MHQ Reviews: Napoleon’s Grande Armée vs. Everybody Else

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Osprey Publishing has put out more than 100 books on the Na­pole­onic Wars. Although most are slim volumes—the company’s trademark—its Armies of the Napoleonic Wars ($25), edited by Chris McNab and now out in paperback, runs a hefty 438 pages. But find room for it on your bookshelf. This country-by-country tour of the seven major armies of the Napoleonic era (plus a roundup of significant smaller forces) offers an excellent overview of the period, with a chapter devoted to each of the major state’s infantry, artillery, cavalry, arms, organization, tactics, ordnance, and, of course, uniforms. Typical of Osprey, lavish illustrations make turning each page a delight.

McNab’s Armies bears more than a passing resemblance to Philip J. Haythornthwaite’s superb The Napo­leonic Source Book, which furnishes a closer look at minor countries and details of mobilization for war. Yet it shines in its portrayals of national tactics. And the text of Armies is regularly punctuated with battle maps and frank assessments of the differing armies—from the baroque and hobbling drill procedures of the Prussian cavalry to the close integration of artillery within the Austrian army. The examination is varied but fit; while Spanish infantry is dismissed as “little short of a liability,” McNab judiciously includes a feature on “Distinguished Units.”

Atop this all, lively prose—atypical for a guidebook—should secure this book a spot in an enthusiast’s collection.

Anthony Paletta has written for the Wall Street Journal, Metropolis, Book­forum, and City Journal.

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