Reviews: Reference Books

Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars

By Stephen Pope

Pope, Stephen. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Facts on File, 1999. ISBN# 0816042438. 572 p. $65.00

Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars cover

This new dictionary of the Napoleonic era is roughly comparable to that written by David Chandler. Pope has previously written Hornblower's Navy, as well as historical dictionaries of the First and Second World Wars and of the Third Reich. Pope describes his purpose in writing this dictionary as an attempt "to lay out the basic shape and structure of the wars, using dictionary format and rigorous cross-referencing to enable a balance between overview and detail, highlighting the many links between that particularly exciting slice of the past and our present." (p. 10)

The Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars is divided into four sections. The first, the "Introduction," provides a brief narrative overview of the background and events of the era that Pope defines as 1792 to 1815. The second section is the dictionary itself, which includes more than 1000 entries, ranging in length from a single sentence for "Sappers" to seven pages for "Bonaparte, Napoleon". The book covers the War of 1812 and conflicts fought elsewhere, as well as the European conflict. The third section is a thirteen page "Chronology of the Wars 1792-1815." Finally, a collection of thirty maps is included which range from a political map of Europe in 1812 to a map showing the opening positions of the battle of Borodino. The author states that the maps are "primarily intended to help the reader navigate around those places discussed in the entries, and are therefore most concerned with naming and marking locations."

As in any undertaking of this sort the author must steer a precarious course between detailing minutiae and painting the era in too broad strokes. Specialists in the era will likely always be disappointed as to the space devoted or slant given to a particular subject. The book, as the title implies, confines itself mainly to military aspects, with non-military topics receiving, naturally, less attention.

Three drawbacks with Pope's Dictionary are a lack of references or bibliography, a lack of an index and a lack of illustrations. At first glance one would question the need for an index, but if readers want to know about Plancenoit they will be at a loss. They might look under "Waterloo, Battle of," if they were knowledgeable enough to know to look there, but even then they would not know what other entries to search under. I tried to find some information on the Spanish prison camp on the islet of Cabrera and was unable to locate any entries that mentioned the "death camp" where 9,000 to 16,000 French prisoners were detained (of which only a third survived). I checked under "Cabrera," "Dupont," "Bailen," "Prisoners of War," etc. all to no avail. Is there an entry somewhere in the book on the camp at Cabrera? Theres no way to know. Bibliographic references under at least the longer entries would both give the casual reader additional sources of information and also give a more well-read user an idea of what sources the author used to write that entry. No pictures illustrating either portraits of individuals mentioned nor of concepts covered are included. A reader would have to look elsewhere if the wished to know what a mortar looked like, what a hussar wore or to see the difference between a brigantine and a frigate.

Not an essential book if you already own Chandler's Dictionary, especially considering the price. Facts on File, the publisher, produces books mainly for the library trade, therefore I'd recommend trying to get your local library to purchase it.


Reviewed by Tom Holmberg


Reviews Index | Reference Index ]