Sunday, April 8, 2012

"The Battle - A New History of Waterloo" Book Review

Allessandro Barbero's "The Battle - A New History of Waterloo" describes Waterloo though the eyes of the soldiers that fought it. Drawing on many first hand accounts, Barbero carefully describes the incidents though 70 short chapters. The original book was written in Italian in 2003 and translated by John Cullen in 2005. The translation works very well, the style is easy to read and follows a logical flow through the battle. The use of the soldiers own voices if particularly effective in improving an understanding of the events.

The book has four parts. Part one - "We'll See Tomorrow" sets the scene in its 11 chapters- detailing the events leading up to the 18th June 1815, the armies involved and last minute preparations. Part two - "It will be as Easy as Having Breakfast" has 19 chapters looking at the initial deployments, orders, tactics, the opening attacks and counter attacks. Part three - "A stand up Fight Between Two Pugilists" in 20 chapeters goes through the long grind of the afternoon as both sides wear each other down. The arrival of the Prussians is treated with some good insights on the decisions made. The increasing desperation of the French attacks and the fragile nature of the Allied defences are well portrayed. This part ends with the attack and retreat of the Imperial Guard. The final part - "Victory! Victory!" has 8 chapters covering the final Allied advance, pursuit of the French, looting of the dead and wounded and aftermath of the battle. The conclusion is fairly brief allowing the reader to consider the devastation and loss of such a desperate battle.

The book moves at an interesting pace, picking up small details and vignettes of action, highlighting little know details. There was lots I  learnt through reading this book - how close the battle actually was, some of the limitations of the weaponry of the day, how close the soldiers got to each other in the firefights, the tightness of the battle, confusion of the smoke, importance of the skirmishers, casualties in the officer ranks, harshness of the conditions, difficulty of command and the horror of the aftermath.

Overall I was very impressed with the book, well worth the time to read.

There were a number of plates of pictures I had not seen before and some clear maps.

To find this at Amazon click on the book's picture - its around $7 USD - good value for that price. I have also listed it at the bottom of this page with some other of my favourite Waterloo books from Amazon.
On that day, the perspective of the human race was altered. Waterloo is the hinge of the Nineteenth Century - Victor Hugo

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