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Book Review: The Napoleonic Source Book

The Napoleonic Source Book, by Philip J. Haythornthwaite.
1990, Arms and Armour Press

I wish I had known about this book a long time ago. It is a brief encyclopedia of the Napoleonic Wars, and an ideal introduction and reference work on the period. There are seven main section covering every aspect of the Napoleonic Wars. The articles are brief, of course, and have to paint with a fairly broad brush. But as an introduction to many of the subjects it is an ideal work with which to provide some context to more in-depth reading. All of the articles are well written, and the numerous illustrations and maps throughout actually do more than just add visual interest - they help you understand what the text is saying.

This was a great find at Little Wars last month - I found it at the flea market for $8. It is currently out of print, but is usually available used from

Each of the seven sections is broken down into short subject articles like an encyclopedia. The sections are:

  1. The Campaigns: Provides a brief outline of all the campaigns from 1793 to the Hundred Days. Each campaign is covered in a few pages usually accompanied by a strategic map. There are also lists of all the major land battles, naval actions, and treaties at the end of the section.
  2. Weapons and the Practice of War: Covers the weapons (musket, saber, artillery, etc.), troop types, and methods of war of the time. Covers land and sea, and provides articles on support functions as well (logistics, medicine).
  3. The Nations Involved in the Napoleonic Wars: This is a really useful section. For every country their history of the period, as well as outlines of the troops they raised, uniforms, and government are provided. The article on France covers 36 pages, while Frankfurt gets a short two paragraphs.
  4. Biographies: This is a short section with just forty some odd biographies of the major personalities.
  5. Sources: A brief bibliographical essay which covers the essential works, but also includes good sections on Fiction and Literature, as well as short articles on important artists of the period, or whose work covered the period (especially artists who did uniform plates).
  6. Miscellanea: Just what it says...
  7. Glossary: A short but useful glossary. Ever wondered what a shabraque is? Or who the grosee-bottes were? This will tell you, horse blanket and the Imperial Guard Grenadiers a Cheval.

Review Posted June, 2004

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