Two centuries have not diminished the avalanche of books on this subject, but even history buffs familiar with the two generals and their epic 1815 encounter will not regret choosing this one.
Exhausted after 20 years of war, France did not mourn Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814. When he returned, nine months later, the restored Bourbon monarchy had exhausted its goodwill, and he had little trouble resuming office. Veteran military historian Corrigan (A Great and Glorious Adventure: A History of the Hundred Years War and the Birth of Renaissance England, 2014, etc.) suggests that he should have waited a few more years to return. Immense allied forces that had defeated him were still in place, with their leaders conveniently conferring in Vienna. Outnumbered, Napoleon knew that his only chance was to defeat each army separately, so he raced toward Belgium and the Duke of Wellington’s Anglo-Dutch forces. The Prussian army was nearby; Austrian and Russian armies were elsewhere. Corrigan delivers a gripping, nuts-and-bolts account of a clash whose first step does not occur until nearly 150 pages in. Until then, readers will encounter equally gripping biographies of three generals (Blucher, the Prussian commander, gets deserved equal billing) and a nation-by-nation review of early-19th-century European military recruitment, weapons, training, tactics and leadership. Corrigan dismisses the History Channel view of Waterloo as a stunning British victory against great odds. In reality, “it was an allied victory against odds that weren’t all that bad.” British forces were a minority in Wellington’s Anglo-Dutch army, which was smaller than the Prussian army that came to its aid. It was not won through tactical ingenuity but the “perceived British virtue of sticking it out until help arrived.”
A superb addition to an overstuffed genre.