Reviews: Biographical Books

Waterloo Men: The Experience of Battle, 16-18 June 1815

Haythornthwaite, Philip J.

Haythornthwaite, Philip J. Waterloo Men: The Experience of Battle, 16-18 June 1815. Marlborough, UK: The Crowood Press, 1999. 128 pages, 8 color plates by Bryan Fosten. ISBN# 1861262833. £35.

Yes, yes, yes, all of you leap to the news! Here's a brand new book on a brand new topic, and one that has been scarcely covered. OK, I'll stop my cynicism, as my point is to be as little biased as I can while reviewing this work. Waterloo sells - we all know this, and the matter has been discussed at length on the Napoleon Series Forum. So, let's accept the fact and see if there is anything here that has value.

This is the latest book in the "Silver" series formerly published by Windrow & Greene. These elegant volumes have managed to combine both military history and uniform information in luxury publications -- almost "military" coffee table books. Oddly enough, so far none of the volumes have yet touched on the Napoleonic era, if one excludes the wonderful Thin Red Line, which was a reprint in book format of Bryan Fosten's excellent plate series. This tome on Waterloo is very much in line with the other ones; a focus primarily, if not exclusively, on the British army, eight color central plates of a very high standard, numerous black and white illustrations, and an informative, general text. And, of course, we get a quality result from two well-known, quality authors. There is absolutely no debate on this. Both Philip Haythornthwaite and Bryan Fosten are masters in their field, I have the highest respect for both and many of their past publications feature on my (overcrowded) bookshelves.

This latest work is in line with their past achievements; solid, thorough and enjoyable. Philip Haythornthwaite, faced with the issue of writing (yet another) Waterloo account, has shifted the focus to that of the individual's experience within the British contingent, relying on numerous memoirs, etc. This "Keeganish" approach is has some merit. Unfortunately for any Waterloo-maniac, it doesn't bring anything new, as most of the material used is well known. In line with recent trends, a stronger focus is placed on the aftermath of the battle and some of the material assembled there is somewhat more unique (the photographs of veterans in their old age are indeed poignant).

Bryan Fosten's approach is somewhat more unique as he has dedicated half of the eight color plates to providing complete schematics for the British army. These are masterly and similar to the ones he had done previously for an excellent article on the British infantry at Waterloo in the grand days of Military Illustrated. The four other plates show various types of British soldiers. I don't think I need to say much to praise Bryan Fosten's work; this is as good as it can be, i.e., a pleasure for the eye.

Apart from the lack of originality, do I have other criticisms to raise? Indeed I do. First, in a volume of this price, I would expect more than just eight color pages and it would have been pleasant to see the format include more color illustrations. Much of the material shown is well known and presenting it in black and white looks a bit "dated," even though this is the usual format of this series. In correlation then, I'd put the high price as a very negative factor. This book has an obvious value, despite its lack of originality, to any newcomer to the field. Unfortunately, its price probably puts it out of reach for the beginners' market. The focus purely on the British army also puts things off balance. Again, this is probably an issue of format, but this certainly looks backwards in terms of approach in this very year with the publications from Peter Hofschröer and Coppens/Courcelle.

As a final point, I'd like to invite everyone to check out the photograph on pages 124-125 as it shows a British infantry square formation as displayed in India in the 1860s. Remarkable document by all means. So do I recommended it? Well, for the newcomer who has money to spare, it's a great introduction by two leading experts. I'd also recommend it to any uniform nut, or lover of Bryan Fosten's talent (my own category). Anyone else should first check it out, or look to your loved ones if they have problems picking your next birthday or Christmas gift.

Reviewed by Yves Martin


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