Napoleon Against Great Odds
The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814
by Ralph Ashby
June 2010, 230pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-38190-4
$55, £43, 48€, A76
eBook Available: 978-0-313-38191-1
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

The cornucopia of English-language books on Napoleonic topics is dominated by titles about Waterloo and the 1812 Russian Campaign. The 1814 Campaign is one of the most underrepresented Napoleonic topics. Worse, it is often treated as a “foregone conclusion” because the odds were stacked so badly against the French. This fresh analysis offers fascinating insights into what really occurred.

This revisionist history offers a fresh analysis of Napoleon and the French army as they defended their empire against the massive Coalition invasion of 1814.

French defeat in 1814 is too often shrugged off as the result of obvious and understandable factors. Napoleon Against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814 challenges the widely accepted notion that war-weariness and internal political opposition to Napoleon were the decisive and direct causes of French defeat. At least as important, it argues, were material shortages, diplomatic missteps, and even faulty strategic planning on Napoleon’s part.

The book not only traces the narrative of Napoleon’s 1814 Campaign in France, but explores the formation of the French army tasked with defending France against the Coalition invasion. Diplomatic, political, and social factors are taken into account and the issue of war-weariness is analyzed carefully and critically. Each branch and arm of the French forces is examined, as are military mobilization under difficult circumstances and partisan and guerilla warfare. Designed to encourage fresh debate about the 1814 campaign, the book offers thought-provoking reading for scholars and general readers alike.


  • 20 drawings, engravings, and paintings, primarily from the 19th century
  • Maps depicting the invasion of France, Napoleon's 1814 campaign, and the Battle for Paris
  • Charts and tables examining some of the French regiments, including information regarding age, physical size, and civilian occupations of recruits
  • A bibliography of general works, monographs, and archival sources
Ralph Ashby is a visiting assistant professor at Eastern Illinois University. A veteran of the First Gulf War, Dr. Ashby has written numerous reviews and encyclopedia entries on the Napoleonic Wars.


"Military historian/US armed forces veteran Ashby (Eastern Illinois U., Charleston) focuses on Napoleon’s campaign of 1814 against a coalition force, rather than on the more widely-studied Napoleonic War defeats in the 1812 Russian campaign and the battle of Waterloo (1815). From an analysis of the diverse backgrounds and performance of the soldiers, partisans, and civilians who defended the Empire, he questions conventional interpretations that attribute the French loss wholly to a dramatic decline in recruits due to war- weariness and reduced support for the regime. He also places blame on Napoleon’s poor strategic planning, diplomatic blunders, and material shortages. The book includes maps and illustrations."—Reference & Research Book News, August 1, 2010

"Napoleon’s campaign of 1814 has habitually been framed in the language and emotions of nationalism. Professor Ashby takes a fresh look at the evidence. He persuades us that the Allies won not because Napoleon was betrayed, hadn’t enough men, was hampered by bureaucratic ineptitude, fought without a number of his best marshals, and was undermined by French war weariness. All these played a part, but Ashby convincingly argues Napoleon just ran out of time. Tsar Alexander and Field Marshal Blücher, driven by a lust for revenge, insisted the Allies invade France in the winter rather than wait for spring. Even Napoleon was unable to stall long enough to build a viable army let alone fend off the assault." —David P. Jordan, Distinguished Professor of French History, Emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Body and soul of the Napoleonic triumph, the French army shouldered the responsibility for the Empire’s defeat. In this fast-paced, even-handed, and well-argued account, Ashby re-examines the defense of France in 1814, suggesting new explanations for the success and failure on and off the battlefield that led to the Emperor’s exile to Elba."—William A. Hoisington, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Modern European History, University of Illinois at Chicago

"Napoleon, his campaigns and regime fascinated his contemporaries and continue to fascinate us two centuries later. Ralph Ashby's Against Great Odds: Napoleon and the Defenders of France, 1814 is the latest addition to Napoleonic scholarship and is an important one at that. Ashby challenges us to reconsider the assumption of war-weariness in 1814 France and posits a deeper interpretation of the factors which led to the demise of the empire. Ashby's examination of Napoleon's oft-overlooked campaign of 1814 offers a more subtle analysis that promises to become the standard in the field for years to come."—Eugene Beiriger, Associate Professor, Department of History, DePaul University, and author of Churchill, Munitions and Mechanical Warfare
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