Narrative histories of war
August 13, 2010 12:15 PM   Subscribe

I enjoyed Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy on WWII (so far) and Shelby Foote's Civil War: A Narrative. What are similar narrative retellings for other wars? I'm particularly interested in something like this for the Napoleonic wars.
posted by event to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
On the naval side of those wars, though the books are fiction, it is tough to beat the Master and Commander series by Patrick O'Brian.
posted by bearwife at 12:28 PM on August 13, 2010


I understand that War and Peace has a few things to say about Napoleon's invasion of Russia.
posted by musofire at 1:27 PM on August 13, 2010


Gibbon's Decline and Fall is really well written, and still very readable so many years later.
posted by Trochanter at 1:43 PM on August 13, 2010


Does it have to take the long view or can it be focused on specific events? If so I recommend Cornelius Ryan's WW2 books: Longest Day (DDay), A Bridge Too Far (Operation Market Garden) and Last Battle (Fall of Berlin).
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 2:43 PM on August 13, 2010


A History of the Peninsular War by Sir Charles Oman: 7 volumes with the greatest general of the time: Arthur Wellesley, not yet the Iron Duke.
posted by mfoight at 2:47 PM on August 13, 2010


For the Napoleonic era, Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon is a good overview.

John Elting's Swords Around the Throne is a fun read full of many stories about the Grand Armee.

David Howarth's Waterloo: A Near Run Thing is a great read about that particular battle. He also wrote one for Trafalgar.

Jakob Walter wrote a diary of his actual experiences during the 1812 campaign.

There's tons of books on Napoleon, the list could be endless.
posted by Max Power at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2010


David Elting's Swords Around A Throne. ALso David Chandler's Campaigns Of Napoleon.

For contemporary memoir, you must read Marbot. (It is in print in English)

On preview - mostly what Max Power said.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:22 PM on August 13, 2010


Oh, and Donald Kagan's Peloponnesian War, either the full four volumes or the one volume abridgment.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:33 PM on August 13, 2010


Echoing Gibbon. Tf Shelby Foote is fresh in your mind, you will be amazed at how he borrowed his cadences from Gibbon, and that is meant to be a complement.

For epic, well written narrative histories I would also recommend:
Churchill's Second World War and Schlesinger's The Age of Roosevelt. Taylor Branch's America in the King Years is utterly compelling, but the prose is not up to the quality of the other books.
posted by shothotbot at 4:46 PM on August 13, 2010


Nothing beats Shelby Foote.

I enjoyed Arrian's Campaigns of Alexander. Julius Caesar is also a great storyteller. I can't recall the Gallic Wars translation that I read and YMMV but it was the best thing I read since Shelby Foote and started me down the classics path.

I'm pretty tempted to go for the 7 volume Oman on the Peninsular War. Expect Amazon prices to go up fast.
posted by mearls at 5:26 PM on August 13, 2010


Nthing Cornelius Ryan; puts Stephen Ambrose firmly in the shade in all respects. Ditto Churchill's WW2 books, especially The Gathering Storm. Also love Shelby Foote (particularly the Vicksburg sequence, which is stunning); but in light of his rather consistent (and wholly understandable) Southern bias, read some Bruce Catton.
posted by charris5005 at 5:32 PM on August 13, 2010


A Blood Dimmed Tide is a good one for the Battle of the Bulge.
posted by Max Power at 5:41 PM on August 13, 2010


Must read: The Age of Napoleon (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 11) by Will and Ariel Durant.

Personal note: I love Herodotus, Plutarch, Gibbon, Tuchman, and Kagan.

But when it comes to popular history, the Durants kick f**kin ass! And if you don't at least take a look at their really excellent book about Napoleon, then I will be really disappointed.
posted by ovvl at 8:58 PM on August 13, 2010


Echoing the suggestions of the grandfathers of (narrative) history, Herodotus especially. I will usually pick up one of my copies when I have nothing else to read and just open to a random section and start reading. Thucyddides may be a bit of a slog but still enjoyable. Also Plutarch and Arrian are wonderful. If you are near a college or university you can probably find some of the Penguin Plutarchs for dirt cheap. (I enjoyed "Fall of the Roman Republic", "Age of Alexander" and "Rise and Fall of Athens") And don't forget Xenophon (esp. Anabasis aka the Ten Thousand)
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 9:02 AM on August 14, 2010


If you like historical fiction with a little un-PC humor, I suggest the excellent Flashman series.

Somewhat more serious, and bloodier, the Sharpe series is also good.

For both of these, the history is excellent.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:22 PM on August 14, 2010


I was rereading bits and pieces of Churchill's Second World War recently, and I will say, it's very well written and easy to read. It's a bit dated now (for instance, the Enigma decrypts aren't mentioned, being still highly classified at the time) and it is a bit self-promoting, but it is a fascinating read and really puts you in Churchill's shoes.

For Vietname, Neil Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie" is a fantastic history intertwined with a biography of one of the major players. It's compelling and I couldn't put it down when I first read it.
posted by pombe at 7:45 PM on August 15, 2010


Lots of excellent links. Thanks all!
posted by event at 8:15 PM on August 15, 2010


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