The best books on the Napoleonic Wars

8 authors have picked their favorite books about the Napoleonic Wars and why they recommend each book.

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Russia Against Napoleon

By Dominic Lieven,

Book cover of Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814

Perhaps the single greatest study to emerge from a formidable list of fine books on the Russian contribution to the defeat of Napoleon. Beautifully written, interlaced with vivid pen portraits of some of the most colourful characters of the age, Lieven writes with sympathy and insight of a country assailed and battered by Napoleon, and gives his readers a sensitive account of how the Tsar and his people rose to the challenge, and also of how they often came close to disaster. He follows their advance across Europe from the depths of their heartland to the Champs Elysées with the perfect blend of scholarship and humanity.


Who am I?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in Napoleon, although in what ways have shifted back and forth over time. His reforms shaped the Europe we live in today, as few other rulers have managed. To go to law, to buy and sell, to marry, be born, or divorce, all these actions belong to his Civil Code. That is why I took up the study of his regime and its work as a professional historian. His myth, his exploits, gripped me as a boy, and still do. So spectacular a rise and fall do not happen by chance. There was no one like him.


I wrote...

Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821

By Michael Broers,

Book cover of Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821

What is my book about?

This will be the third and final volume of my three-volume life of Napoleon, which will be published in summer, 2022. It covers the years 1811-1821, delving into the weaknesses of Napoleon’s hegemony at its height, in 1811, and explores the complex reasons behind his fateful decision to invade Russia in 1812, particularly Napoleon’s failure to understand the character of his opponent and nemesis, Tsar Alexander I. Russia was not the end, however, and I spend a great deal of time examining the last years of the wars, and what they reveal about the man and his empire in their last crisis, drawing extensively on the new edition of his correspondence and the rich modern historiography spawned by the drama of these years.

The First Total War

By David A. Bell,

Book cover of The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It

Not everyone agreed with the author’s assessment of the Napoleonic Wars as the first total war, and I can’t say that I am overly convinced myself, but Bell presents the reader with an interesting and provocative interpretation of the practice of warfare at the dawn of the modern era. I came away with a better appreciation of the horror of battle and war during this period, something that is often glossed over in the standard military histories of the era. Was the practice of ‘total war’ brought about by mass conscription or had the seeds already been planted? 


Who am I?

I'm an Australian historian specializing in the French Revolution and Napoleon. I have spent a goodly part of my career writing a three-volume biography of Napoleon, alongside chapters, articles, and edited books that aimed at reassessing the man and the period. Working on Napoleon and the French as occupiers led me into the history of massacre and more broadly into the history of violence. I studied under the preeminent French Napoleonic scholar, Jean Tulard, at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV.


I wrote...

Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

By Philip Dwyer,

Book cover of Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

What is my book about?

In the first volume of the trilogy, I focused on Napoleon’s formative years, from his Corsican origins to his French education, from his melancholy youth to his flirtation with radicals of the French Revolution, from his first military campaigns in Italy and Egypt to the political-military coup that brought him to power in 1799. One of the first truly modern politicians, Napoleon was a master of “spin,” using the media to project an idealized image of himself. 

I was always fascinated by his meteoric rise from literally a nobody to gain power in the most powerful country in Europe at the young age of thirty. The journey that led him there was neither inevitable nor smooth. This is one of the few biographies that really attempt to uncover the man, that focuses on the evolution of Napoleon as a leader, and that debunks many of the myths that are often repeated about him. I tried to reveal just how ruthless, manipulative, and driven a man he really was.

Napoleon's Men

By Alan Forrest,

Book cover of Napoleon's Men: The Soldiers of the Revolution and Empire

Not since the monumental work of Jacques Morvan in his Le Soldat Imperial, almost a century ago, has a scholar brought so much learning and insight to the experience of the soldiery of the longest wars in modern European history. Forrest brings his hallmark skills as an archival scholar to the daunting task of reassembling the lives of the men who did the fighting, endured the horrors and the hardships behind the glittering uniforms, and heroic paintings of the battles. He brings the ordinary to life and puts the extraordinary in its proper context of the hardscrabble, but adventurous, lives of the rankers. One for the ages. 


Who am I?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in Napoleon, although in what ways have shifted back and forth over time. His reforms shaped the Europe we live in today, as few other rulers have managed. To go to law, to buy and sell, to marry, be born, or divorce, all these actions belong to his Civil Code. That is why I took up the study of his regime and its work as a professional historian. His myth, his exploits, gripped me as a boy, and still do. So spectacular a rise and fall do not happen by chance. There was no one like him.


I wrote...

Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821

By Michael Broers,

Book cover of Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821

What is my book about?

