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WARS AGAINST NAPOLEON, THE: Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars [Hardcover]

By Michel Franceschi, Ben Weider, Sue Wiles (Editor), John Johnston (Translator), Kim Williams (Translator), K. B. Tan (Contributor) & S. Cao (Contributor)
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Item description for WARS AGAINST NAPOLEON, THE: Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars by Michel Franceschi, Ben Weider, Sue Wiles, John Johnston, Kim Williams, K. B. Tan & S. Cao...

Popular and scholarly history presents a one-dimensional image of Napoleon as an inveterate instigator of war who repeatedly sought large-scale military conquests. General Franceschi and Ben Weider dismantle this false conclusion in The Wars Against Napoleon, a brilliantly written and researched study that turns our understanding of the French emperor on its head.

Avoiding the simplistic cliche's and rudimentary caricatures many historians use when discussing Napoleon, Franceschi and Weider argue persuasively that the caricature of the megalomaniac conqueror who bled Europe white to satisfy his delirious ambitions and insatiable love for war is groundless. By carefully scrutinizing the facts of the period and scrupulously avoiding the sometimes confusing cause and effect of major historical events, they paint a compelling portrait of a fundamentally pacifist Napoleon, one completely at odds with modern scholarly thought.

This rigorous intellectual presentation is based upon three principal themes. The first explains how an unavoidable belligerent situation existed after the French Revolution of 1789. The new France inherited by Napoleon was faced with the implacable hatred of reactionary European monarchies determined to restore the ancient regime. All-out war was therefore inevitable unless France renounced the modern world to which it had just painfully given birth. The second theme emphasizes Napoleon's determined efforts ("bordering on an obsession," argue the authors) to avoid this inevitable conflict. The political strategy of the Consulate and the Empire was based on the intangible principle of preventing or avoiding these wars, not on conquering territory. Finally, the authors examine, conflict by conflict, the evidence that Napoleon never declared war. As he later explained at Saint Helena, it was he who was always attacked-not the other way around. His adversaries pressured and even forced the Emperor to employ his unequalled military genius. After each of his memorable victories Napoleon offered concessions, often extravagant ones, to the defeated enemy for the sole purpose of avoiding another war.

Lavishly illustrated, persuasively argued, and carefully illustrated with original maps and battle diagrams, The Wars Against Napoleon presents a courageous and uniquely accurate historical idea that will surely arouse vigorous debate within the international historical community.


"Weider and Franceschi's outstanding new "must read" book shatters the myth of the so-called "Napoleonic Wars" and compels a long-overdue reevaluation of the image of Napoleon as simply a "war loving conqueror." Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, ARMCHAIR GENERAL Editor in Chief (May 2008 issue)

"... the authors argue strongly, persuasively, and intellectually for what is, essentially, the other side of the usual story. They will surely provoke debate within the historical community wherever there is interest in this period. Recommended for all libraries adding to their Napoleonic collections."D. Poremba, Library Journal, 01/2008

"supported with maps and diagrams, this courageous book is a very intriguing read." Skirmish Magazine 04/08

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Item Specifications...

Pages   227
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 6" Height: 9"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 2008
Publisher   Savas Beatie
ISBN  1932714375  
ISBN13  9781932714371  

Availability  0 units.

More About Michel Franceschi, Ben Weider, Sue Wiles, John Johnston, Kim Williams, K. B. Tan & S. Cao

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Reviews - What do customers think about WARS AGAINST NAPOLEON, THE: Debunking the Myth of the Napoleonic Wars?

A very good argument in a slightly flawed book  Aug 21, 2008
I got into the Napoleonic era in 1963 when I played my first wargame of "Waterloo" by Avalon Hill. Since then I have amassed a nice library of works for this era covering most of the protagonists as I work towards understanding the era in a manner superior to what I have known before.

My interests in military history are very large in terms of eras and over the last decade the era of Napoleon has risen to rival my interests in the American Civil War (in which I make part of my living) and World War 2. I have become a much better Civil War historian because of my understanding of the era of Napoleon.

