Book Review: Gustavus Adolphus by Theodore Aryault Dodge

I swear this is not a book review blog. At least that’s not the only thing it is. I’ve just been doing a bit of reading lately. I tend to read fast, and multiple books at once, so things get backed up here quickly.

gustavus adolphusSince I was looking for more of a biography, I probably should have paid closer attention to the subtitle- t.he complete title is: Gustavus Adolphus: A History of the Art of War from Its Revival After the Middle Ages to the End of the Spanish Succession War, With a Detailed Account of the Campaigns of the Great Swede- but it was a fun read anyway

First published in 1895, it’s part of a “Great Captains” series by Theodore Aryault Dodge. I’d like to read the others as well (Caesar, Hannibal, etc) because Dodge has a way with words and imparts technical information in an interesting and engaging way. While the focus is on the man who was Sweden’s king from 1611-32, there is a great deal of the book that is not about him specifically.

In order to highlight the importance of Gustavus’s military exploits and innovation, Dodge devotes a fair amount of time to European military tactics as they stood at the beginning of his reign. This was useful and interesting all on its own. The king’s early life and reign are covered fairly quickly so we can get to the meat of the matter- his involvement in the Thirty Years War in Germany.

Dodge does not try to hide the fact that he thinks his subject is totally awesome. I mean, Gustavus was practically perfect in every way. From looks, to character, to intellect, to courage, religious feeling, and on and on. Frankly, I got bored with him pretty quickly. The man’s only flaw seemed to be his reckless physical courage, which led to his untimely demise only two years after entering the war in Germany.

The significant battles like Breitenfeld, Alte Veste and Lützen are recounted quite thrillingly and make for exciting reading. Less interesting is a lot of the maneuvering that went on between battles, which Dodge also recounts in tedious, but necessary detail.

I was surprised to find the king dead only halfway through the book. The rest is concerned with his legacy. Dodge plows ahead, through the rest of the Thirty Years War, demonstrating Gustavus’ influence n the fighting methods of the Swedish generals who survived him as well as others like Bernard of Weimar. He feels that generals like Condé, Turenne, Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy truly furthered what Gustavus had started and analyzes the battles fought by all of them in considerable detail. He also detours to the English Civil War to show how Cromwell effectively used Swedish military craft.

The battle analysis goes on and on, through the French Civil War, France’s ongoing conflict with Spain, the Siege of Vienna and the War of the Spanish Succession. To be perfectly honest, I skimmed the chapters once I finished Cromwell. Not because they weren’t interesting, but because they were again getting way out of my time period and the risk of distraction is just too high. At some point, I’ll be sure to revisit the second half of the book in greater detail.

If the other books in the series are as good as this one (some reviews claim this one is the weakest), the whole set is probably a must-read for the non-academic military historian.

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