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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Biographies

Napoleon on the Art of War

By Jay Luvaas

Luvaas, Jay. Napoleon on the Art of War New York: The Free Press, 1999. 196 pages. ISBN 0-684-85185-7. $25. Hardcover.

Jay Luvaas is a former history professor at the U.S. Army History Institute and the U.S. Army War College. Some thirty-five years ago he authored Frederick the Great on the Art of War. He has now turned his attention to Napoleon, producing a volume that offers his selected, edited, and translated writings. This is a to work which, according to the dust jacket, Mr. Luvaas dedicated himself over the course of three decades.

Napoleon on the Art of War

The majority of Mr. Luvaas's quotations are drawn from a single source, the 32-volume, Correspondence de Napoleon Ier, produced in Paris from 1858 to 1870 by H. Plon and reprinted in 1974. The book quotes Napoleon's directions to a wide variety of subordinates through 1796-1813. The selections are divided into ten chapters with subjects ranging from creating the force, military education, generalship, army organization, strategy, and the operational art. Each chapter includes a series of translated letters or orders corresponding to the chapter heading. However, the selections within each chapter do not follow in chronological order, and have no introduction or explanation as to why they were selected. In addition, one set of orders (from Berthier to Saint-Cyr, in 1805, specifying the campaign to be waged against Naples) is included twice with only minimal differences in translation.

There are a number of interesting quotes that appear in the assembled translations: (Maybe fewer quotes with context provided. On what occasion is he speaking, etc.)

"An army composed of men from different nations will not hesitate to commit foolish mistakes. . . ."

"Had I possessed 30,000 artillery rounds at Leipzig . . . , today I would be master of the world."

"To be a good general you must know mathematics; it serves to direct your thinking in a thousand circumstances."

"[Murat] understood how to conduct a campaign better than Ney and still he was a poor general."

"All foreign people, but especially the Italians, need severe repression from time to time."

Here then, is Napoleon, often as interpreted by his Chief of Staff, Marshal Berthier. He rates the Marshals, talks of why one should not invade Spain (this in 1796), and frequently refers to lessons gained from past "Great Commanders" (although this is not unique; much of it has been presented in other studies). What I did find unique and most interesting were a series of comments on the details of establishing depots and lines of communication and why they should be changed only with the greatest care. In general, the comments on logistics are the strongest and most consistent in the work.

This is not a book for the uninitiated with regard to Napoleon or Napoleonic warfare. The selections address a variety of battles and campaigns, but only by name or date. These are not in any order or preference, nor are they explained or introduced in any way by the author. Rather, this is a book for those who are already familiar with the Napoleonic wars. For the knowledgeable, the book may add insight into the Emperor's thought and level of involvement on issues both immediate and distant.

Reviewed by: William Barry

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2001