Friday, June 22, 2012
(Audio) Book Review - All the King's Men
I settled on 'All the King's Men' by Saul David, whose work on the Victorian era I'd read previously and thoroughly enjoyed. I don't know if it was the format, the narrator or the content, but I was left a little underwhelmed by the experience. It may be that if I'd read it myself I would have enjoyed it more, but I'm not convinced. Part of the problem is that the book bills itself as "The British soldier from the Restoration to Waterloo", but it is more a narrative of the so-called Long 18th Century, rather than a sociological examination of the redcoat during this period.
As a narrative history of the wars, campaigns, battles and personalities of the period there's nothing wrong with it and actually makes a fairly good tale, but the misleading subtitle left me feeling slightly cheated. That is more than likely not the author's fault, but detracted from what would have been an otherwise enjoyable experience.
As to the narrator, Sean Barrett (I'm sure I've heard him narrating a Sharpe novel in audio-book form), his stentorian delivery sounds more applicable to the stage rather than reading a non-fiction book. When he was reading first person recollections of events his acting skills and accents were suitable, but I found the rest of his delivery a bit artificial. Maybe I've been spoiled by listening to too many podcasts where the presenters are enthusiastic amateurs who come across as friends chatting animatedly to you about their favourite topic. I found the experience less than what I'd hoped for. Maybe it's a format that lends itself more to fiction?
Anyway, the book itself covers the history of the British army from the time of the Restoration all the way through to the fall of Napoleon. During this time the army was led with varying degrees of success by leaders including the best two generals Britain and possibly the world has ever known; Marlborough and Wellington. Besides the unfortunate events of the American Revolution, the British army didn't suffer any major defeat during this period. The author compares the tension between the maritime vs. continental strategies that dominated the period and (not surprisingly) concludes that the maritime supremacy that Britain gained during this period resulting in the great 19th century empire was the result of all the hard-won victories gained by the army, not the other way around. Because Britain fought mainly the French, they could attack them in their colonies, but also as part of a continental coalition, thus being able to exact better terms once the post-war spoils were divided compared to what they would have gained if they had concentrated solely on colonial and naval warfare.
In all, it's a fairly standard narrative military history of the period, understandably focussed on the big events and the stand-out personalities of the period.
I might try and find a hard-copy version of it at some stage in the future and re-read it to see if I enjoy it any more than I did listening to it.