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Essential Histories Series Review by Diane Wheeler

2427 Bond Street
University Park , IL 60466
Fax: 708 534 7803

Osprey Publishing had its origins over thirty years ago in England and has always been committed to providing exceptional military history books for academics and serious hobbyists. In 2001, though, they began a new series of books entitled Essential Histories. This series has as its goal to, "reach out to the non-specialist reader with an active or spontaneous interest in military history."

There are several features of these histories that make them excellent resources for a homeschool family. They are beautifully made, with clean, well laid-out pages, and a huge variety of photos, paintings, diagrams, drawings and portraits. These visual details help the reader to imagine the realities of the wars. The detailed written accounts, giving not only dates and names, but an engaging narrative of the times, are an excellent source for military history information. There are beautiful maps of locations and battles, as well as diagrams, timelines, and suggestions for further reading. For an older student, with a deep interest in the study of these military histories, this series makes great reading, straight through. For a younger student, they can be used in an encyclopedic way.

If looking for a map of the battles around Petersburg, pictures of ships or the trenches or the uniforms of World War I, or just needing to satisfy a curiosity about a particular pocket of time during a battle, these can be excellent reference sources. Parents, of course, can benefit greatly by reading the Essential Histories series. Reading through the information can give a much clearer picture of the setting, the issues, the events that were significant, and the different battle details.

I have four different sets of books to review: One volume from the Napoleonic Wars set, the single-volume on the French-Indian War, the four-volume First World War set, and the four-volume American Civil War set.

And now, for the contents of each of these interesting books:

The Napoleonic Wars: The Peninsular War 1807-1814

In 1807, Napoleon made the decision to attempt an occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. This became a seven-year battle that cost Napoleon dearly in lives, equipment, and money. Though a small area, as time went on, this became what Napoleon described as his "Spanish ulcer." It wore away at Napoleon's armies' strengths, making way for his defeat in the future. Chapters cover the following topics: warring sides (the British army, the French army, the Portuguese army and the Spanish army), the outbreak of the conflict, the fighting (a war of contrasts), a portrait of a soldier (Private Edward Costello of the 95th Rifles), the art of Goya that flourished during this time, the portrait of a civilian (George Canning, British Foreign Secretary, 1807 - 1809), and how the war ended.

The French-Indian War: 1754-1760

Land boundaries on our expansive continent were a constant source of contention for French and British colonists throughout our country's early history. During this seven-year battle, the French had fewer troops, but the British were inexperienced in battling in forests. The story of how British colonists eventually won this conflict is well-told in this one-volume history. Chapters include the background of the tension in the Ohio River Valley, the French and British armies in North America, the entry of the regular soldiers, the fighting in the forest, a portrait of a soldier (Joshua Goodenough, a Roger's Ranger), the economic and civilian costs of the war, a portrait of two civilians (Jean Lowry and Titus King), and how the war ended.

The four-volume First World War set: The Eastern Front: 1914- 1918

This volume details out the easily confusing events on the Eastern Front in the First World War. Chapters include the warring sides: Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary; the fighting: from war to revolution; portraits of a trooper; an ensign and a sergeant; the last days of Tsarist Russia; the civilian life during the war: 'living on cereals and porridge'; and how the emergence of a super power impacted the war.

The Western Front: 1914-1916

Some of the most unforgettable battles of the First World War were fought during this period on the Western Front. This book covers the background to the war; the warring sides; the incidents that forced the conflict; details of battles such as Ypres, Loos, Verdun, and the Somme offensive; a soldier and a civilian portrait; and life on the home fronts.

The Western Front: 1917-1918

This continues the story of the Western Front. This volume discusses the strategies that were implemented in 1917, the different forces that continued to be involved, the portraits of a soldier and a civilian, the events in Arras, the Neville offensive, the Messine ridge and the third battle of Ypres, the battle of Amiens, the final allied offensive in late 1918, details regarding the conclusion of the war, and more.

The Mediterranean Front: 1914-1923

The battles on the Western and Eastern fronts during World War I are better-known than the Mediterranean Front, but events in Constantinople, Palestine, North Africa, and Greece were of great significance during the Great War. This volume takes you through the history behind the different countries' involvement in the war, the battles and strategies throughout the conflict, and how and when the war concluded on this front. The portraits of civilians and soldiers cover the Wright family, those that served on the front, and those that stayed at home. This is a fascinating account, filling in some of the gaps that a cursory view of World War I might leave out.

The four-volume American Civil War set: The War in the East: 1861-May 1863

"The United States saw long-simmering sectional tensions erupt into fighting at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861, beginning what would become the most cataclysmic military struggle in the western world between Waterloo and the First World War." Thus begins the story of the Civil War.

This volume discusses the tensions that led to the beginning of the war, the creation of the Confederacy, the strengths and weaknesses of both the Union and the Confederacy, the battles in the East, from Manassas to Chancellorsville, the view of camp and battle from both sides, adjustments of society to the war, and provides a portrait of Robert Augustus Moor, Confederate soldier, and Elizabeth Herndon Maury, a civilian from Virginia.

The War in the West: 1861-July 1863

The Western Theater of the Civil War took place between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, plus Missouri and Arkansas. The presence of multiple rivers provided incentive for both sides to battle hard for success for the control of those waterways was seen as control of the continent.

This volumes covers the outbreak of the war in the West, a comparison of the North and South, details of the battles of the Western Theater, the life of the common soldier (Billy Yank and Johnny Reb), the story of John Beatty (Union Soldier) and Kate Stone (a Confederate civilian).

The War in the East: 1863-1865

The final two years in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War included great names like Lee and Grant, great battles like Gettysburg, and the surrender at Appomattox. Lee had to rework his strategy after the loss of the great Stonewall Jackson, and Meade and Grant lead their side to win the war for the Union Army.

This volume follows both sides through the struggle for power, gives a portrait of Confederate soldier McHenry Howard (Francis Scott Key's grandson) and a portrait of civilian Ella Washington.

The War in the West: 1863-1865

This final volume on the Civil War brings the war to a close. Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Red River, Atlanta, the Savannah and Carolina campaigns and more are covered, as well as a chapter on the role of the black soldiers and what happened in prisoner-of-war camps. The soldier portrait is William Wilbur Edgerton (a Union soldier), and the civilian portrait is Emma LeConte (a Confederate civilian.)

I love history and find, in particular, the study of our own country's civil war to be fascinating. I did, however, spend my entire school career with dry and meaningless textbooks as my guide for history. That is no longer necessary, now that Osprey Publishing's Essential Histories series is available. My children's understanding of the people and details of military endeavors here and abroad will be enhanced by having these fine volumes on our shelves. I highly recommended Essential Histories for military buffs and for an excellent homeschool history reference.

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Contributing Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine