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


Reviewed by Teri Davis

Two-hundred years ago in the year 1815, Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.

With history usually being written by the victors, this famous battle of the French against the combined forces of Prussia and Great Britain has been told from various perspectives throughout the years. Three armies with three battles over four days ended Napoleon’s rule over much of Europe. So why write another book about Waterloo?

Historical fiction writer Bernard Cornwell decided that none of these accounts truly reflected the actual battle. In his first non-fiction book, Cornwell breaks this battle down into chapters with accompanying maps detailing the placement and actions of the troops as well as artistic paintings of the events, explaining both in a readable version for the non-historians and military strategists demonstrating that sometimes the portraits painted years after the events were flawed.

This is a book for those who would like to better understand the actual strategies, complications, problems, mistakes, weaponry, uniform, communications and conditions and people which led to Napoleon’s ultimate defeat. Revealing the human faults such as mistaking the uniforms as friendly forces, fighting in mud and a battle fought not in a hilly area with ridges rather than a flat plain, all became major factors in the battle.

It is difficult to imagine the actual battle scenes, but Cornwell excels with this factor. As you read the book, you can easily picture the fighting in the mud where oftentimes the killings were layered on top of the already dead making movement of horses and men almost impossible.

This book is fascinating in the descriptions of the military strategies. Cornwell describes these as a sort of “rock, paper, scissors” methodology. It cavalry is used, the best defense is …and so on. Imagining the weaponry of the time period and the best offensive and defensive methods is intriguing. Having the troops in a square was often the best as described.

“To stand firm because as long as the square kept its cohesion then the French cavalry was impotent.”

“Those squares could be broken by artillery if Ney had managed to bring more guns close to the line, or he could have destroyed them with infantry.”

“That was the scissors, paper and stone reality of Napoleonic warfare. If you could force an enemy to form square then you could bring a line of infantry against it and overwhelm it with musket fire..”

Bernard Cornwell is a master storyteller well-known for grabbing one small section of British history and turning the events into a logical and readable novel which can be enjoyed by adult readers. His Saxon Tales and Richard Sharpe novels are perfect examples of well-developed characters bringing to light the events that resulted in the Britain of today.

The book consists of twelve chapters each with a map explaining the troop movements of that section and portraits of the major players and events. Also included is a foreword, a preface, an aftermath and an afterword besides the acknowledgments, bibliography, and index.

From Cornwell’s story of Sharpe’s Waterloo, he realized that the battle of that particular novel overtook the plot. Realizing the immense importance of how these few days shaped Europe, Cornwell created this non-fiction book based on the various perspectives of the combatants.

Waterloo is for adult readers who would like to better comprehend the Napoleonic Wars and Europe in the year 1815.

Click Here to Purchase Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles

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