This will be the third and final volume of my three-volume life of Napoleon, which will be published in summer, 2022. It covers the years 1811-1821, delving into the weaknesses of Napoleon’s hegemony at its height, in 1811, and explores the complex reasons behind his fateful decision to invade Russia in 1812, particularly Napoleon’s failure to understand the character of his opponent and nemesis, Tsar Alexander I. Russia was not the end, however, and I spend a great deal of time examining the last years of the wars, and what they reveal about the man and his empire in their last crisis, drawing extensively on the new edition of his correspondence and the rich modern historiography spawned by the drama of these years.

The Passion

By Jeanette Winterson,

Book cover of The Passion

"What you risk reveals what you value." This struck me so deeply when I first read it that I quote it to this day.

The Passion is a gorgeous, baroque, desperate symphony of a book. A love story spanning time and place, against the odds. The writing elevates the grotesque and disturbing to art. It leads you by the hand through the giddy, opulent confusion of Venice at Carnival and freezes you in the wintery depths of Napoleonic despair. It was one of the first books I read in my teens that was overtly queer and played with gender identity. It holds a very special place in my heart.


Who am I?

Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved scary stories. But more than the thrill of being afraid, I was drawn to the notion of befriending the ghosts, of making the frightening familiar, of finding meaning and comfort in the horrific. Maybe that's why I'm now a queer old goth, and maybe it's why my favourite themes to both read and write are those of identity, belonging as an outsider, and the 'monstrous' elevated to the beautiful.


I wrote...

Spirit Houses

By Die Booth,

Book cover of Spirit Houses

What is my book about?

How far would you go for your career? How far would you go for love? How far would you go for the truth? When Manda’s lab partner Daniel goes missing, presumed dead, it’s just another normal day at University Hospital. But the circumstances of his disappearance aren’t quite as straightforward as they seem and take Manda and her colleagues at the Department of Paranatural Medicine on a journey across planes and to the fringes of death to find the truth. Spirit Houses, a supernatural tale of action, adventure, and excellent Scotch, is Die Booth's first full-length novel.

This book is available for purchase here.

The Terror Before Trafalgar

By Tom Pocock,

Book cover of The Terror Before Trafalgar: Nelson, Napoleon and the Secret War

Tom Pocock, a Naval Correspondent for The Times and Defence Correspondent for the London Evening Standard, has been described as the foremost authority on Admiral Nelson. But going past Nelson, in this book, he delves deeply into the lesser-known people that helped Nelson – and Britain – win the Napoleonic Wars, mission by mission, battle by battle.

This book is an absolute treasure-trove of information for anyone interested in the more secret ways Britain fought the first half of the Napoleonic Wars. “This book tells, through contemporary letters, journals, and newspapers, the gripping story of the secret war and of the shadowy but fascinating figures who did their utmost to undermine French plans.” This book inspired years of research – books and physical trips – that created The Tide Watchers. It brought the people of “the secret war” to life, American inventor Robert Fulton’s life in France, and the…


Who am I?

I’m a very ordinary person. A history and literary nerd. A wife and mother. I don’t have any M.As or PhDs. I started teaching myself to write in 1991, and after joining the Romance Writers of America, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as Writing NSW (New South Wales), I had my first writing award, and first short story published in 1997. I got my first writing contract in 2000 (Silhouette Books, NY). I quit romance in 2012 to focus on historical fiction and YA, both of which I still love, and putting a little romance in there never hurts. I've given workshops and talks for the Historical Novel Societies of Australia and North America.

I wrote...

The Tide Watchers

By Lisa Chaplin,

Book cover of The Tide Watchers

What is my book about?

In early 2007 I was showing American friends around Sydney. I picked up a book whose subtitle is Nelson, Napoleon and the Secret War. I was hooked. Soon my friends had to remind me they were hungry! I read the book all the way home. A passing mention of Napoleon’s secret attempt to invade England in 1803 made me think, I have to know more...

Lucky for me, not long after, my husband and I moved...to Europe! It was the perfect ground for my research. Visiting the places the book spoke of, and speaking to local historians (and taking their tours) brought the hidden history to life – and learning about American inventor Robert Fulton’s life in France at the time, it brought to my mind the only way the invading ships could mysteriously sink 8 miles out to sea. And so The Tide Watchers was born.

Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons

By Mark Bryant,

Book cover of Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons

This book shows the caricatures done by cartoonists of the time. If you pay enough attention to the dates, these can shed new or deeper light on accepted history. The minutiae of these cartoons teaches you a lot about the time and the thoughts of the general public, or how the media wanted to sway them to think. For example, on pages 24 and 25, the cartoons show “Citizen Fox” – showing this British subject living in France as joining the Republican system. “French Telegraph Making Signals in the Dark” (James Gillray) and “The Raft in Danger, or the Republican Crew Disappointed” (Isaac Cruikshank) shows the many wild rumors and general fear of French invasion around 1798, after the failed invasion via Ireland, who was then fighting for independence from the crushing absentee English landlords. Going deeper with this idea, you can see the fear of war on two fronts…


Who am I?

I’m a very ordinary person. A history and literary nerd. A wife and mother. I don’t have any M.As or PhDs. I started teaching myself to write in 1991, and after joining the Romance Writers of America, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as Writing NSW (New South Wales), I had my first writing award, and first short story published in 1997. I got my first writing contract in 2000 (Silhouette Books, NY). I quit romance in 2012 to focus on historical fiction and YA, both of which I still love, and putting a little romance in there never hurts. I've given workshops and talks for the Historical Novel Societies of Australia and North America.

I wrote...

The Tide Watchers

By Lisa Chaplin,

Book cover of The Tide Watchers

What is my book about?

In early 2007 I was showing American friends around Sydney. I picked up a book whose subtitle is Nelson, Napoleon and the Secret War. I was hooked. Soon my friends had to remind me they were hungry! I read the book all the way home. A passing mention of Napoleon’s secret attempt to invade England in 1803 made me think, I have to know more...

Lucky for me, not long after, my husband and I moved...to Europe! It was the perfect ground for my research. Visiting the places the book spoke of, and speaking to local historians (and taking their tours) brought the hidden history to life – and learning about American inventor Robert Fulton’s life in France at the time, it brought to my mind the only way the invading ships could mysteriously sink 8 miles out to sea. And so The Tide Watchers was born.

Miss Bennet's Dragon

By M. Verant,

Book cover of Miss Bennet's Dragon: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling

One of my other favorite tropes is when fantasy and Pride & Prejudice combine. I love this version where Elizabeth Bennet can speak to dragons, which is a forbidden power. When Jane becomes ill, Elizabeth has to travel to Pemberley to help save her.

Not only is fantasy involved, but I really enjoy how history becomes involved in the form of England’s war with France and Bonaparte. I find it incredible to see Elizabeth break through protocol and rules all for the love of her sister, Jane.


Who am I?

I fell in love with Pride & Prejudice variations over a decade ago when I did a Google search for “Pride & Prejudice sequel” because I was desperate to read more of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of variations and fan fiction over the years. Last year, I finally developed the courage to start writing my own which (I flatter myself) has been well-received by readers of JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction). I write them in between running my blog, homeschooling my three children, recording my podcast, and surviving the hot Texas summers.


I wrote...

The Sins of Their Fathers: A Pride & Prejudice Variation

By Tiffany Thomas,

Book cover of The Sins of Their Fathers: A Pride & Prejudice Variation

What is my book about?

How would Pride & Prejudice be different if William Collins came to live with the Bennets at Longbourn as a young child due to the heinous actions of his father?  What if Mr. Darcy’s own father acted in a way that forever changed the course of his friendship with George Wickham? Will Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy still find their happily ever after? 

As the beloved characters of Pride & Prejudice grapple with their childhood difficulties, how will the choices of their parents be carried on to the next generation? Can they find happiness, or are they doomed to a lifetime of misery because of the sins of their fathers?

Under His Lover's Wing

By Merry Farmer,

Book cover of Under His Lover's Wing

When I first entered the heady world of Regency romance in January 2021 (yes, Bridgerton was the spark but I read the books first!), Merry Farmer soon became an instant inspiration. She writes M/M, F/F, and F/M historical romances and is one of the very few people who manage to write all three and have a beloved following. So, of course, I wanted to become an ARC reviewer for her and managed to snag some of the books in her After the War series, which follows a group of gay men returning back to England for a house party reunion after, you guessed it, the Napoleonic Wars. 

This is not the first installment in the series, but it’s the sweetest. Merry Farmer has created a loveable, enchanting hero in Declan Shelton, the reticent, odd young gamekeeper who draws the attention of Lord Spencer Brightling, a gruff and stern man who…


Who am I?

I grew up in a religion and family where being gay was most definitely more than frowned upon. Now as a queer author and parent (and former academic who studied queer lit and video games!), I’m thrilled to be bringing a “book baby” into the world during Pride Month that is pure historical romantic fantasy in which two women embrace who they are and one another. When I first started reading queer fiction, much of it was gritty and realistic, sure, but also extremely grim. I think we desperately need a balance of the grim and the gleeful and that is what I hope this little list gives you! Happy endings are possible in fiction and reality. Happy Pride Month, dear readers! 


