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

The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in history. Bernard Cornwell, the renowned author of many historical fiction series, including the Sharpe series, writes about this famous battle in Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles.

As the subtitle infers, the book not only covers the Battle of Waterloo, but also briefly describes the Battles of Ligny (between the French and Prussians) and Quatre-Bras (between the French and British and their allies). In the book’s beginning, Napoleon escapes from Elba and unexpectedly has an easy entrance into France and triumphal return to Paris. While Napoleon is entering Paris, the allied forces (Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia) are scrambling to raise armies to defeat him.

Although Cornwell is known for his fiction writing, he shines in this latest endeavor in historical writing. He is one of the best writers that I know in describing men in battle. He uses this skill to great effect when describing the visceral combat between the combatants. For example, the reader gets a good idea of what it was like to be an infantryman fighting in a square against cavalry while being pounded to smithereens by artillery. Conversely, Cornwell also captures the frustration and sheer terror of cavalry riding between squares of infantry.

Cornwell also does a superb job of putting the various actions during the Battle of Waterloo in their proper time perspective. Many authors on the Battle of Waterloo (for that matter, many other battles) treat actions in the battle as a lineal affair, when the actions are actually taking place at the same time.

Cornwell puts the various events in the proper perspective with each other. For example, he begins the narrative of the battle with the fighting around Hougoumont and touches back to the fighting as the other events unfold – the fighting around Hougoumont continued throughout the day.

Another strength of the book is the liberal use of pictures and maps. The pictures include major personalities and famous scenes from the battle. The maps are easy to understand and complement the text.

The book is an excellent overview of the battle – a must read.

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