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Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three…

Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles

by Bernard Cornwell

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It is 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo took place in Belgium and changed the course of history. Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Emperor, had escaped from his exile on Elba and had returned to Paris. The French Government and people greeted him and quickly overthrew the restored monarchy of Louis XVIII. Bonaparte gathered a huge army and marched over the French border. The victor of the Peninsular War against Bonaparte was Lord Wellington, a hands-on, admired General, everything Bonaparte was not. Along with his Prussian allies led by General Blucher, Wellington made a stand in an area around the village of Waterloo and over four days thousands of men fought bloodily and hard.
Whilst in the UK we celebrate Waterloo as a great victory this book outlines just how hard-fought the Battle was and how it could have gone either way. Before the decisive battle both the British and the Prussians had fought the French separately and had only been saved from defeat by questionable decisions made on all sides. In the final battle Wellington's troops sustained bombardment after bombardment and, at one point near the end, were very nearly overwhelmed.
Cornwell is not a scholar as such and this is what makes this book so good. In his fiction Cornwell uses research to give authenticity to his narrative, in this word of non-fiction he uses his narrative skills to colour the facts. This makes the book both learned and a good, pacy read. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jun 26, 2017 |
If you've ever read or seen a "War and Peace" not Piece. :), you'll understand why I had to read this story.
This was such a great retelling of a famous battle and it shone the light not just on famous names that fought it but some infamous as well.

It was pure genius to bring us the recounting of this battle through multiple view points, using real words of the soldiers on all sides of the war, through their correspondence.
The author literally painted the carnage of this battle in so vivid of detail that it brought tears to my eyes.

I highly recommended to all that are interested to know in what it took to pull the victory over Napoleon.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher
( )
  bookworm2bookworm | Mar 30, 2017 |
Moving and well-paced story of one of the major battles of the the 19th century. Most fascinating is the story of the Wellington and Napoleon and their first contest between the finest military minds of the age.

Well worth reading, insightful and interesting. ( )
  bhuesers | Mar 29, 2017 |
I loved Waterloo: The History of Four Days, but its appeal is probably limited to those who are interested in (1) the battle at Waterloo; (2) the Napoleonic Wars; (3) war in the early 1800s; or (4) anything Cornwell writes. This is really well done - his only nonfiction book so far. It has the page-turning character of a novel.

The battle took place in fields just south of Brussels in June, 1815. Around 200,000 men (and at least one disguised woman) fought each other in a five mile square area. The Duke of Wellington squared off with the genius Napoleon, and Wellington became known as the Conqueror of the Conqueror of the World. However, it was a brutal battle, or really three battles, with around 50,000 dead or wounded by the end. Three battles: there was Wellington vs. the French and slow-to-act General Ney at nearby (and crucially located) Quatres Bras, the French successfully attacking the Prussian army at Ligny the next day, and then the battle of Waterloo with Wellington's Anglo-Dutch forces eventually being joined by the Prussians against the French.

Telling the story well had to take discipline and persistence. Wellington himself said: “The history of a battle is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost; but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.”

Cornwell does a superb job of telling that story. He has honed his storytelling skills in many historical novels, including the famous Sharpe series, and this is his first venture into nonfiction. He had told the story through Sharpe's eyes in Sharpe's Waterloo, but this is much more in-depth. He has drawn on a huge archive of letters and diaries written by soldiers from all three armies at the battles. Some of the most riveting material comes from those archives. For example, the perspective of a surviving Ensign recently graduated from Eton College:

"You perceived at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. On came the mounted host until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath their thundering tramp. One might suppose that nothing could resist the shock of this terrible moving mass. They were the famous cuirassiers . . . "

Part of why the Waterloo battles are so famous is that the outcome was very much in doubt throughout. Cornwell aptly points out many "what if"s - what if a Dutchman, Major-General Rebecque, hadn't recognized the strategic significance of Quartres-Bras, and disobeyed orders in order to protect it? What if French General Ney hadn't inexplicably waited so long to attack Quartres-Bras (probably due to wariness of Wellington's strategic reputation), allowing reinforcements to arrive? There are many of these moments described by Cornwell which could have turned the tide the other way. Napoleon's often brilliant strategy is explained, but it was subject to the vagaries of battle and at times erroneous execution by his staff in chaotic circumstances. We also get to see the bravery and clear-headedness of many, especially those who eventually turned the battle into the allies favor.

The devastating loss of lives and the awful injuries are unstintingly portrayed, with Wellington professing his hope that he would never go to war again. This is a page-turning account of the famous battle, and a great place to start in understanding it. ( )
  jnwelch | Jun 21, 2016 |
This is Cornwell's first foray into actual history, and this book is every bit as readable as his Sharpe or Starbuck novels. He goes into considerable detail without being tedious, and gives the reader a real sense of the violent intensity of this well-documented battle. Well worth a read. ( )
1 vote oparaxenos | Nov 27, 2015 |
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This is a non-fiction history published in 2015. Please do not combine with the fiction book Sharpe's Waterloo.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062312057, Hardcover)

#1 Bestseller in the U.K.

From the New York Times bestselling author and master of martial fiction comes the definitive, illustrated history of one of the greatest battles ever fought—a riveting nonfiction chronicle published to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s last stand.

On June 18, 1815 the armies of France, Britain and Prussia descended upon a quiet valley south of Brussels. In the previous three days, the French army had beaten the Prussians at Ligny and fought the British to a standstill at Quatre-Bras. The Allies were in retreat. The little village north of where they turned to fight the French army was called Waterloo. The blood-soaked battle to which it gave its name would become a landmark in European history.

In his first work of nonfiction, Bernard Cornwell combines his storytelling skills with a meticulously researched history to give a riveting chronicle of every dramatic moment, from Napoleon’s daring escape from Elba to the smoke and gore of the three battlefields and their aftermath. Through quotes from the letters and diaries of Emperor Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, and the ordinary officers and soldiers, he brings to life how it actually felt to fight those famous battles—as well as the moments of amazing bravery on both sides that left the actual outcome hanging in the balance until the bitter end.

Published to coincide with the battle’s bicentennial in 2015, Waterloo is a tense and gripping story of heroism and tragedy—and of the final battle that determined the fate of nineteenth-century Europe.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 14 Jul 2015 07:21:20 -0400)

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