For a non-fiction title, this was a riveting and moving read that was not only not dry, but actually managed to transport me like fiction to that shudderingly brutal time and place. As much as there are various military terms and jargon that were confusing to me (not surprisingly), that didn’t take away the enthralling effect the book had on me.
Cornwell’s lucid description of the terrain of the battlefield at the beginning gives a presentiment of what might later prove to be obstructive or facilitating to the British/Dutch army and the Prussian and French armies. The actual battles were fought from July 15 (Thursday) to July 18 (Sunday), 1815, and the minute details of the armies’ strategies and engagements are mostly told from vivid eyewitness accounts, interwoven with the author’s own views of “what-ifs”.
One interesting observation the author makes is the similarity of natural circumstance between the Battle of Azincourt (1415) and the Battle of Waterloo (1815), that is, the rainy weather that turns the battlefield into a big muddy quagmire in both cases. Also, as noted by the author, in both of these fate-changing battles for France and England, the French Army’s outnumbering their enemy is of no help to the former, implying superhuman valiance of the latter. I happened to have earlier read Cornwell’s Azincourt, and understood what he meant. But I was well aware of the fact that history is written by the victor.
Reading this book reminds me once again how little men had learned from history, and how men had always tragically chosen animalistic violence over compromise and mediation in cases of disputes, repeating their ancestors’ mistakes over and over again.