Book Review: Napoleon Absent, Coalition Ascendant: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume 1


by Carl von Clausewitz, translated and edited by Nicholas Murray and Christopher Pringle

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2021. Pp. xx, 435. Maps, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 0700630252

Clausewitz and the French Military Crisis of 1799

While Carl von Clausewitz’s On War is well known, widely read, and frequently cited, albeit perhaps neither very well understood nor correctly quoted, the Baron, as he is sometimes called, also wrote a number of histories as part of his effort to analyze the art of war, and also wrote many letters to contemporaries discussing the nature of war. Surprisingly, these have not been very widely read, even by most scholars, yet are essential for a fuller understanding of his master work. Over the past few years several of these histories have been made available in translation, such as Carl von Clausewitz: Two Letters on Strategy (1984), Carl von Clausewitz: Historical and Political Writings (1992), The Campaign of 1815: Strategic Overview (2010), and Napoleon's 1796 Italian Campaign (2018), this last translated and edited by the same able team that has produced this two-volume edition of The 1799 Campaign, dealing with some of the more obscure campaigns of the protracted “French Wars”.

Napoleon Absent, Coalition Ascendant covers why and how French gains in the Rhineland, Switzerland, and Italy that resulted from Bonaparte’s victories in 1797 that led to the Peace of Campo Formio over the following year. Part of the reason was that Bonaparte took a substantial army to Egypt, accomplishing nothing, and also to heavy handed French occupation policies that led to local unrest, while the government in Paris fell into disarray. Capable coalition generals such as the Archduke Charles of Austria and Russia’s Marshal Suvorov, with traditional armies, were able to defeat French commanders and recover much territory, demonstrating the limitations of the “new” revolutionary ways of war making.

The translators have produced a readable version of Clausewitz’s original. In addition, they have added annotations whenever Clausewitz uses terms or names or historical comparisons that are not likely to be familiar to modern readers.

This is an important read for those interested in the protracted French wars or in the development of Clausewitz’s military thought.




Note: Napoleon Absent, Coalition Ascendant: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland is also available in hard cover and e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium (

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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