Reviews: Books of General Interest


 

Wellington at War in the Peninsula, 1808-1814: An Overview and a Guide

Robertson, Ian C. Wellington at War in the Peninsula, 1808-1814: An Overview and a Guide. Barnsley, UK: Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books, 2000. 352 pages. ISBN# 0850526604. Hardcover. £19.95. ISBN# 085052735X. Paperback. £14.95.

The book is a good buy and provides an ambitious mixture of military history, useful quotations from a wide range of primary material and notes for the modern day traveler. The introductory section provides a very useful chronology and summary of the major campaigns, and large scale actions, in Portugal and Spain, and a glossary of terms.  But, as the title implies, the main objective of the book is to present a summary of the Anglo-Portuguese war effort, with the emphasis on Anglo.  Each chapter sets out the main actions within the respective campaign and concludes with some fairly useful notes for the modern-day visitor.

Unfortunately, in seeking to satisfy more than one audience the book fails to inform the serious student.  The writing style is assured, but is not helped by relatively long sentences; often losing the reader and - on occasion - ending ambiguously.  The book does though offer some refreshing new insights into aspects of the war omitted from other general studies – for example, the sub-plots that evolve in specific chapters covering many "off duty," leisure activities such as foraging, plunder and amorous exploits.

Whilst it is clear that the author has read widely, and there are numerous and lengthy quotations from primary material and memoirs, there are no footnotes and often the links from quotations to the main text are tenuous.  The book contains a wealth of high quality illustrations – but they are presented in a somewhat haphazard style.  Again, on occasion, portraits and prints do not appear to be analogous with the main commentary and while most photographs help to express a “feel” for the peninsular, some are excessive and look out of place.  If anything, there are too many illustrations - many pages in the book are just too busy.

There is a great profusion of maps – the lack of which is the downfall many general military histories. The majority of the contemporary maps, describing actions or campaigns, are carefully chosen and well placed, helping the reader find their way through the text.  However, the hand-drawn ones look amateurish and those from modern Michelin maps are clumsily inserted and detract from an otherwise well-presented range of very useful cartography.

On balance, this book would be a very useful companion for a battlefield tour but would have benefited from better presentation, layout and – especially - picture editing.  Whilst it successfully meets the needs of the traveler-come-historian, it fails to provide the serious student with any challenging reading, assertions or conclusions and ends up being very much an entry-level book.

Reviewed by Anthony Gray

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2005

 

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