Battle: A New History of Waterloo

Battle: A New History of Waterloo

by Alessandro Barbero, John Cullen

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A vivid human and military history of the legendary battle

At Waterloo, some 70,000 men under Napoleon and an equal number under Wellington faced one another in a titanic and bloody struggle. In the end, as John Keegan notes, contemporaries felt that Napoleon's defeat had "reversed the tide of European history." Even 190 years later, the name Waterloo


A vivid human and military history of the legendary battle

At Waterloo, some 70,000 men under Napoleon and an equal number under Wellington faced one another in a titanic and bloody struggle. In the end, as John Keegan notes, contemporaries felt that Napoleon's defeat had "reversed the tide of European history." Even 190 years later, the name Waterloo resounds.

Italian historian Alessandro Barbero's majestic new account stands apart from previous British and French histories by giving voice to all the nationalities that took part. Invoking the memories of British, French, and Prussian soldiers, Barbero meticulously re-creates the conflict as it unfolded, from General Reille's early afternoon assault on the chateau of Hougoumont, to the desperate last charge of Napoleon's Imperial Guard as evening settled in. From privates to generals, Barbero recounts individual miracles and tragedies, moments of courage and foolhardiness, skillfully blending them into the larger narrative of the battle's extraordinary ebb and flow. One is left with indelible images: cavalry charges against soldiers formed in squares; the hand-to-hand combat around farmhouses; endless cannon balls and smoke. And, finally, a powerful appreciation of the inevitability and futility of war.

To be published on the 190th anniversary of Waterloo, The Battle is a masterpiece of military history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This new and valuable history of the 1815 French defeat begins with a minimum of background for the non-Napoleonic student, but does superlatively well once Wellington and Napoleon have arrayed their armies for battle (and does not forget the Prussians waiting in the wings). The narrative is unusually accessible, and as experienced readers march on, they will find some novel insights and analyses. For Barbero, cavalry was not on the whole effective, but it could usefully suppress artillery, a welcome change from the usual denigration of everybody's equine forces (even the British are given credit for superior horses). The role of the Prussians, and also of German allied troops in Wellington's ranks, is studied in much more detail than in more Anglocentric accounts, and that many of the Prussians were half-trained militia is emphasized. Finally, Napoleon's army did not go off completely thrashed and in disarray, but substantially maintained order and discipline for several days. The author also does a better job than many popular historians in dealing with factors such as rate of fire, accurate range and the sights, sounds and smells of a Napoleonic battlefield. And while rejecting certain "patriotic myths," he supports the concept of Waterloo as a battle of unusual intensity. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Barbero (history, Univ. of Piemonte Orientale, Vercelli, Italy; Charlemagne: Father of a Continent), who is also an award-winning novelist, has penned a very readable book. As the title suggests, it is indeed a new history of the battle of Waterloo, described in a refreshingly different voice. In short, fast-paced, and gripping chapters, starting with the night before the battle, Barbero portrays all of the participants, making clear the many nations and varying degrees of military seasoning that contributed to the day. All the while, he folds in background information and includes incisive and accessible description and analysis of arms, equipment, and tactics. He also furnishes a good many anecdotes, related by the participants themselves, thus lending an immediacy to the story. Barbero's frank discussions of the assets and liabilities of the French and Allied armies, combined with ample reference to the so-called minor armies from the Netherlands, Nassau, Brunswick, and Hanover that made up nearly two-thirds of Wellington's troops, make this a fresh and appealing volume that moreover remains objective. Recommended. (Maps and index not seen.)-David Lee Poremba, Detroit P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A vivid account of the Battle of Waterloo, when Napoleon went out in a blaze of glory. Why would a battle fought 190 years ago continue to hold our attention-and fuel a minor publishing industry? Italian novelist-historian Barbero (Charlemagne, 2004, etc.) points to one at least partial answer: the men who fought it imagined that the future of a free Europe hinged on the outcome, and both sides fought like wildcats for their respective causes. In fact, Barbero believes, had Napoleon won the battle, things wouldn't have been so different: Wellington would have had less political success, the revolution of 1830 may not have taken place, "and in France, sooner or later, no matter what, Napoleon III would have mounted the throne." Barbero is not given to counterfactuals, however, and his history of the battle is a resounding piece of reportage drawing heavily on the memories of those who fought it-and who remembered the grimmest of details, heads lopped off by sabers and cannonballs, men shattered and blown apart. Interestingly, Barbero also notes many of the big-picture elements of the battle: Great Britain's lead in the alliance that numbered Prussia, the Netherlands and various German duchies and principalities helped assure its lead in the postwar world, while France nearly went broke funding Napoleon's desperate bid to restore his empire; most of the armies in that alliance were made up of volunteers, while the French forces were filled with draftees who may have been a touch less disciplined (but, it must be said, fought bravely all the same); and much of the battle was fought in splendid confusion by officers and men who had only a very partial understanding of where they were and whatthey were doing. Barbero even reckons with the thorny question of why Napoleon did not commit his Old Guard until the last moments of the battle, which may have cost him victory; his answer is quite satisfying. So, too, is this lively and highly readable work: it does for Napoleonic-era warfare what Roberto Calasso did for Greek mythology.

Product Details

Walker & Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.48(h) x 1.26(d)

Meet the Author

Alessandro Barbero is professor of Medieval History at the University of Piemonte Orientale in Vercelli, Italy. He is the author of Charlemagne: Father of a Continent, and also of several historical novels, one of which, also set in the Napoleonic age, won the Strega prize, Italy's most distinguished literary award.

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