From Publishers Weekly
Even for the British, knowledge of the Charge of the Light Brigade begins and ends with Tennyson's poem—and it's debatable how many Americans could even tell you which war the battle took place in. Brighton, a curator at the British museum devoted to the regiment that led the charge, deftly explains the circumstances leading to the 1854–1856 Crimean War and the Light Brigade's misbegotten confrontation with Russian artillery at Balaklava, outlining the difficulties the soldiers faced in the weeks leading up to the fateful battle. A minute-by-minute account dealing with the battle itself builds tension through effective crosscutting of passages from eyewitness accounts by several survivors along with the author's own thoughtful analysis. Later sections address nagging controversies, such as whether the brigade's commander abandoned his troops mid-fight, while Brighton does his best to pin down just how many soldiers rode into the valley of death and concludes that, despite the heavy losses, the brigade did not lose at Balaklava. His story is an example to all popular historians of how to combine a gripping yarn with deep insight into the social and cultural forces driving the action.
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The Crimean War (1853-56) was the first general European conflict since the Congress of Vienna established a balance of power among major European states. It was a brutal, pointless struggle motivated primarily by British, French, and Russian imperial ambitions. The war is remembered primarily for the nursing ministrations of Florence Nightingale and the charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized by Tennyson's poem. The charge has been viewed either as a tribute to military valor or a sordid example of military incompetence. As this splendid examination illustrates, it was both. Brighton begins with a cogent explanation of the causes of the war, then describes several of the key players in the charge--his portrayal of the pivotal officers, Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan, is both revealing and infuriating. Brighton describes the charge itself in horrifying detail, effectively utilizing the recollections of survivors. Finally, his analysis of the process of mythmaking that arose from the charge is incisive, and ultimately this is an outstanding work that strips away much of the nonsense that has surrounded a tragic military blunder. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved