Monday, June 18, 2007

Book Review..Waterloo

I recently read two books on what is probably one of the most written and published campaigns.
The first was Waterloo.A Near Run Thing.David Howarth.Phoenix Paperback.1968. 196pages
Despite only being 196 pages its a very detailed account.It comes with lots of maps,portraits of the leading figures and photos of the battlefield.
The author covers such things as weapons and tactics of the day and describes the various arms such as artillery,cavalry and infantry.Medical treatment and the aftermath of the battle are also included.
The book opens on the dawn of the final day and concludes later that night.In the intervening pages you get a good overview of the campaign with its ebb and flow and the final outcome on the evening of the 18th June 1815.

The second is entitled Four Days in June.Iain Gale.Harper.2007.369pages
The author notes in the final pages that this is a novel rather than a history of the Waterloo campaign.
It follows five men who fought in those four days.Prussian,French and English among them.Both lower ranks and officers.Some obviviously figure in both books because of the significant part they played.
Both authors use some artistic licence to try and get inside the mindsets of the participants.While Howarth relates and describes things as an author,Gale often will have the characters explain the details in their conversations.An example of this would be a pun about field officers which Howarth explains while Gale has two of the characters telling the joke.
Being a shorter book Howarth offers a more general overview of the battle.By settling on a few crucial players Gale gives a sense of how the individual soldier can only see a part of the whole picture and action.Being a longer book almost twice the length of Howarths he can flesh out the characters using diaries and other material from the era.
You also have to remember that Howarths book was published some 30 years ago.It seemed a more scholarly work than Gales which I would put in the category of popular history similiar to Stephen E Ambrose's Band of Brothers.
Read in conjunction these books gave me a good background to the battle.I would suggest using the maps in Howarths book while reading the final pages of Gales book will also help you understand what is happening on the battlefield.


Anonymous said...

The painting on the cover of Waterloo.A Near Run Thing is at the NGV in melbourne. One of my favorite military paintings
Bizzarely a good description of the paining is found hosted by a uni in Nagoya! see

tim said...

Cheers for the information. I checked out the link.I agree its interesting that Lady Butlers painting'Quatre Bras" is on a Nagoya University site.I didnt realise that its such a large painting and whats on the book cover is a mere detail.My favourite Lady Butler painting of the same battle is "Scotland Forever" lots of Scots Guards cavalry and grey horses charging out of the canvas.
Is it the original painting 'Quatre Bras' thats in Melbourne or a copy?

Anonymous said...

Im back from australia!

and finally getting back into things. I believe that the NGV does hold the original. Melbournes galley is quite respectable. Probably the best in Australia.