Within this, I was under the impression for most of my study that Napoleon suffered from the same megalomania that drove the likes of Alexander, Hitler, etc. However, despite the attempts of one book to compare Napoleon to Hitler (a simply stupid comparison in my opinion), I knew, once I had mastered the politics of the era some years ago, that this was not all that Napoleon was about.

This new book by Michel Franceschi and Ben Weider has pretty much put to rest any notion that once he was emplaced as First Consul, Napoleon's overriding vision was to send his magnificent Grande Armee to overrun Europe for his own devices.

The genesis of their argument dates from the outcome of the American Revolution and the amazing blow it was to the crowns of Europe. The 1775 "shot heard around the world" was much bigger than most Americans realize today. With final victory, not only was the American republic established, but the notion of a people's government shook the very foundations of monarchist Europe to the core. The monarchs, in particular England, having been on the receiving end of this war and without a doubt paying very close attention to its longstanding foe France and their complicity in this outcome, were going to make darn sure that this political disease (from the British perspective)was never, ever, going to cross the pond to Europe.

Hence Britain's full complicity in the diplomatic, military and financial backing of the various European powers to align against Napoleon and drive him - the very personification of republican government in Europe - to destruction and make sure the inept Bourbons were kept on the French throne. This is a simple fact of the era that cannot be denied!

The authors detail how, during the French Revolution, the crowns of Europe fielded their armies to crush the nascent republic in its crib before it threatened their peace and tranquility - which translates to "we few want to keep our power over the masses." This should be proof enough that the European monarchies greatly desired to crush France and this republican poison that was taking hold. With Napoleon's rise to political power, they simply shifted the symbol of that governmental from France to him and, as stated a couple times in the book, declared war on him rather than France!

The authors cite example after example of Napoleon's efforts to be left alone to complete the reshaping of France as a nation. This was happening not only in the political front but also in science, industry and other areas which also, no doubt, added fuel to the crowned head's fire of an economic competitor they did not want, in particular the British!

And so coalition after coalition was formed to defeat Napoleon and time after time they went down to defeat. This book does a nice job relating the political/military events from the revolutionary era through these coalitions, all the while keeping the reader informed of Napoleon's dilomatic efforts to return to the cause ante bellum via diplomacy. Victories allowed him to dictate peace at the point of a sword and treaties were signed only to be broken time and again as new coalitions of the defeated once again took the field to crush him.

In the end, sheer overwhelming numbers crushed republican France, which, after the Bourbon restoration of 1814-1815, brought about a powerful desire for Napoleon's return. Once again the inept King Louis drove a wedge between him and his people learning nothing, as the authors point out, from his exile in England that the cat was out of the bag and the concept of people's government would not die easily. But British Pounds bought a lot of loyalty then and they were willing to break the bank to restore British commerce on the continent thus breaking Napoleon's embargoes that cost them so dearly financially.

It is my opinion that the authors make their case quite well and cite example after example of the efforts Napoleon made to keep or restore peace. Even as campaigns began his use of personal diplomacy to some of his adversaries continued even well into the 1814 campaign that would unseat him. Direct quotes are used from these communications proving that the Emperor was indeed more interested in running the French ship of state than commanding its armies to defeat threat after threat,although as we all know, he did that exceedingly well using an army that marched to protect the nation in 1805 that was arguably the finest of the 19th Century. After the debacle of Russia his amazing talents to rebuild and train new armies were shone time and again save for his terrific cavalry arm.

Russia is typically the event that is used to show Napoleon's desire to extend his empire, something the authors pretty well disprove. It is also often considered the true downfall of the empire and a powerful case for that can still be made for it crushed his magnificent army (particularly the cavalry arm). This directly lead to the rise of German nationalism (seeded, as the authors point out, by republican French principles)and the eventual defection of allied German state after state from Napoleon's ranks leading to his ultimate defeat. This was in addition to the huge armies raised by the other Euroepan powers.

