The Napoleonic Soldier
Stephen E. Maughan
Marlborough, UK: The Crowood Press, 1999. 144 p.
I just hate when this happens: reviewing a book which is both pleasant in some parts to look at and with some good text, but also quite inadequate in many ways — ill fitting my own personal tastes. Stephen Maughan has previously authored the series of booklets featuring French Napoleonic reenactors (Napoleon's Cavalry, Recreated in Color Photographs, etc.). So, first disappointment, this book is in some ways a larger format, luxury version of those booklets.
The main difference is that this time, an ample body of text supports those photographs. It is quite a good text, and it does achieve its goal of presenting the various aspects of "the Napoleonic soldier" through storytelling, excerpts from manuals, memoirs, etc. However, any reader with some slight interest with this topic will already know these facts and what to expect; one such example is on page 33, with a specific article on the British riflemen. Quite frankly, I'd recommend reading Elting's wonderful Swords Around a Throne or Haythornthwaite's various volumes on such topics — staying within books easily accessible to the English-speaker. These will provide the reader with an even deeper understanding of the issues discussed.
So what about the main feature then, the photographs? Well, many of them have appeared in the booklets already and wont be new to many readers. The other problem Ive found is the overemphasis on British and French troops, not to mention that the color shots of Waterloo are the only "battlefield" monuments shown. True, pages 25 and 135 have some Austrians (in sparkling white and Jäger gray) and on page 72 there is a Saxon hussar with a few Prussians lurking around, but the impression is that the Napoleonic wars seem to have been simply a prolongation of the Hundred Years War into the early 19th century.
Although reenactment is a serious hobby for many and every possible effort is taken to reproducing period dress accurately, it is still for me "only" a reconstruction, not the "real" thing. Skillful comparison of reenactors with period illustrations would be an interesting if not constructive exercise. It is sad that such an approach hasnt yet been tried and could have been a wonderful choice for this book. I would also have loved to see more details given. The real added benefit of reenactment is to show the very minute aspects of kit, drill etc. Again the treatment seems and is fairly "light." The quality of the shots is not at fault (superb), and I'm probably over-critical for some. After all I am biased by my loving taste for more traditional primary material and illustrated documents. However, I simply couldnt get myself into this book and have been left with the impression of a very nice, expensive coffee-table book. Another title could and should have been "A Day in the Life of Napoleonic Armies" - this sums it all up.
Reviewed by Yves Martin
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