Reviews: Reference Books

The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History

Edited by Dr. Gregory Fremont-Barnes

The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History. Fremont-Barnes, Gregory, ed. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2007. 3 vols. 1284 pages. ISBN# 1851096469. ISBN-13# 9781851096466. Hardcover. $285.

ABC-Clio, a leading publisher of reference works for the academic market, has published a new three-volume history of the wars of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815).  The intention of the editor is "to present a much more thorough coverage of the conflict than has been possible in existing single-volume dictionaries and encyclopedias ... and to bring together the wider social, cultural, scientific, and economic aspects of the period in order to place the military conflict into proper perspective. By combining the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods the Encyclopedia gives the student a better understanding of the whole era.

In Dr. Fremont-Barnes words this was an era that was "somehow larger than life.  Indeed, the extraordinary and undying appeal of the subject is easily explained, for it was an age when soldiers, resplendent in ornate uniforms, still stood shoulder to shoulder in the firing line, or fought on horseback, wielding sword, saber, or lance."  This has lead to continuing interest in the era among hobbyists, readers and students.

Covering from "Abensberg, Battle of" to "Zurich, Second Battle of" and weighing in at nearly a million words, this set presents more than just the military aspects of the age, but also includes social, scientific and cultural entries, includes entries on Beethoven, the Corn Laws, mercantilism, the Jacobins, the Luddites, the Regency, neoclassicism, the Terror, etc., which further assist in placing the era in a broader context. Each of the more than eight hundred articles is signed, include (often extensive) suggestions for further reading and offer "see-also" references to related articles in the set (highlighted cross-references to other topic that are mentioned in individual articles might have been an additional point of access). Even the shortest articles run to half a page with others running to numerous pages.  The article on Napoleon runs to six pages, that on Wellington is five pages long, the article on the battle of Waterloo comes out to six pages with an additional five pages on the whole Waterloo campaign.

Reflecting the complicated nature of a project like this a number of "Notes on Technical Points" are included discussing how such basic issues as personal and place names, battle names, use of titles, military ranks, and the distinction among battles, engagements and actions will be handled in the accompanying text.  The Encyclopedia includes sixty-five maps, almost a hundred black-and-white illustrations, a chronology of the era, glossaries of military and naval terms, and a forty-four page bibliography of books and articles on the era. Also of interest is the collection of primary documents on offer. The bibliography is a valuable source for further research, though it would have been more useful had it been broken down by topic.   Eighteen sets of historic documents are reprinted in almost fifty pages, including Pitt's famous speech on the declaration of war with France, documents on the Continental System (seven separate documents) and on the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine four documents), Tilsit (four documents), and the treaties of Amiens, Chaumont, the Holy Alliance and (the two) treaties of Paris.

A series of ten "Contextual Essays" give the reader an overview of the era.  These introductory essays, concise and largely objective, cover the origins of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, military operations of the two conflicts, French revolutionary political thought, a look at Napoleon, imperialism, as well as the literary, scientific and economic aspects of the era.  These essays form almost fifty pages of a quick overview for the student. Individual articles on the countries involved in the wars also help the student to round out their knowledge of the era.

More than ninety contributors from Britain , France , Germany , Austria , Italy , Russia , the United States and elsewhere were assembled to produce the individual entries.  The distinguished international list of contributors include Melanie Byrd, Ian Castle, Malcolm Crook, Charles Esdaile, Ian Fletcher, Alan Forrest, John G. Gallagher, Philippe Girard, Alexander Grab, Peter Hofschroër, David Hollins, J. David Markham, Alexander Mikaberidze, among others.

A project this large, covering a period relatively short in time, just twenty-three years, but a period rife with a multiplicity of events, individuals, movements and things, tempts one to nitpick the editorial or scholarly choices.  (While one can find vivandières in the index, cantinières aren't indexed, though they both appear in the article on "Camp Followers.") This isn't quite fair to the editor and scholars.  To fully cover every imaginable topic (there's no entry for the Congress of Rastatt) or to give every subject in-depth treatment would require many more volumes. The author of each article is necessarily restrained by the nature of an encyclopedic format, but the articles are clear, concise and informative. Malcolm Crook, who wrote an entire book on Toulon during this era, tells the story of the siege in little over half a page. David Hollins, who has produced an Osprey on the Battle of Marengo, gets just three pages. Any number of books have been written on the battle of Waterloo. The era remains controversial and because the articles are written by a variety of scholars understandable differences of opinion pop up in the text—was Tsar Paul mad or not? It depends on the scholar.

Multiple points of reference ease use of the volumes.  A detailed index, repeated in each volume, pinpoints specific data, while "see-also" references appended to each article give the reader access to related subjects. In addition "see" references refer the reader blind headings to where subjects is covered under other topics.

The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History compares favorably with other reference books on the era.  It is more detailed than single volume dictionaries, such as Steven T. Ross' Historical Dictionary of the Wars of the French Revolution (1998), David G. Chandler's Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, or Alfred Fierro's Histoire et Dictionnaire du Consulat et de l'Empire (1995). It also compares well with longer reference sources such as Samuel F. Scott's Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution (1985), Owen Connelly's Historical Dictionary of Napoleonic France (1985), or Jean Tulard's Dictionnaire Napoléon (1987).

The book is appropriate for larger public and academic libraries, as well as for larger secondary school libraries. The Encyclopedia was named "highly recommended" by the library journal, Choice. It was also picked as one of Library Journal's "Best Reference Books" for 2006. Chosen by the Pennsylvania School Librarians' Association as a "Pennsylvania Young Adult Top Forty" reference selection.  While individual readers might balk at the price (though considering the high price of academic monographs the price of $285 for an almost 1300 page book is not outrageous), they might want to encourage their local libraries to purchase the volumes as it is a work they will want to consult again and again.

Dr. Gregory Fremont-Barnes, a graduate from Oxford and university lecturer, has written a number of works on the wars of the era and has edited The Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: A Political, Social, and Military History and the Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760-1815.

Table of Contents:

Advisory Board and Contributors
Preface and Acknowledgments             
Introduction by Charles Esdaile             
List of Entries         
List of Maps          
Contextual Essays  
Volume I Entries A-F
Volume II Entries G-P
Volume III Entries Q-Z
Primary Source Documents   


Reviewed by Tom Holmberg
July 2007


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