I wrote...

The Bluestocking Beds Her Bride

By Fenna Edgewood,

Book cover of The Bluestocking Beds Her Bride

What is my book about?

Some call Fleur Warburton cold and hard-hearted. Even ruthless. Scarred by a traumatic past that destroyed her family, Fleur believes she has found the man ultimately responsible for her unhappy fate and is out for vengeance. But when the beautiful Lady Julia Pembroke gets in her way, Fleur is soon entangled in a scandal of a different sort. With Julia by her side, Fleur enters a world of tempestuous desires and rebellious hearts.

The Anatomy of Glory

By Henri Lachouque, Anne S.K. Brown,

Book cover of The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard

The Anatomy of Glory tells the epic story of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard with keen prose that reads like a novel. It raises the key question of whether by creating an elite force of his best soldiers, he weakened his line infantry regiments, cavalry squadrons, and artillery batteries that he drew them from. He refused to commit his Old Guard at Borodino; had he done so he likely would have transformed a marginal victory into a decisive victory. He did send in his Old Guard at Waterloo only to see British regular regiments rout them. 


Who am I?

Napoleon has fascinated William Nester since he was a boy. During a dozen years living in Europe, he visited most of Napoleon’s palaces and battlefields. For this biography, he carefully read all of Napoleon’s memoirs and 40,108 letters. His book captures Napoleon’s complexity, paradoxes, contradictions, accomplishments, catastrophes, and genius. William Nester, a Professor at the Department of Government and Politics, St. John’s University, New York, is the author of more than forty books. His book George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War won the Army Historical Foundation's best biography award, and Titan: The Art of British Power in the Age of Revolution and Napoleon, won the 2016 Arthur Goodzeit Book Award.


I wrote...

Napoleon and the Art of Leadership: How a Flawed Genius Changed the History of Europe and the World

By William Nester,

Book cover of Napoleon and the Art of Leadership: How a Flawed Genius Changed the History of Europe and the World

What is my book about?

No one in history has provoked more controversy than Napoleon Bonaparte. Two centuries after his death those who love or hate him still debate his legacy. Was he an enlightened ruler or brutal tyrant? Was he an insatiable warmonger or a defender of France against the aggression of the other great powers, especially Britain and Austria? He remains fascinating both because he so dramatically changed the course of history and had such a complex, paradoxical character.

If the art of power is about getting what one wants, then Napoleon was among history’s greatest masters. He understood and asserted the dynamic relationship among military, economic, diplomatic, technological, cultural, psychological, and thus political power. No previous book has explored deeper or broader into his seething labyrinth of a mind.  

The Napoleonic Source Book

By Philip J. Haythornthwaite,

Book cover of The Napoleonic Source Book

Philip Haythornthwaite’s Napoleonic Source Book is a comprehensive overview of the army and navy commanders, campaigns, regiments, uniforms, and weapons of not just the great powers, but every state that fought in the Napoleonic Era. The 200 or so illustrations and maps, and the 700 entry glossary are first-rate.


Who am I?

Napoleon has fascinated William Nester since he was a boy. During a dozen years living in Europe, he visited most of Napoleon’s palaces and battlefields. For this biography, he carefully read all of Napoleon’s memoirs and 40,108 letters. His book captures Napoleon’s complexity, paradoxes, contradictions, accomplishments, catastrophes, and genius. William Nester, a Professor at the Department of Government and Politics, St. John’s University, New York, is the author of more than forty books. His book George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War won the Army Historical Foundation's best biography award, and Titan: The Art of British Power in the Age of Revolution and Napoleon, won the 2016 Arthur Goodzeit Book Award.


I wrote...

Napoleon and the Art of Leadership: How a Flawed Genius Changed the History of Europe and the World

By William Nester,

Book cover of Napoleon and the Art of Leadership: How a Flawed Genius Changed the History of Europe and the World

What is my book about?

No one in history has provoked more controversy than Napoleon Bonaparte. Two centuries after his death those who love or hate him still debate his legacy. Was he an enlightened ruler or brutal tyrant? Was he an insatiable warmonger or a defender of France against the aggression of the other great powers, especially Britain and Austria? He remains fascinating both because he so dramatically changed the course of history and had such a complex, paradoxical character.

If the art of power is about getting what one wants, then Napoleon was among history’s greatest masters. He understood and asserted the dynamic relationship among military, economic, diplomatic, technological, cultural, psychological, and thus political power. No previous book has explored deeper or broader into his seething labyrinth of a mind.  

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