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

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jan 1, 2007 - History - 420 pages
11 Reviews
The twentieth century is usually seen as "the century of total war." But as the historian David Bell argues in this landmark work, the phenomenon acutally began much earlier, in the era of muskets, cannons, and sailing ships -- in the age of Napoleon.

In a sweeping, evocative narrative, Bell takes us from campaigns of "extermination" in the blood-soaked fields of western France to savage street fighting in ruined Spanish cities to central European battlefields where tens of thousands died in a single day. Between 1792 and 1815, Europe plunged into an abyss of destruction.

It was during this time, Bell argues, that our modern attitudes toward war were born. In the eighteenth century, educated Europeans thought war was disappearing from the civilized world. So when large-scale conflict broke out during the French Revolution, they could not resist treating it as "the last war" -- a final, terrible spasm of redemptive violence that would usher in a reign of perpetual peace. As this brilliant interpretive history shows, a war for such stakes could only be apocalyptic, fought without restraint or mercy.

Ever since, the dream of perpetual peace and the nightmare of total war have been bound tightly together in the Western world -- right down to the present day, in which the hopes for an "end to history" after the cold war quickly gave way to renewed fears of full-scale slaughter.

With a historian's keen insight and a journalist's flair for detail, Bell exposes the surprising parallels between Napoleon's day and our own -- including the way that ambition "wars of liberation," such as the one in Iraq, can degenerate into a gruesome guerrilla conflict. The result is a book that is as timely and important as it is unforgettable.
 

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

User Review  - Goodreads

Really well done. Insightful, elegant. Hard to put down Read full review

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

User Review  - Goodreads

Really helped fill in my gap of knowledge about the French Revolution, but I question the author's thesis. I think there are other examples of total war, such as the 30 Years War, that deserve examination. Read full review

Contents

Officers Gentlemen and Poets
21
Conscience Commerce and History
52
Declaring Peace Declaring War
84
The Last Crusade
120
The Exterminating Angels
154
The Lure of the Eagle
186
Days of Glory
223
Wars Red Altar
263
Epilogue
302
NOTES
321
BIBLIOGRAPHY
360
INDEX
397
Copyright

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About the author (2007)

David A. Bell is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins and a contributing editor for the New Republic. A graduate of Harvard College, he completed his Ph.D. at Princeton and taught for several years at Yale. Bell has written for the New York Times, Slate, and Time, and was featured on the History Channel's program on the French Revolution.

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