Elting’s history of the Grand Armee of Napoleonic France is justly well regarded. It’s a massive tome that dives into just about every aspect of one of the most successful armies of military history. The main problem is that it isn’t really a history. The beginning talks about the French Royal Army before the Revolution and what got carried forward, the end talks about what came afterward, but the rest is a muddle, as far as chronology goes, going back and forth on whims over a span of well over a decade in which things changed drastically.

This is of course so various topics can be examined in quite a lot of depth, and all the things that go into an organization as complex as a large field army can be looked at. Even within a subject, this discussion free-flowing and by subtopic, but the book is wide ranging and thorough enough that you could start with the easy mechanical parts of the Grand Armee at any point in time, and use this book to build outwards and get a sense of all the things (logistics, supply, replacements and reserves, etc) that are a part of it.

An interesting point about the book is that Elting is American, and makes no bones about it. At one point in his description of the Revolution he pauses and says, ‘okay, here’s what this is all about, because there’s no parallel to these events in American political history.’ He makes a number other references to his background, but that is by far the most germane, though there’s some good ones comparing his first-hand experience of military matters to Napoleon’s campaigns.

Overall, the book lives up to its good reputation, and is worth a read for anyone interested in Napoleonic military history. The wide variety of subjects handled means that any non-specialist will get something new out of it, and possibly a good number of specialists, which is a pretty good feat for a general market work.

The bad news is that the Da Capo Kindle version is in desperate need of post-OCR cleanup. Like with many such, it starts okay, but slowly goes downhill the further through the book you get. In this case, much of the book has one or more noticeable errors per page, which is one of the worst rates of errors I’ve seen. Obviously the cleanup effort was especially perfunctory in this case, which is a real shame in a book this important.