;
- whole chapters on which he talks about the date "on the 15th, Napoleon advanced" without ever reminding us of the month;
- a lack of interest in what the battles he describes were actually like for those taking part.
Now I know various excuses can be made for the time he was writing in and the audience he was writing for. When I read his book on the 1806/7 Polish campaigns (a little better, since it actually has some battle descriptions) I sat at my desk with the Elting/Esposito atlas and relevant volume of N's correspondence open at my side. I couldn't have understood it without them. With 'Napoleon at Bay', I made the stupid mistake of trying to read it on a train rather than in a well-stocked library.
So what are the ingredients of unreadable history for the rest of you ? (Perhaps it would be wise to confine ourselves to books be deceased authors...)