WATERLOO by Alan Forrest


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Despite the title, this book is less about the battle than its legacy.

Readers of Gordon Corrigan’s superb 2014 history will not regret opening another book on the same subject, but they may safely skip the first 50 pages during which British historian Forrest (Emeritus, Modern History/Univ. of York; Napoleon’s Men: The Soldiers of the Revolution and Empire, 2003, etc.) delivers a workmanlike account of the run-up and fighting before settling down to describe its aftermath. Victory produced celebration throughout Britain, and—unlike similar celebrations after both World War I and II—the glow never faded. It was the only nation to make the battle “a centerpiece of national memory…one of the great military turning-points of modern history and presented it as a victory for British arms, British resolve, and a specifically British national character.” Germans outnumbered Britons even within the Duke of Wellington’s army, and historians agree that the arrival of the Prussians late in the day tipped the balance. While Prussian (and later, German) writers grumble at Britain’s neglect of their role, they have never given Waterloo the same obsessive attention, preferring the 1813 Battle of the Nations, which involved far more troops, took place on German soil, and crushed Napoleon’s forces, leading to his first abdication. Waterloo occupies a lesser role in French tradition, but Napoleon remains a national idol, so no one ignores it. Suppressed during the Bourbon restoration, Napoleon worship exploded after the 1830 revolution, energized by Napoleon III’s rule and still more by France’s humiliation of 1870, which may have added pathos and poignancy to the Napoleonic legend, “an element of Shakespearean tragedy that helped illuminate his very existence.”

A modest but valuable addition to a vast genre.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-19-966325-5
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2015


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