Saturday, January 22, 2005

Book Review #2
Blenheim: Battle for Europe by Charles Spencer

This book was written for the 300th anniversary of the battle of Blenheim last year. I don't know much of this period, which is why I bought this book.

It is divided into five Parts. Part 1 goes from the start of Louis XIV's personal rule to the start of the War of Spanish Succession, giving the context to the later war. It also briefly deals with the rather turbulent political events in England in the latter part of the 17th century - notable the reign of James II and VII. Part 2 deals with the first years of the War of Spanish Succession itself. Part 3 details the campaign upto the battle, while Part 4 is a description of the Battle itself. Part 5 deals with the aftermath.

This book has a second subtitle: How two men stopped the French conquest of Europe, for it also focuses on the two allied generals that day: Lord Marlborough (John Churchill) and Prince Eugene. Charles Spencer draws very good biographical pictures of these two interesting men. The book itself often tells the story from the point of view of these two generals (and their opposite numbers). This is not to say it neglects the stories of the soldiers and lower officers, but the 1704 campaign is (like most military campaigns I guess) only really understood by looking at the personalities of the ones calling the shots. Apart from looking in detail at Prince Eugene however this is a book that views the battle from very much a British perspective. Obviously this doesn't particular bother me, and the author doesn't pretend otherwise.

The description of the battle itself is really pretty good. A knowledge of the battle of Sedgemoor is useful, and while when discussion Marlborough a description of this battle is included a map would have been useful to demonstrate just how similar Blenheim and Sedgemoor were. Particularly in one chief respect: attacking over a water obstacle the defenders (wrongly) thought was a secure defence. There is a good map of the Battle of Blenheim itself, and also of one of the earlier battles in the campaign, Schellenburg.

The weak part of this book is the aftermath - it fails to make the case for the main subtitle: why was Blenheim the Battle of Europe? Perhaps this is because that is something simply not possible to do in one book that, as well as talking about Blenheim, is also giving an introductory history lesson of (Western) Europe's geopolitics for the preceeding 40 years.

The great strength of this book is its easy writing prose, which made reading it a doddle. It does have a lot of information, and is aimed perfectly at the market of people who don't know much about the period. Should Waddling Thunder ever read it I would be very interesting in hearing his take on it, since he is someone who knows really quite a bit on the period.

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