The authors use Spain, instead of Russia, as their cause celebre for this downfall and it makes an interesting choice that is quite thought provoking. The "Spanish ulcer," as one author has termed it, after political beginnings that spun out of control with infighting within the Spanish royalty as to who would rule, lead to the Madrid uprising, Murat's heavy-handed response and full-blown war with powerful British intervention. French columns met a Spanish people's guerrilla army (where the term was first coined) and retributions followed guerrilla atrocities which did nothing to settle the question except by force of arms. Ultimately, Spain drained off thousands of the best French troops and officers who would be needed to defend France elsewhere as the European crowns rose up again, seeing the possibility of taking Napoleon out once more. It is a very interesting argument indeed but I still think that Russia might have more to do with his end than Spain; yet I remain open-minded about this.

Where the book falls short, hence my 4 stars instead of five, is in these areas. First, this book screamed for footnotes. With all of the diplomatic communications cited it would have been very nice to see these sourced for further reading. I not only use sources to perhaps challenge an assertion but I also use them to seek out further works to expand my knowledge of a certain aspect. Related to this is the complete lack of a bibliography. I can forgive footnotes much more than the lack of a bibliography. I was really wanting to see some of the sources the authors cited for further study.

The book also needed better editing. It is certainly written from the author's point of view, which is fine as historians challenge things all the time. One review here mentioned a lack of balance seemingly forgetting that other bodies of work have taken the point of view that Napoleon was a war-monger. This book IS, therefore, the balance. However, there are a few amateurish slights used by the authors to describe people or situations that would have been much more powerful had they been done in a more distinguished way. Words have deep meaning and power and the authors sometimes use them flippantly. Better editing would have altered this.

Some continuity problems also arise. On Page 78, for example, when discussing Holland and who would rule it, the authors write that the Batavians requested Napoleon's brother Joseph as king. Yet in the very next paragraph they write that brother Louis Bonaparte had poor relations between himself and Napoleon as king of that nation. Louis was indeed the King of Holland, not Joseph. Two or three other similar examples dot the book which a better editor also would have caught.

Lastly, the maps were not as good as they could have been. Several times in the text major corps of Napoleon's army are mentioned in the text as having critical parts in battles only to be left off the maps! This also happens with some of Napoleon's foes. Not everyone who will read this book is an expert on Napoleon;s campaigns so better maps would have helped lay readers understand military situations more clearly.

These criticisms aside, the authors make powerful arguments that Napoelon was, indeed, more interested in peace than war and that his wars were forced upon him rather than initiated by him. Perhaps one can still quibble about the Russian Campaign of 1812 which Napoleon did do to force them back into the continental embargo of England. But the authors do show that the Emperor tried many times to get Czar Alexander to come back in peace rather than by war. His entreaties would be rebuffed time and again. But even if we accept the argument that attacking Russia is proof of him being a war-monger, where is the evidence that he sought to do more than just punish Russia but also add it to his empire?

Napoleon Bonaparte was an amazing character in history. And, as with all people, he was flawed. He did great things for France and eventually Europe via the Code Napoleon and his maintaining of republican principals (even after being crowned as Emperor) that were established in the Confederation of the Rhine and other areas allied and run by him. Indeed he was a political visionary seeking a Europe filled with people rising to be what they could be, as was happening in France and America at the time, rather than being what they were because of their birth status. The modern European Union owes much to this vision. A case can even be made that had Napoleon been successful in exporting republican ideals across the continent that the Franco-Prussian War, which cemented the power of a united Germany to the detriment of Europe and even the world in the 20th Century, might not have happened. Even further, that little squabble between First Cousins we call World War 1 might not have happened either for republics tend not to wage war on each other and these nations might well have succumbed to republican government long before 1914 had they only been willing.

Ironically, these principles that Napoleon did establish within his German allies helped fuel the German nationalism of 1813-1814 that unseated him the first time. This in turn, as the book points out, fueled the rebellions of 1848 that brought much needed change to the German states. Indeed, even the Prussians in their 1813 resurgence, let lose the reigns on their people somewhat with the creation of their Landwehr, their first "people's army" that was raised to supplement their regular troops. These were the first cracks in a monarchy in Europe and it was because of Napoleon.

