The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It

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“A mesmerizing account that illuminates not just the Napoleonic wars but all of modern history . . . It reads like a novel” (Lynn Hunt, Eugen Weber Professor of modern European history, UCLA).
 
The twentieth century is usually seen as “the century of total war.” But as the historian David A. Bell argues in this landmark work, the phenomenon actually began much earlier, in the era of muskets, cannons, and sailing ships—in the age of Napoleon.
 
In a sweeping, evocative narrative, Bell takes us from campaigns of “extermination” in the blood-soaked fields of western France to savage street fighting in ruined Spanish cities to central European battlefields where tens of thousands died in a single day. Between 1792 and 1815, Europe plunged into an abyss of destruction.
 
It was during this time, Bell argues, that our modern attitudes toward war were born. Ever since, the dream of perpetual peace and the nightmare of total war have been bound tightly together in the Western world—right down to the present day, in which the hopes for an “end to history” after the cold war quickly gave way to renewed fears of full-scale slaughter.
 
With a historian’s keen insight and a journalist’s flair for detail, Bell exposes the surprising parallels between Napoleon’s day and our own—including the way that ambitious “wars of liberation,” such as the one in Iraq, can degenerate into a gruesome guerrilla conflict. The result is a book that is as timely and important as it is unforgettable.
 
“Thoughtful and original . . . Bell has mapped what is a virtually new field of inquiry: the culture of war.” —Steven L. Kaplan, Goldwin Smith Professor of European history, Cornell University
 
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About the author

David A. Bell is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins and a contributing editor for the New Republic. A graduate of Harvard College, he completed his Ph.D. at Princeton and taught for several years at Yale. Bell has written for the New York Times, Slate, and Time, and was featured on the History Channel’s program on the French Revolution.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Published on
Jun 3, 2014
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Pages
432
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ISBN
9780547525297
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / France
History / Military / Napoleonic Wars
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Includes over 200 maps, plans, diagrams and uniform prints
Lt.-Col. Theodore Ayrault Dodge was a soldier of long and bloody experience, having served with the Union Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War losing one of his legs during the battle of Gettysburg. After the end of the war he settled down in retirement to write, he produced a number of excellent works on the recently ended Civil War and his magnum opus “A History of the Art of War”, tracing the advances, changes and major engagements of Western Europe. His work was split into twelve volumes, richly illustrated with cuts of uniforms, portraits and maps, each focussing on periods of history headed by the most prominent military figure; Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Frederick the Great and finally Napoleon. Napoleon and the period which he dominated received such care and attention that Dodge wrote four excellent, authoritative and detailed volumes on him.
This third volume begins with Napoleon’s ambitious foray in Spain and Portugal in 1807-8, despite British intervention his forces are triumphant over much of Spain. Napoleon is forced to turn back to his Eastern enemies as Austria attack on the Danube, even Napoleon’s great powers cannot gain him victories at all times and his repulse at Aspern hands him his first major defeat. He is able to bring the Austrians to heel after the bloody battle of Wagram, but his over vaulting ambition is beginning to become too much; as reverses in the Peninsula mount he decides on the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. This volume concludes as the remnants of the Grande Armée trudge back through the snows of Russia and his lieutenants are roundly beaten by Wellington at Vittoria.
A well written, expansive and excellent classic.
Renowned for its accuracy, brevity, and readability, this book has long been the gold standard of concise histories of the Napoleonic Wars. Now in an updated and revised edition, it is unique in its portrayal of one of the world's great generals as a scrambler who never had a plan, strategic or tactical, that did not break down or change of necessity in the field. Distinguished historian Owen Connelly argues that Napoleon was the master of the broken play, so confident of his ability to improvise, cover his own mistakes, and capitalize on those of the enemy that he repeatedly plunged his armies into uncertain, seemingly desperate situations, only to emerge victorious as he "blundered" to glory.

Beginning with a sketch of Napoleon's early life, the book progresses to his command of artillery at Toulon and the "whiff of grapeshot" in Paris that netted him control of the Army of Italy, where his incredible performance catapulted him to fame. The author vividly traces Napoleon's campaigns as a general of the French Revolution and emperor of the French, knowledgeably analyzing each battle's successes and failures. The author depicts Napoleon's "art of war" as a system of engaging the enemy, waiting for him to make a mistake, improvising a plan on the spot-and winning. Far from detracting from Bonaparte's reputation, his blunders rather made him a great general, a "natural" who depended on his intuition and ability to read battlefields and his enemy to win. Exploring this neglected aspect of Napoleon's battlefield genius, Connelly at the same time offers stirring and complete accounts of all the Napoleonic campaigns.
Renowned historian, essayist, and journalist David A. Bell has long made France and its history the subject of his scholarly gaze and the object of his enduring affection. Shadows of Revolution: Reflections on France, Past and Present gathers together his writing, composed over a period of more than 25 years, into a single volume. As the title of this collection suggests, Bell views much of French history through the lens of the Revolutionary era. Within a space of a dozen years, from Bastille to Bonaparte, the country experimented with and experienced every form of governance, creating in the process, as Bell puts it, "the most intense political laboratory the world had ever known." The Revolution remains the country's defining era, delineating its sense of identity and overshadowing the events that followed it. Yet another, Bell argues, is the Vichy period and World War Two-France's dark night of the soul-with whose legacies the country continues to contend. These two moments of violent and transformative upheaval may dominate French history, but as this collection and Bell's observational powers reveal, the full range of topics involving France is endlessly rich and diverse. Divided into eight sections, it connects France's education to its national identity, the Enlightenment to the Revolution and human rights, Napoleon to Victor Hugo, and nineteenth-century anti-Semitism to such recent events such as the riots of 2006, the Arab Spring, and the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. Shadows of Revolution embodies and reflects the endlessly fascinating and entertaining complexity of French history, and shows the ways in which it has shaped world history.
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