From Publishers Weekly
Cool British resolve defeats heavy-handed Gallic bluster in this probing study of the famous battle. University of Exeter military historian Black gives a lucid, if sometimes disjointed, narrative of the 1815 Waterloo campaign, set within a canny analysis of the grand strategy of the Napoleonic wars and of technological and organizational developments in 18th-century warfare. The author is disdainful of Napoleon's generalship in his last battle. In Black's reckoning, the French emperor is overconfident and lethargic, sitting in the rear and launching masses of infantry, artillery, and cavalry in unimaginative frontal assaults. Wellington, by contrast, is brave, shrewd, and energetic, always up front and under fire, encouraging his men and waiting for an opening to counterattack. Black paints a well-balanced portrait of the time, moving easily from the level of operations where generals plan and blunder to the firing line where common soldiers slaughter each other. He's at his most provocative in assessing Waterloo's world-historical import. Wellington's triumph is often judged a victory of reaction over revolution, but Black argues the opposite:the British, he cogently insists, were the era's real agents of change and progress, clearing away the dead endof Napoleon's bloody adventurism. (Mar. 16)
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Eminent British military historian Black narrates Napoléon’s final defeat in 1815 amid an analysis of military methods of the period. Reviewing theories for deployment of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, Black recounts their practical results in the Napoleonic Wars, rating the 1812 Battle of Borodino as the harbinger of Waterloo. In both, Napoléon adopted the frontal assault, but at Waterloo, Black argues, his poor coordination between the infantry and cavalry probably denied the French a victory in the battle’s early hours, when the initial attack pierced Wellington’s line but was thrown back. If a critic of Napoléon’s battlefield decisions, Black is not a facile one; he underscores options available to Napoléon during the daylong carnage’s changing tactical situation; they finally vanished when the Prussian army arrived and crushed the French right flank. Black’s consideration of Wellington’s command performance is equally subtle and supports the British general’s pithy quotation of Waterloo as the “nearest-run thing you ever saw.” Incorporating the international political context, Black’s incisive appraisal taps the enduring interest in this ghastly, decisive battle. --Gilbert Taylor