Napoleon also brought advances in science, the arts and through industry, but he failed as a ruler by entrusting people who time and again stabbed him in the back. Talleyrand was chief among those, but also Fouche, Bernadotte (the most inept of the marshals in my opinion) and eventually his brother in law Murat, not to mention some of his own family members, stabbed him in the back after he raised them to posts of great importance. This was his biggest and most fatal flaw and this book ties that in very nicely with the other cases it makes.

This book is well worth getting and reading. It gave me a greater insight to the diplomatic overtures that Napoleon extended throughout his reign. I have certainly accepted its premises. If you accept what Von Clausewitz has stated that war is politics by another means, this book does a fine job of wedding the military with the political/diplomatic and showing the outcomes of both.

Quite often the political/diplomatic side of this era is overlooked. That is certainly not the case now.
Can't Argue with the Facts...  Jun 5, 2008
Like it or not, Napoleon has been the victim of a 200 year old smear campaign that still exists today. For the simple reason that if Napoleon was right, then they must've been wrong, Britain (and to a lesser extent the rest of the Allied countries) have made it a top priority throughout the years to make sure people think it was all Napoleons fault for the violence of the early 1800's. And they are good at it. The Britons are nothing if not brilliant diplomats and their rhetoric and version of events have become the commonly held views of Napoloeon for the rest of us who don't really study the man. Even the fact that Napoleon was uncommonly short is British propaganda made to trivialize the man. For the record, Napoleon was 5'6" which was average to even slightly above average height for the day. The Brits used a different system of measurements for measuring Napoleon and even though the truth is right their for anyone who cares to find it, people still believe Napoleon was an uncommonly short man. Gotta give props to British propaganda.

The thing about Napoleon is that one has to get a number of different viewpoints in order to get a good impression of the man. If you mainly read books from the British perspective, you will have a mostly negative view of him. If you only read books from the French perspective, you will have a mostly positive view of him. But again, the facts are out their for those who care to know and this book brings together the facts about Napoleons role in the wars he was involved in and the type of government he instituted. You can't argue with these facts, whether its in your best interest to positively or negatively portray Napoleon. This book clearly shows that the commonly held view of Napoleon as the main cause of the wars he was in is FALSE. Again, the reason why we all think that is because the British have basically dominated our views on history, especially concerning this time period. As stated above, if Napoleon was right in his endeavors, then the British would have to be wrong, and there's no way they can accept that. The armies of the Allied countries on mainland Europe were basically mercenary armies for England and one could say that it was the English who were beaten at Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, and Wagram.

Read this book if you want to add to your understanding of Napoleon. If you are comfortable with the easy view of Napoleon as the person in the wrong, then consider yourself another paid mercenary of George III.
Not Convinced!  Jun 4, 2008
As a Napoleonic enthusiast, I was very excited about this book. I was expecting some new insights and a balanced and well researched argument that would leave me convinced as to Napoleon's innocence for the wars of 1799-1815. The argument was certainly logically presented and cited the continued aggression and total military aims of Great Britain as the root cause of Napoleons' dilemma. There are however, too many historical contradictions and too many issues that have been ignored by this work to accept it as a full and just presentation of Napoleon as the 'man of peace.' Numerous typographical or translational errors detract from the flow. Finally, the assumption that France had the right to protect itself from Britain is not in dispute, however the assumption that all of the nations about France (Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and the Confederation of the Rhine) could be used as protection and as buffers against Britain, without any discussion or consideration for those nations needs or desires, was an arrogance that epitomised the weaknesses of this book
The greatest threat to peace in Europe in the early nineteenth century was the British Cabinet. With its millions in subsidies it fought a mainly proxy war against France before Napoleon, and France under Napoleon. It was other countries that basically did the dying for British ends. England had been fighting France for decades and, still smarting over the loss of the American colonies, who won their freedom with crucial French backing, the last thing it wanted was for ideas of freedom and equality to spread amongst its own down-trodden people. The British population was held in contempt by its autocratic, aristocratic, oligarchic masters. The French Revolution was a match hovering over the keg of liberty and the British Cabinet was determined to put it out.

