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The illustrious dead by Stephan Talty
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The illustrious dead (2009)

by Stephan Talty

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
A decent overview of Napoleon's Russian campaign, with the focus on how typhoid fever was a major factor in his eventual defeat. You can, however, just read this book for an account of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, as it covers all the major events and personalities regardless of the title's focus on the disease.

The most interesting thing about this book is how the collective medical science of the late 18th century was unable to figure out what causes soldiers to suddenly fall very ill on long marches. So this work is not just a history of the war, but also a history of the disease - it's discovery, prevention and treatment. I'm not going to spoil it for you - it's actually more interesting than you think. ( )
  matija2019 | Jan 8, 2019 |
I am an avid reader of medical history books, especially the history of diseases. This was not my favorite for a few reasons.

First, this book is more or less a story of Napoleon's attempt to invade Russia. The typhus story is a consistent theme, but it frankly is not the main story. Now, in fairness, I don't think you can adequately explain how typhus was able to ravage the Grand Armee so easily unless you provide context, so in that regard, the Russian invasion narrative was necessary to some degree. That being said, I felt as though the subtitle ("How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army") is misleading because it implies that the book's central focus is typhus when it really wasn't.

Second, I like wartime histories, but some of the battle scenes in this book were exceptionally drawn-out and boring, especially if you are going into it looking for a medical drama. If you are looking for details about Napoleon's invasion of Russia, this is probably your book, but it is still kind of dry. The subject matter itself is actually very dramatic (typhus is a horrible way to die, and the details of the army's brutal march, occupation of Moscow, creation of battlefield hospitals, etc, are actually pretty interesting), but the writing makes an otherwise interesting subject matter seem like a slog.

The description of the inadequate makeshift hospitals was probably the best (worst?) part of this book because of the fact that medical knowledge at the time is so far removed from what we know today, and the battlefield hospitals were grossly unprepared for the number of battlefield and typhus casualties. If you are at all squeamish, I do not recommend reading these sections.

Overall, I give this book three stars because it contained good information, but it is not really a book about typhus, and it is somewhat boring as historical nonfiction goes. ( )
  slug9000 | Jun 29, 2015 |
This was just too tedious and boring for me.
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
A fascinating and compellingly-readable account of Napoleon's failed Russian campaign of 1812 and the REAL reason it was such a disaster: a horrible typhus epidemic that was ignored and mishandled. The Illustrious Dead combines the best of commercial history with a healthy dash of science/medical lit. It's filled with great little bits of information that I'll love having on hand at the next party I'm invited to (hint, hint)...

For example:

The microbe that causes typhus is one of the oldest bits of biology on the planet.

At one point 4000-5000 soldiers were dying PER DAY on the march to Moscow.

At the time, the Catholic Church considered to bathing to be immodest and therefore, a sin.

Great stuff.

( )
  JohnHastie | Apr 5, 2013 |
A good solid history. Shows how vulnerable the powerful are to epidemics and how they have shaped history. Napoleon lost his campaign due to his own follies, but typhus might have defeated him in the end anyway. ( )
  bgknighton | Aug 24, 2011 |
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In Lithuania, late in the winter of 2001, construction crews began clearing a piece of land in that part of the capital, Vilnius, known as Northern Town, digging trenches for phone lines and demolishing the old Soviet barracks that had stood on the land for decades.
1. It would be a remarkable thing to look at a map of the world in 1811 and not be struck by how much of it was controlled by France and its-forty-two-year-old leader, Napoleon Bonaparte.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307394042, Hardcover)

“Gripping . . . a compelling story of personal hubris and humbling defeat.”
—Jack Weatherford,author of the New York Times bestseller Genghis Khan and the Making of the
Modern World


In a masterful dual narrative that pits the heights of human ambition and achievement against the supremacy of nature, New York Times bestselling author Stephan Talty tells the story of a mighty ruler and a tiny microbe, antagonists whose struggle would shape the modern world.

In the spring of 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his powers. Forty-five million called him emperor, and he commanded a nation that was the richest, most cultured, and advanced on earth. No army could stand against his impeccably trained, brilliantly led forces, and his continued sweep across Europe seemed inevitable.

Early that year, bolstered by his successes, Napoleon turned his attentions toward Moscow, helming the largest invasion in human history. Surely, Tsar Alexander’s outnumbered troops would crumble against this mighty force.

But another powerful and ancient enemy awaited Napoleon’s men in the Russian steppes. Virulent and swift, this microscopic foe would bring the emperor to his knees.

Even as the Russians retreated before him in disarray, Napoleon found his army disappearing, his frantic doctors powerless to explain what had struck down a hundred thousand soldiers. The emperor’s vaunted military brilliance suddenly seemed useless, and when the Russians put their own occupied capital to the torch, the campaign became a desperate race through the frozen landscape as troops continued to die by the thousands. Through it all, with tragic heroism, Napoleon’s disease-ravaged, freezing, starving men somehow rallied, again and again, to cries of “Vive l’Empereur!”

Yet Talty’s sweeping tale takes us far beyond the doomed heroics and bloody clashes of the battlefield. The Illustrious Dead delves deep into the origins of the pathogen that finally ended the mighty emperor’s dreams of world conquest and exposes this “war plague’s” hidden role throughout history. A tale of two unstoppable forces meeting on the road to Moscow in an epic clash of killer microbe and peerless army, The Illustrious Dead is a historical whodunit in which a million lives hang in the balance.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a dual narrative that pits the heights of human ambition and achievement against the supremacy of nature, Stephan Talty tells the story of a mighty ruler and a tiny microbe, antagonists whose struggle would shape the modern world. --from publisher descriptioin… (more)

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