THE FINAL ACT: The Roads to Waterloo by Gregor Dallas
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THE FINAL ACT: The Roads to Waterloo

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A broad, colorful, engaging panorama of a crucial moment in the shaping of modern Europe, tracing the fall of Napoleon and the wily maneuvers of the victors to carve up his collapsed empire. Dallas (At the Heart of a Tiger: Clemenceau and His World 1841-1929, 1993) has extraordinary material to work with, and he makes the most of it. The long, costly struggle of England, Russia, and their allies to vanquish Napoleon seemed, with his exile to the island of Elba in 1814, to be over. In the aftermath of the war, the mutually suspicious victors convened the Congress of Nations in Vienna to establish national boundaries, carve out zones of influence, and firmly reassert the place of monarchs in an increasingly republican world. A remarkable cast of characters gathered to map out the new Europe, among them Tsar Alexander of Russia, by turns a mystic and a determinedly shrewd expansionist; Talleyrand, France's representative, a man bright and adaptable enough to have survived both the Revolution and Napoleon's reign; Castlereagh, a moody, brilliant figure who had almost singlehandedly created the British Foreign Service; and Metternich, Austria's Machiavellian foreign minister. Then, incredibly, Napoleon broke loose, quickly rallied his armies, and set out to reclaim his empire. That quest ended at Waterloo, in the most pivotal battle of the 19th century in Europe. Dallas's portraits of leading figures, while frankly opinionated, are deeply informed. He uses his considerable research admirably, offering vivid, fresh depictions of Paris, London, and Vienna, and of the drawing rooms, counting houses, and battlefields that figured in the vast drama. His argument that the treaty that emerged from Napoleon's downfall largely created modern Europe--and the tensions that would lead to even bloodier wars--is persuasive. A gripping and highly original work of popular history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Henry Holt