Napoleon Series Archive 2003

Re: Limits of Narrative
In Response To: Limits of Narrative ()

Mark,

I strongly agree that the technique I adopted in writing Salamanca is not universally applicable. I didn't set out to write with that structure in mind, but came to it as the best way of handling the amount of contradictory source material that I had uncovered about the battle. And, of course, I was able to use it because I was writing quite a long book about a relatively small subject: just a single day's fighting. Other subjects demand different approaches, and I think it is tremendously important for authors to adjust their methods to suit their subject and the material they find.

There are many types of excellent works of history. Detailed monographs are useful, but so are sweeping introductory works, personal narratives and analytical studies. My favourite books are those which combine fresh research and an original viewpoint, being both entertaining and scholarly (and I have to say that Rifles is a perfect example of this - written in a way which appeals to to very wide new audience, but containing fascinating new material for specialists and informed by a deep and thoroughly sane understanding of the background).

What I strongly dislike are the works which rehash a familiar subject in a boring way. Books which are not original, nor scholarly, nor entertaining. I'd much rather have books which are lively, outrageously biassed, and contain some (even many) mistakes, because they are likely to engage a new audience who can then go on and correct the mistakes when they learn more on the subject. Two of the first books I read on the period - when I was about 11 - were Fitchett's Deeds that Won the Empire and A. G. Macdonell's Napoleon and His Marshals, both of which are written with great vitality. The Macdonell is also based on wide reading and is very funny as well as highly romantic - THEY got me hooked - where a dull but more accurate work would have put me off. But then, only a few years later, I was reading the Petre volumes (including the one which so annoyed you), pinning photocopies of the folding maps to a pinboard and finding them rewarding, if less entertaining than Chandler or Macdonell. Curiously, I think I'd find them harder to read today - like you, I'd be more frustrated and critical at what I then assumed to be a necessary dryness.

Rory

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Bad History
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Better History 101
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Bad History and Relativism
Re: The history book I would like to have written
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Re: Bad History
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Re: Rory Muir's "Salamanca".
Early Christmas
Re: Quotes
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Limits of Narrative
Re: Limits of Narrative
Feu de Joie for Rory Muir
Why Write History?
How We Grow
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Right Angle
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Footnoting
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Only 'quite intelligent'?
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Audiences
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Follow Ups or Spin Offs
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Reach for your Swords !
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"Full Monty" Footnotes!!
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Long Footnotes
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Fair Points
When I was child, I spoke as a child
In defence of Chandler
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Re: When I was child, I spoke as a child
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Re: Limits of Narrative
The Pits
Re: Limits of Narrative
And Good, Durable History
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Good Military History