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The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army Paperback – June 1, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
commanders, the rifle sights of front-line skirmishers, and the clouded spectacles of field surgeons laboring in candlelit abattoirs . . . the finest kind of popular history.”
—William Rosen, author of Justinian’s Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire
Praise for Empire of Blue Water
“A swashbuckling adventure . . . [the] characters leap to life.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Reeking of authentic blood and thunder, and as richly detailed as a work of fiction . . . dramatically evokes the rough and tumble age when pirates owned the seas. A thrilling and fascinating adventure.”
—Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance
“Stephan Talty’s vigorous history of seventeenth-century pirates of the Caribbean will sate even fickle Jack Sparrow fans. A pleasure to read from bow to stern.”
“Serves up swashbuckling history at its briny, blood-soaked best, with enough violence and passion to keep the pages flying by.”
—Tom Reiss, author of The Orientalist
“Talty’s delicious new book succeeds where other volumes of history fail. . . .A ripping yarn, worthy of its gaudy subject.”
—Dallas Morning News
From the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
But Talty's book also tells the history of a disease that has been plaguing soldiers and civilians for thousands of years. Napoleon's deadliest enemy. Talty claims, was not "General Winter," or Tsar Alexander, or the Cossacks--it was the microbe Rickettsia prowazekii, which causes typhus, aided by the body louse. In Talty's version of events, Rickettsia began to kill before the Grand Armee even crossed the border, passing with body lice among the densely packed, unwashed body of men. By the time Napoleon began to engage Russian forces in earnest, his army was so depleted by the disease that he was no longer able to make the decisive maneuvers that might have forced the Russians to sue for peace. As it was, the Russians held on, suffering huge casulaties but denying Napoleon the knock out blow that might have changed history, ultimately forcing Napoleon to retreat. After Napoleon returned to Paris, it was only a matter of time before his enemies took advantage of the fact that typhus had deprived France of its most experienced and effective soldiers.
"The Illustrious Dead" is a gripping mix of narrative military history, science and detective story. Talty does an excellent job of weaving the broad story of the campaign with the words of the men who fought the battles and endured the hardships.Read more ›
That's a bit of an understatement, like saying that Napoleon was somewhat short, or that Moscow gets a bit cold in the winter, or that book reviewers tend to be too fond of lame similes. The microbe went up against Napoleon's Grand Army --- the greatest assemblage of military might since antiquity --- and beat the living whey out of it, all the way to Moscow and all the way back.
On the surface, it looks like such a mismatch. Napoleon had put together nearly half a million front-line troopers, many of them hard-bitten veterans of his victorious Italian and Austrian campaigns, and had significant cavalry and artillery to boot. They had the best training of their times, and some of the best generalship, and were impressively well-organized for the pre-microchip era. And yet, the army, as grand as it was, was beaten overwhelmingly, thoroughly and comprehensively by something it couldn't even see, something without a brain, nothing more than a collection of a few strands of DNA, designed to do little more than survive --- and kill.
To be sure, the microbe had powerful allies in its campaign to stop the French in their drive into Russia, such as the Russian army (or at least the rank and file of that army, considering its poor leadership). Then there was the scorched-earth tactics that denied provender to Napoleon's polyglot army. There was Napoleon's own imperial hubris in starting the conflict in the first place, and his failure to plan for the Russian winter or the possibility of infectious disease. There were even other microbes in the mix --- dysentery and the like.
All of these factors combined to bog down Napoleon's advance to Moscow and complicate his retreat.Read more ›
Napoleon had little trust for his doctors, and the doctors were hindered by having little idea of the causes of disease. There was no germ theory, and no realization that it was a bad idea to put, say, wounded soldiers right next to infected ones, and no understanding that stripping the dead of their literally lousy uniforms for reuse was to send the disease to the next wearer. The agonizing disease caused by the microbe _Rickettsia prowazekii_ carried by lice was agonizing, causing multiple symptoms like blinding headache and nausea, incapacitating body pains, fever and chills, ravings, gangrene, and death after around ten days.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
2nd read in 10 yrs...well written & depiction of the campaign vivid.Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Very well-written story of Napoleon's fatal invasion of Russia and what caused his downfall, a case of a microbe being mightier than the gun.Published 9 months ago by Joel Austin
I am an avid reader of medical history books, especially the history of diseases. This was not my favorite for a few reasons. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Carrie
The story of Napoleon’s disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia—perhaps the largest invading force since Xerxes with almost certainly the highest death toll until the Somme—was a... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Anson Cassel Mills
Interesting perspective on Napoleon's Russian Campaign. Very few books on military history factor in the impact of disease.Published 15 months ago by Mark36
This book makes a sound case for the destruction of Napoleon's Grand Army, not by General Winter, or Generals Kutuzov and Bagration, but by General Typhus. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Matthew J. Brennan
A truly interesting look at the role disease played in shaping the events of history. Not just a book for history snobs, it is easy to read and grasp for even the uninitiated... Read morePublished on July 14, 2014 by Adam Austin
Talty does a good job writing an interesting and entertaining account of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. Read morePublished on April 29, 2014 by Nicholas Roberts