Sometimes it seems to me that Osprey are choosing some seriously obscure subjects to cover in their books, desperately trying to find a new revenue source in an increasingly crowded market. However, this book is not one of them.
I was bought it for my birthday by my brother; a complete impulse buy he just added it to his Amazon order on a whim and I was the lucky recipient. I admit to being slightly underwhelmed when I first saw the title. I mean, it's not covering any new force I'm interested in, probably won't have any decent uniform source pictures (the main reason I buy the books), but trying not to sound ungrateful I thanked him politely of course and then asked where the beer was.
Well, I picked up the book to read in the bath the other day, my current read being a weighty hardback unsuitable for comfortable above-water balancing. From the first paragraph I was immediately intrigued by the origins and development of those formations and maneouvers we all know so well from the Sharpe books and any number of games and rule systems. Focussing largely on the Dundas drill manuals and the comparison between this reformer's recommendations and the campaign realities, we are shown what men were taught on the parade ground, how much made it to the battlefield and how that which survived active service was adapted and honed by veteran officers and men.
Some of the book confirms the snippets of what I thought I already knew, but crystalises much of what I was unsure of. Much of it dispells that which I thought I knew, but for various different reasons than might be expected. The truth of the whole British line v French column debate (truth, myth or bit of both), the prescibed dispositions of the battalion during action and the reality, the truth behind the three or four shots a minute, the two or three deep firing line, the column (attack or movement formation?), why did British infantry win so much when faced by the French, what made the light infantry elite ... there is so much within this slim volume of immense interest to the gamer and amateur historian and it is one of those most welcome surprises - an unexpected gem of a book you had incorrectly judged by its cover or, in this case, its title.
As well as the accessible and informative text provided by Phillip Haythornthwaite (under investigation for the theft of at least one extra surname), we have the usual eight colour plates Osprey readers will be familiar with. Steve Noon provides us with some lovely diagrams that clearly illustrate many of the methods described in the text, allowing the reader to immediately visualise and understand the movements much more easily.
This book probably won't be first choice for many people, perhaps for the same reasons I was originally sceptical, but I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in British Napoleonic forces and how they fought.