The End of the Old Order by Frederick Kagan

Sorry for not posting something sooner, but I have been reading a monstrous book about the period of the Napoleonic Wars from 1801 to 1805. The book, The End of the Old Order by Frederick Kagan, is a fascinating look at the events and relationships among the European powers during that time period.

Here is a description of the book from its cover:

Most historical accounts of the Napoleonic era – and there are many – tell the same Napoleon-dominated story over and over again, or focus narrowly on special aspects of it. Frederick Kagan, distinguished historian and military policy expert, has tapped hitherto unused archival materials from Austria, Prussia, France, and Russia, to present the history of these years from the balanced perspective of all of the major players of Europe. In The End of the Old Order readers encounter the rulers, ministers, citizens, and subjects of Europe in all of their political and military activity – from the desk of the prime minister to the pen of the ambassador, from the map of the general to the rifle of the soldier. With clear and lively prose, Kagan guides the reader deftly through the intriguing and complex web of international politics and war. The End of the Old Order is the first volume in a new and comprehensive four-volume study of Napoleon and Europe.

The End of the Old Order is an excellent summary and analysis of the personalities and events of the early years of the Napoleonic Wars. I learned a lot about the great diplomats of the time period, such as Talleyrand, France’s foreign minister. The way he played (with Napoleon’s direction) the Russians, Austrians, and Prussians against each other was magnificent. This was during a time when diplomats were true statesman, unlike today.

As a novice of the time period, I appreciate Kagan’s organization and explanation of events that happened in rapid succession or at the same time. For example, he interweaves the separate treaty discussions between the French and the Prussians and the French and the Austrians at the end of the War of the Third Coalition (1805). He explains how Napoleon plays off the fears and distrust that King Frederick William III of Prussia and Emperor Francis II of Austria had for each other.

Although I have read that some people take exception to Kagan’s analysis of the events and major personalities covered in the book, I don’t know enough about those things to judge whether Kagan is off base. However, I do know that he provides an insightful and thoroughly researched book that is quite compelling. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about the book if you decide to read it.

The writing is superb, that is, easy to read as far as the topic is concerned – explaining the geopolitics, events, and personalities of this time period is not an easy thing to do in a flowing style. With that said, this is not the type of book that you can pick up and read a few pages – you have to be prepared to read twenty to thirty pages at a time because otherwise, if you are like me, you will have to reread some in order to remember what is going on.

Although the length of the book can look intimidating (774 pages – 667 of which are text), don’t let that stop you from reading a very entertaining and enlightening book of the early years of the Napoleonic Wars.

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