Frederick II of Prussia is considered one of the great generals of history (which is why we usually just call him ‘Frederick the Great’), so a book looking at his military achievements is an excellent subject.

Of course, it’s not hard to find problems with myth vs reality with him. Running off the field of battle in two battles that Prussia won, doesn’t sound very “Great”. And overall, Showalter is fairly critical (in both senses of ‘fair’ here), of Frederick’s performance overall. There’s a nice section at the end that talks of Prussia after the Seven Years War, and how both the army and myth were fashioned as a means of deterrence. (I wish he’d done more than just allude to the myth-making in that period; but no details are given.)

Of course the events of the Silesian War/War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War are the main rocks the book is structured around. However, along the way, Showalter takes time to take a look at how well other European armies were operating, and how Frederick’s various ideas worked out in that context. Much of the focus is fairly operational, with the marches and countermarches of armies being the dominant themes of the narrative. However, the battle descriptions themselves are well done, and each battle focused on is well presented, with Frederick’s (often overambitious) plans in context.

The biggest shortcoming of the book is a lack of operational-level maps, that can make the flow of events hard to follow. The battles get fairly simple standard maps that do the job, though they usually show up at the end of the battle instead of near the beginning. On the other hand, there is an excellent run down of other worthwhile books at the end, that moves from biography, to more general works, to Osprey’s more specialized volumes.

The early going is made very rough with some remarks on the theory of military history that are self-obscuring with inobvious allusions. Once past that, the book settles in for a fairly bumpy ride, that is valuable for being all-too-rare look at the methods of war over the course of a few decades, and how it worked in that context.