Saturday, 16 March 2013

If you don’t own it, get a copy

Book Review: Napoleon: The Last Campaigns 1813-15, by James Lawford
I still have quite a few reviews of books about the 1812 campaign to finish and to post, but, since we are well into the bicentennial of 1813 and rapidly approaching the anniversary of Lützen, I’d like to present reviews of some of the books that we are using in preparing our bicentennial activities for ‘Napoleon’s Last Campaign in Germany’ (apologies to Petre there).
There is no better place to start, perhaps with the exception of Petre’s classic, than with the late James Lawford’s Napoleon: The Last Campaigns 1813-15. First published in 1977, this book is a perfect way to begin your reading for the 2013–15 bicentennial of Napoleon’s Last Campaigns.
I first read this book in the early 1980s, borrowing it from the library of the university that I was attending at the time. I was most impressed with the text, the presentation and it was one that really stuck in my mind, so it was an obvious book to purchase now that such publications are so easily available, and reasonably priced, through on-line vendors.
My memory had not tricked me. This is still an excellent book! It is a fine introduction to the campaigns of 1813, 1814 and 1815, but is also so much more. Lawford does a magnificent job of tying the campaigns together, prefaced by the end of the 1812 campaign. HIs prose is easy to read, detailed and engrossing. Importantly, while making an assessment of the performance of Napoleon, his marshals and generals, and of the allies, such assessments are free from the value-laden comments that so often beset books about this period.
The maps are perfect to aide the reader and for wargamers. They have sufficient detail to show the key parts of the battlefield and campaign area. Arrows clearly show the movements of troops and compliment the text perfectly. The strength of forces involved (down to corps level) is also provided on, with or near the maps.
There are also plenty of “pretty pictures” in the book with reproductions of paintings of battle scenes, commanders and troops. These are mainly in black and white, but are clearly reproduced. And yes JJ, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier’s famous painting is correctly attributed to the Campaign in France! Here is where the only mistake that I found with the book occurs; a painting of a French officer of the chevau-léger lanciers is incorrectly captioned as a captain of dragoons (although of course, given that is where those regiments derived, perhaps it is not incorrect?!).
My recommendation regarding this book is simple: if you don’t own a copy, get one, be it by purchase or borrowing through your library service.


  1. Interesting, James; not a book I was aware of! On line price quotes range from very reasonable (about$10) to absurd (over $130).