In This Review

The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History
The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History
By Alexander Mikaberidze
960 pp, Oxford University Press, 2020

The regime that came to power in the wake of the French Revolution posed a unique threat to its rivals in Europe. Other European powers feared both its military strength and the spread of republican ideas. The epic struggle between France and its European competitors rocked the international system with constant warfare until 1815, when the British and the Prussians defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The monarchies survived, and a sort of order emerged. Nonetheless, the repercussions of these wars were felt for the rest of the century. Most books on this period concentrate on the famous battles, from Austerlitz and Jena to Borodino and Waterloo, or on the figure of Napoleon himself, delving into his reformist politics and how he transformed the practice of war. Mikaberidze goes much further, providing vital context, illuminating the social and political forces unleashed by the revolution, revealing the impact of technological advances, and analyzing the complex interactions among domestic politics, commercial interests, alliance diplomacy, and imperial endeavors. The global consequences of the Napoleonic Wars—often neglected in such studies—also occupy much of the book. Mikaberidze shows, for instance, how Spain’s struggles affected its ability to hold on to its South American colonies and how the United States saw the chaos on the European continent as an opportunity to invade Canada. This is an extraordinary work of scholarship. Despite the book’s length, scope, and detail, the narrative never flags. It is hard to see how anyone will improve on this account.