Sunday, April 19, 2015

Book Review: Waterloo

Waterloo: Wellington, Napoleon, and the Battle That Saved Europe
Gordon Corrigan

After the first couple of chapters, I had very high hopes for Waterloo--entertainingly written, with some witty asides, and providing a clear and thorough context for the battle.

The rest of the book isn't bad, but it doesn't live up to the initial promise. Corrigan spends a lot of pages detailing the armies, the equipment, their organizations, the order of battle, capsule biographies of the major commanders, etc. He spends some more on talking about things like the importance of staff work and logistics. 

Actually, I rather liked most of this, because it adds background, nuance, and depth that would be missing from a simple blow-by-blow account. However, it limits the scope a good deal. Then, too, Corrigan overplays his hand somewhat. The witty asides pile up until they stop being funny and start being tiresome. The quibbles about this or that cherished historical myth similarly multiply, which is of no use to a reader who doesn't start out with any knowledge of the myth in question. On the other hand, he does very little to convey the human dimension of the battle.

So in the end, the book is a special-interest rather than a general-interest one. Waterloo is good for military history buffs, war-gamers, and students of the Napoleonic period in general. Other readers can give it a miss.

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