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Our Book Reviews


In the course of our research, we have found several books useful so we've listed and reviewed them. Select a category to browse the book list, use the form to search for a specific topic, or select from our featured reviews.

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Featured reviews :

  • Russian Eyewitness Accounts of the Campaign of 1814

    Alexander Mikaberidze
    Did you know that when Alexander, Tsar of Russia, during the invasion of France in 1814, gave an Imperial banquet an arc of wood was cut from the table to accommodate the enormous stomach of the King of Württemberg. Furthermore, in 1814, the Swiss did not remove their hats while eating lunch. I was unaware of both of these facts before I read this remarkable book. The author has brought together a massive collection of first hand accounts written by Russians who took part in the 1814 campaign which culminated with the downfall of Napoleon. Some accounts are barely more than one page, others run into many pages. Some are exciting with the cut and thrust of battle. One, not so exciting, is a ‘boring’ daily diary chronicling moving and halting for nine days in the course of which the writer covered 200km forward and back! It really does bring home the reality of Napoleonic soldiering. There are many references to looking for food, fodder and a place to rest indoors if possible because this was January in north-western France with ice floes on the rivers destroying pontoon bridges. In a number of cases there are conflicting views of the same event reinforcing the notion that no two people on the same battlefield see the same battle.
    There are only two maps, a few good illustrations and nearly 300 pages that are well worth reading.
    Thoroughly recommended.

    Frontline Books. Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2013
  • Waterloo. The Campaign of 1815, Volume 2

    John Hussey
    The discerning malt drinker respects the distiller’s craft and savours the whiskey for at least a second for each year it was matured. Having read the first thirty chapters of this book, in volume one, I rationed myself to one chapter a day so that I could prolong the enjoyment. This volume, containing chapters 31 to 54 is just as good as volume one. [see review elsewhere on this site] The pace and the style of the writing match the nature of the events being described and carry the reader along with it. The immense scholarship is just as much in evidence but not stuffily presented but woven into an easily readable narrative.
    Hussey shows respect for the reader in instances of uncertainty – here’s the evidence, -this is what I think, -others differ, -you make up your own mind. He draws out the details which create the big picture. For example, he names Prussian Horse Battery Nr14, which was retreating easterly after Ligny because it was lost, as being the key to the French high command sending Grouchy’s force away from Wavre. Illustrating in passing how the outcome of the big event is determined by the outcomes of many small happenings. The author helps the reader to see that if anything was different then maybe everything else would be different. Although he does not indulge in it himself he shows how this often leads to the fun game of ‘what ifs’.
    Physically this volume is similar to volume one at 50mms thick with a total of 582 pages, a few good illustrations, and sufficient detailed maps. The notes and appendices fill out what is already an extensive text.
    In summary I cannot over state how much I enjoyed this book. What other authors have brought into a spotlight Hussey has brought into the sunlight. Not only do we see an event illuminated we also see the context by which and in which it has relevance.
    If you want to understand Waterloo you have got to read this book.

    Greenhill Books, 2017
  • Waterloo. The Campaign of 1815, Volume I

    John Hussey
    We live in an age of over used superlatives and in that vein this book is superb, excellent, and wonderful. But on a serious plane, suffice it to say that, this book makes a significant contribution to the literature about the Waterloo campaign. It is a work of great scholarship going in depth into the political, military and human factors which, for this volume, culminate at Ligny and Quatre Bras. It could have been a very dry academic tome but is in fact presented in an easy, readable style.
    As an example of this entertaining style at the end of the five page appendix on Bourmont’s full and complex life Hussey concludes ‘Marshall Bourmont died of old age at home in 1846. Who would have thought it?’ This sentiment made me smile. What also pleased me was that Hussey, when he makes a judgement, only ever claims probability based on the evidence available, in doing so he shows endearing modesty after so much scholarship a lesser man would have been more didactic.
    I feel it would be wrong (and difficult) to highlight any particular aspect of the narrative because the scope and depth is so large. From the recording of times of certain happenings, the clarity and speed of communications, to the character of Alexander, Tsar of Russia, and Wilhelm, King of the United Netherlands, all contribute to this fullest understanding of the campaign as it developed. This book answers so many questions for instance why didn’t Wellington pay more attention to the intelligence coming in on the 14th June? That he didn’t is stated in many books but here Hussey lists, with good supporting evidence, the dozen other important tasks the C in C was engaged with on that day. The fairly chaotic response to Napoleon’s advance was because Blucher and Wellington gave little attention to a defensive plan focused, as they were, on an invasion of France. Wellington thought it would be foolish of Napoleon to attack; and Wellington, with a measure of luck, was proved correct.
    Physically it is a large volume, 60 millimetres thick, 584 pages of text, 104 pages of supporting notes and a 22 page index. There are a few illustrations and a large number of good maps placed at the relevant places in the text.
    This volume has set the new gold standard against which to measure books about ‘Waterloo’. I cannot recommend it too highly. Now for volume II, Hurrah!


    Greenhill Books, 2017
  • The Japanese Navy in World War II

    Evans, David C (Ed.)
    The subtitle for this substantial book (568 pages) is "In the words of former Japanese Naval Officers", and from their seniority in their brief biographies (in an appendix) there is a risk that this book could become either a description of grand strategy, a justification of and blame for ultimate defeat, or both. And the contributions from these professional naval men, written in some cases not long after the events they describe do indeed carry much of that. But they also contain immediate and personal details from the glinting of the sun from the wings of bombers heading for Perl Harbour, to the difficulty of abandoning a burning carrier during Midway, to the mixed emotions of setting sail upon one of the biggest battleships ever built on a one way trip to Okinawa. All this makes it book well worth reading for both the informed and the inquisitive. I found it hard to put down and had to read a whole chapter at a sitting.
    Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD., (2nd Edn, paperback) 2017, (original) 1986
  • The Battle for the Maginot Line, 1940

    Donnell, Clayton
    If you've ever wondered what the point of the Maginot Line was, this book will tell you. It begins with a decent overview and history of the construction and layout of the forts and other works, along with a brief description of the concepts. It then jumps into an exceptionally detailed account of the battle for each fortified section including the types of casemate, the units and composition of both sides involved, and the date, time and nature of their demise. It also covers the unsung resistance of the southern section of the line which proved very successful against the Italian advance, but to me the most affecting sections are those where the interval troops, infantry support and artillery backup are withdrawn, leaving small handfuls of men to delay panzer regiments. The book concludes with a thought-provoking section on the strengths and weaknesses of the line and whether it's reputation as a military 'white elephant' is undeserved, and caught up in (and often blamed for) the whole debacle of June 1940 which was so psychologically damaging the French nation.

    As with many military history books, this one could do with more and better maps. Most chapters contain tactical diagrams of offensives but they are quite small and difficult to read, so I had an atlas to hand (and google maps!) to get a better impression of the spatial situation. On the whole though, an excellent and very well researched read, though perhaps a little too detailed to keep the casual reader's attention. I for one, however, am already planning my next trip to SF Maubeuge, Haguenau and Ouvrage Sainte-Agnes, and this book will be in my hand-luggage.
    Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, 2017