When we last saw our heroes in the “war” part of War and Peace, they were hightailing it east, away from the victorious French, in the autumn of 1805, hoping to meet up with the reinforcements coming from Russia before Napoleon could trap and destroy them as he had the hapless Austrians. As the Battle of Austerlitz approached, I decided I wanted to know more about the history, so I sent off for 1805: Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition by Robert Goetz. He goes into more detail about the exact disposition of the various battalions and squadrons than I really need, but that’s OK—I take what I need and leave the rest, and he describes the changes in fortune and resultant switches in strategy very well, starting with the collapse of the Peace of Amiens and Napoleon’s lightning-fast conversion of the Army of the Ocean Coasts (intended for an invasion of England) into the Grande Armée, which crossed the Rhine and surrounded Mack at Ulm before he knew what was happening.
My main complaint is one that would seem trivial to the vast majority of readers: insufficient explanation of place names. As longtime LH readers know, I love alternate geographical names (see, for instance, here and here, and compare this annoyed post), and it doesn’t bother me that the author uses the old German names of the places his armies march through (mostly now replaced by Slavic ones), since those were the ones used at the time and in the vast majority of histories. It would be silly to talk about the Battle of Slavkov, and similarly it makes sense to use Pressburg for what’s now Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) and Laibach for Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia).
But the names should be matched with their modern equivalents somewhere, either in an appendix or in the index. In the first place, not everyone is aware of the fact that the names are now changed, and a reader might get frustrated trying to use a modern map to follow the action. And even those, like me, who are on top of the issue can be confused. At the start of Chapter 3, talking about the situation after Kutuzov had managed to join up with his reinforcements and Napoleon had halted his advance at the city of Brünn (now Brno), he says that the Austrian Army of Italy under Archduke Charles and the remnants of Archduke John’s Army of Tyrolia, both marching east, “converged at Marburg.” Poring over the map, I could see no Marburg, but I knew there was a German city of that name; when I looked it up, however, I discovered it was far in the northwest, in Hesse, and couldn’t possibly be the intended location. Fortunately, the Wikipedia entry mentioned a disambiguation page, and that pointed me to Maribor in Slovenia, whose German name is Marburg an der Drau (“on the Drava”). This made perfect geographical sense, and (muttering) I added it to the map. But the reader should not be forced to jump through hoops; the first time the town is mentioned, it should be “Marburg (now Maribor).”
Incidentally, the most famous feature of Brünn (Brno) in the nineteenth century was its old castle, used by the Habsburg emperors as a place to stash political prisoners like pesky Italian nationalists; it’s where Emperor Francis put the unfortunate General Mack until he decided Mack’s surrender at Ulm was the result of stupidity rather than treason. It was a byword for dread dungeons in Austria, much as the Bastille was in France. Its name? Spielberg (now Špilberk). I wonder if Steven knows?