MEN OF WATERLOO by John Sutherland


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The day was hot for June, but in the late afternoon a breeze had begun to stir...Bountiful crops of rye, wheat, oats and barley shimmered in the sun. An occasional cottage was an island in the fields. To the west was a forest where a lark took flight. Winging southwest he flew low, but if his course were followed, huge restful clouds could be seen in a soft blue sky."" So begins not Bambi, but what is supposed to be a history of the battle of Waterloo. It might just as well be ""The Boy's Life of Wellington."" ""Waterloo!"" the author exclaims. ""The battle of Waterloo! It was undoubtedly the single most dramatic event of the nineteenth century."" Undoubtedly. And so it goes: larks take flight, brooks babble, horses whinny, and bombs burst in air. Mr. Sutherland has attempted to write narrative history, but in reaching into his bag of rejected purple passages from War and Peace and The Dynasts has produced a prose almost calculated to make the reader gag. It's a pity, because the book is thoroughly researched and basically informative. Perhaps a lesson in ""prosiness"" can be learned by Mr. Sutherland from the battle of Waterloo itself. When Napoleon threw his Guard into the battle in a final and desperate assault, the army virtually ceased to exist in a matter of minutes. Only a part of the Old Guard fought on stubbornly to protect the Emperor's retreat. According to an apocryphal version, its commander, General Cambronne, when summoned to surrender, replied with a flourish of rhetoric:""The Guard dies but not surrender."" His more often quoted answer, ""Merde!"" is what he probably said. Ah, the virtues of simple, direct prose!

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1966
Publisher: Prentice-Hall