Historical Atlas of the Napoleonic Era, by Angus Konstam
2003, The Lyons Press
Any serious student of military history whether amateur of professional can appreciate the value of a reference like an historical atlas. For an era as fluid and dynamic as the Napoleonic years were, general references can be invaluable. For example, an understanding of the Peninsular War requires at least a familiarity with the situation throughout Europe. Events in Russia and Austria had a serious affect on the course of the war in the Peninsula, and vice versa. However, to refresh one’s memory of the events of, say, the campaign in Austria in 1809, one does not want to add yet another tome to one’s reading list. It is here that the general reference becomes so helpful.
Konstam’s atlas is the latest entry into this field, and on the whole will, I think, serve the student of the period quite well. The book weighs in at a modest 190 pages, but is filled with maps, charts and illustrations - all in full color - throughout. The accompanying text is, for the most part, on target (as far as my expertise can tell). Broken down into twelve chapters covering the years 1789 - 1816, most of the two-page spreads stand entirely on their own. This is convenient when one wants to briefly recount the Battle of the Pyramids, or the campaign in the Pyrenees. The text is concise, informative and opinionated. Indeed, the style is quite animated and may strike some as overly dramatic. For example, here is the caption accompanying a map of Europe in 1772:
- This was the Europe that Napoleon Bonaparte would soon overthrow, a Europe of great but tottering powers lording it over a host of smaller states, some already subsumed, others fiercely independent. A patchwork of uneasy alliances and ruling family feuds meant that often far-flung territories kept switching hands between the great powers. In the north, a coalition of German-Baltic states was conglomerating to become the new great force of Prussia. (p.8)
Heady stuff. But if ever there was an era for which a bit of over acting was, surely this was one. Likewise, the header of the spread on Eylau ends: “In a bitterly contested fight, Napoleon threw everything at the Russians, but his Grand Armee was unable to defeat them.” (p.76)
The maps and illustrations throughout are fairly good. For the most part they are quite clear and do a nice job of combining topographical, political and military information. All of the major battles are represented, except on the Peninsula where one must be content with Moore’s retreat, Corunna and Salamanca. The campaign maps are clear and easy to follow. However, there are some maps (for example Wagram and Salamanca) that could be better. In both cases, it is hard to get a sense of the sequence of events they portray. They could perhaps have been broken down into two maps. Despite some minor issues, the illustrations and maps do a good job of illuminating these tumultuous years.
This atlas is clearly aimed at a perhaps more general reader than I suspect many of the readers of this review would be. As such it provides nice maps not only of campaigns and battles, but of the changing landscape of Europe as a whole. As such it would be an excellent work with which to begin one’s dip into the Napoleonic pool.
Review posted January 20, 2004