Annual Booklist 2017-2018 : Jacqueline Reiter

Dr Reiter isauthor of The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2017) and a recent speaker in the Society’s university lectures program.

Rory Muir, Wellington: the Path to Victory, 1769-1814 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013) –I have rarely read a book of this length so quickly, or found a biography so fluidly written. Published during the prolific build-up to the Waterloo bicentenary, in my opinion this was the best book released at that time on Wellington’s wars (at least until the second volume of Muir’s biography was published in 2015).

C.P. Stacey, Quebec 1759: the Siege and the Battle (London: Macmillan, 1959) – I first read this in my early teens, and it was probably the book that first sparked my fascination with British military history. Stacey provides a more analytical account of the siege of Quebec than any that had come before him (and many that have come since), while not losing sight of the significance of Wolfe’s success.

Philip Ball, A Waste of Blood and Treasure: the 1799 Anglo-Russian Invasion of the Netherlands (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2017) – In marked contrast with my previous choice, this is an account of an 18th Century British amphibious expedition that did not end well. Ball has done extensive research into the British side of the 1799 Anglo-Russian expedition to the Helder, and his book is a gripping investigation of the political manoeuvring, diplomatic chicanery, and military blundering that characterised the campaign.

Martin R. Howard, Walcheren 1809: the Scandalous Destruction of a British Army (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2012) – This was always going to appear on any list of recommendations compiled by me, but I do admire this account of the disastrous Walcheren campaign. It is a masterpiece of balanced, yet critical, writing, and Howard’s background as a hospital consultant allows him to draw valuable conclusions about what was essentially a medical catastrophe.

Stephanie Barczewski, Heroic Failure and the British (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016) -– I have a long-standing interest in how the British Army has contributed to national identity, and this recent publication looks at the way in which failure helped shape the Victorian national character. After all, the British military experience was not always successful, and the way defeats were worked into the historical narrative is just as instructive, if not more so, than similar treatments of victory.

As far as regards a historical treatment that has not yet been attempted, I would be first in line to purchase a history of the 18th and 19th century Ordnance Office. A department with a hand in so many vital aspects (military supply; engineering; education; scientific development; topography, to name only a few) is surely overdue a broader-ranging assessment than any that currently exist.