Napoleon solidified the gains of the Revolution. He was the only one strong enough and pragmatic enough to heal the wounds of French society and under him France became a serious player in the field of international relations once again. The ancient monarchies were terrified that under his leadership, the liberalisation fostered by revolutionary ideas would spread to their own realms. Hence they pocketed the English bribes and fostered a series of coalitions that were to expunge the French leader and all he stood for from the map of Europe.

In their excellent book Franceschi and Weider raise dozens of points, particularly in regard to the diplomacy of the time, that will be a real eye-opener to British readers. Especially telling are the references to the British press and Opposition in 1815 who said then, that the war of that year against Napoleon was totally unjustified. And Marie-Louise's letter to her father, expressing her anguish that he could be contemplating war against his own son-in-law is very revealing - especially as she says the English were probably behind it.

One reviewer above states sneeringly that the authors blame the loss at Waterloo on a bad thunderstorm. They do not say that, they rightly comment that the French were outnumbered. In fact, although Wellington hung on grimly, it was the arrival of 45,000 Prussians, 7,000 of whom died at the hands of the Young Guard at Placenoit, that sealed the Emperor's fate. Not many of those Prussians went to Eton by the way.

As a reader of dozens of books on this period, I can honestly say that this is the first one I have come across that looks at things from Napoleon's perspective. Far from being called The Napoleonic Wars, the period 1799-1815 would be better dubbed, The English Mercenary Wars.

A Must Read, review by Thomas Zakharis   Apr 25, 2008
Napoleon remains one of those personalities who a history enthusiast either loves or hates. In The Wars Against Napoleon: Debunking the myth of the Napoleonic Wars, two authors and friends, by French retired four-star General Michel Franceschi and Ben Weider, President of INS, describe Napoleon's foreign and military policies, centering their narration around the French emperor's desire for peace and explaining that he was forced to fight in order to defend revolutionary France from the perpetual threats posed from abroad. Their assertion is that all of the French government's efforts for negotiation and peace failed primarily because of the reaction of Britain, which saw in France's progress under Napoleon's leadership a formidable rival for its own global ambitions. For that reason--in Napoleon's case at least--Mr. Weider contradicts Henry Kissinger's axiom that "Revolutionary governments could not accept the principles of loyalty."

To the 21st century Western World, terms such as constitution, civil rights, freedom of the press, liberty to vote and elect public officials are commonplace, but they were struggling for existence in a much more hostile environment in the 19th century. To the monarchs of Europe, Napoleon was little more than a common thief, even as they privately harbored admiration and jealously for his abilities. In any case, the authors believe Napoleon to have conducted his campaigns against the rest of Europe's powers because he had no choice--and on the rationale that the best defense is a good offense.

The Wars Against Napoleon includes maps with the emperor's main battles up to his last campaign in 1815, culminating in the battle of Waterloo. For that battle I would like to mention to General Franceschi the role of the 3nd Dutch-Belgian Division, which--once again--he omits from the day's events. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington had put that division in his rear because he did not trust its mainly Belgian personnel. However, when the 3nd and 4th Grenadiers of Napoleon's Old Guard were ready to give what they hoped would be the coup de grâce to the exhausted British regiments, it was that Dutch-Belgian division that suddenly counterattacked and threw the Guard back in panic. It remains a overlooked incident begging for a historian to put it in its proper perspective.

Another item of interest is that in both 1814 and 1815 Napoleon threatened the bourgeois Senate and Parliament by a call in arms of laborers for the II and III corps of the National Guard. He ended up doing so on neither occasion to avoid the sort of communal revolution that finally occurred in 1870. Not quite the revolutionary that his predecessors had been, Napoleon pursued a policy intended to smooth class differences and avert a civil war in France. Indeed, he created a new aristocracy, which finally died in the trenches a hundred years after, as the Soviet writer Elia Ehrenburg wrote.

Whether The Wars Against Napoleon will truly "debunk" the conventional wisdom about the Napoleonic Wars will probably depend on the reader. In any case, General Franceschi and Mr. Weider had written a "labor of love" that historians who share their admiration of the late emperor will want to put on their "must read" list.
- Thomas Zacharis
(Note: This review was written by Thomas Zakharis and posted on this site by The Wars Against Napoleon publisher Savas Beatie LLC at his request.)

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