Review: Poltava 1709, Angus Konstam

Rating: 3 out of 5

I decided to read this because I had just finished Peter Englund’s far longer and more descriptive overview of the battle. It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise when it looked as if Mr Konstam also relied on Englund very heavily. It is also clear that there’s a difference between an Osprey and a detailed historical description. Overall, this provides a clear if uninspired look at the entire campaign from 1707 through to 1709 which led to the destruction of the Carolingian army.

One thing I very much appreciated was how the author managed to make everything look both seamless and clear here. The actions logically follow from each other and we have a clear start to the troubles when Karl XII is prevented from following the direction he originally wanted to. At the same time, the necessary brevity forces the author to conclude the travails of Lewenhaupt’s column in one or two paragraphs — and the inclusion of the manoeuvres at Holowczyn and Lesnaya adds some great detail.

Yet, it sometimes looks as if Mr Konstam has skipped the detail in the wrong places. The surrender negotiations carried out by the two distinct Swedish forces are described in slightly misleading terms and the same applies to the fates of the imprisoned Swedes.

I think much of what I don’t like about this comes as a natural feature of the Osprey series where a lot of information needs to be condensed into a shorter volume — and from just having read a far more elaborate and human description of the final battle. For a brief overview, this serves very well, and yet I would recommend Englund’s graceful prose above Mr Konstam for this story.

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