It's difficult to rate this book, since it depends on one's purposes in reading it. As history, Sir Creasy's book is of uneven quality, with many essays decently crafted and a few basically tripe; but as historiography, it's a rare and fascinating window into the Victorian mindset and worldview. Creasy published his book during the apogee of the British Empire, in the 1850s, when the country's rule over distant lands was both incredibly expansive after nearly a century of settling and warring, and seemingly secure 35 years after Napoleon's ignominious defeat in the fields of Waterloo. He is at his best especially in describing the ancient battles for which it is easier to maintain a scholarly distance; the battles of Marathon and Arbela, for example, are both well-researched and, overall, admirably portrayed. He is a first-rate wordsmith with an extraordinary command of the art of prose, with an evocative ability to build an image of a battle and its belligerents-- it's the kind of heroic fluff that we so often find suffusing the collective memory that Victorian authors put down on paper, only better in its stylistic and rhetorical aspects. One of the book's most useful characteristics, indeed, is the degree and manner in which it utilizes primary sources; it's a bibliographical treasure in this regard. But Creasy makes not even a furtive attempt to hide his biases and inclinations, especially in regard to events perceived to be antecedent to the British Empire that he so lauds at every turn. To be fair, he's not a blind nationalist. He does, for example, provide one of the most measured and detailed evocations of the extraordinary changes wrought by Peter the Great and the resultant rise of Russia in his description of the Battle of Poltava. He acknowledges the unparalleled contribution of Britain's erstwhile rival, the French, to civilization in his essay on Joan of Arc and the Battle of Orleans.
But in many essays the book comes off as basically a panegyric that extols the Anglo-Saxon nation, freely interpolating editorial comments and boasting an unabashed triumphalism, at times even gleefully twisting facts and analysis to suit the proto-Kiplingesque notions of the empire on which no one believed the sun would ever set. The essay on the Teutoberger Wald battle of 9 A.D. frankly made me cringe. Not only are their numerous omissions, tenuous stretches of logic and dubious, clearly biased interpretations (for which an objective analysis would cast serious doubt over his choice of this battle at all in terms of actual significance)-Creasy displays a distressingly outspoken nationalism that seems overwrought even by the standards of his own time. His essay on the Spanish Armada is similar in its chest-thumping, to the extent it entirely neglects to mention the 16-year naval war (and the Spanish victories therein) that transpired after the 1588 battle; the essays on Blenheim and Valmy suffer from the same ailment. The essay on the Battle of Poitiers pitting the Franks against the Moslem forces in 732 comes off as an encomium to the Frankish leader rather than a historical examination, though admittedly Creasy's use of various primary sources and his consideration of some of the battle's details are exemplary. His study of Hastings is even-handed and remarkably detailed. Possibly the most fascinating composition concerns the Battle of Saratoga in the American Revolution, glimpsed through British eyes; one gets a sense of the bitterness and despair that the British defeat induced for the nation that could have so easily possessed quite a jewel in her empire! Basically, as history, Creasy's book is somewhat spotty-it doesn't even pretend to be objective, and there are more than a few oversights and misconstruances. But many of the essays are of high quality from any standpoint, and you can't fault Creasy for the detail, writing style, and especially the lucid use of primary sources that he brings to his book; if a reader is careful to document sources and check facts, it's possible to learn a good deal. The book's greatest value, however, lies in the fact that it enables a reader to peer into the thought processes that drove a Victorian writer upon rising in the morning; it's rare to have such an opportunity to actually gauge how people of a previous era *thought* as well as acted, and undoubtedly for this the book is quite useful.