Waterloo – Bernard Cornwell

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this book.  I love Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series but haven’t enjoyed the other series I’ve tried.  And this is a non-fiction book.

I loved it!  It is one of the most readable books about the battle of Waterloo I have read.  Because it reads like a story book it holds your interest and, even though I already knew the history of the battle, I wanted to know more, I wanted to understand the whys and wherefores.

The book starts with Napoleon’s escape from Elba, covers Wellington’s life after the end of the Peninsular War, details the run up to the battle and then the three days of the fighting.  I really liked the fact it covers the viewpoints of the different nations involved; French, English, Dutch and Prussian.  This made me feel I was getting a balanced picture of the battle rather than the usual single perspective you get in a history book.

I also liked the fact Cornwell considers the different theories as to who won the battle and opened up readers to the idea that it wasn’t necessarily Wellington who won.  I think it’s useful to consider different perspectives than the ones we are fed as children in traditional history books.

I think it is impossible to make a battle of this type easy to understand and follow.  It is, inevitably, a confusing mass of concurrent activities.  That said, I think this book helped me to gain a better understanding.  Perhaps this is because it isn’t the first book I’ve read on the subject.  I think it is also down to the author’s writing style.

After I’d finished reading it I loaned the book to my partner.  It’s unusual for us to like the same book but, knowing he is interested in European history I thought he might enjoy it.  After some initial cynicism – “if you enjoyed it I won’t” type of comment – he read it in 1 weekend and finished it with the comment “that was a really good read!”

In short, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history, military or otherwise, and anyone who is interested in what happened at Waterloo but prefers a ripping yarn to a dusty tome.

Click here for Bernard Cornwell’s website

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