Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book review - Wellington's Right Hand

I was looking forward to reading this book ever since I read the reviews for it. They were obviously written by reviewers with little knowledge of the military history of the period. I was disappointed by the book, expecting it to be a lot more interesting than I found it. Certainly, I learned things about General Rowland Hill that I didn't know like his post-Napoleonic career, but generally the book was a let down.

The author is a descendant of the general, so I could accept the family history tone to the book, even if it did grate after a while (she refers to the Hill and his family by their first names as if she knew them personally, and writes in the present tense when relating the contents of correspondence between the family members, even though the rest of the book is written in the past tense).

However, as the object of the biography was a soldier who made his life the army, she displays a limited understanding of military matters and skips lightly over his most important achievements in battle. This really dulled my interest and even made reading the book a chore, when I was really looking forward to learning more about one the most able British generals ever to have served, outshone only by Wellington himself.

I found several mistakes or misunderstandings of military technology and tactics, such as claiming that the new shrapnel shells burst over their target showering it with metal fragments; While not totally inaccurate, it misses the main distinction between common shell and the new shrapnel shell (or spherical case shot to give it's formal name) which was that the new type of shell was packed with musket balls, ensuring that its destructive power was so much greater than common shell. To the lay reader this doesn't really matter one way or another, but it niggled.

The author also dropped a couple of clangers that totally rewrote history. The main misrepresentation was the confusion between the Infante Carlos and General Don Carlos d'Espana (translate from the Spanish using Google Translate) claiming that it was the king's brother who commanded the division in the field. The first shared his brother, King Ferdinand's, imprisonment by Napoleon in Valencay throughout the period of the Peninsular War, while the second was an emigre Frenchman who commanded a Spanish division and fought in battles such as Albuera and Salamanca. When obvious mistakes are made like this, I wonder about the rest of the facts in this book that I'm not familiar with. Is the author just as cavalier with history in other areas I know little about?

Not recommended for those who want to the details on the soldier, rather than the person.

1 comment:

  1. Not seen this book before, and I'll probably gice it a miss, cheers for the heads up!!


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