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  • Writer's pictureGareth Williams

The Battle of Waterloo

Today I want to mention a few books I used while researching the battle of Waterloo for my book Needing Napoleon which should be available in print and ebook form in just over a week!

For overviews of the battle, I drew on my memory of a little book I first read when I was about ten. It is called The Field of Waterloo by Aubrey Feist. My edition was published in 1969 in the 'When and Why' series by the Lutterworth Press. It cost £1.40. It has maps showing how the battle developed and plenty of pencil sketches. Sadly no longer in print but second-hand copies are available (but not mine, I'm keeping it - see my photo of the cover)!

For rather more detail, I read Andrew Robert's Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Gamble, although this is still a short book at 132 pages. It sets the battle nicely in context and avoids getting bogged down. I suppose, and I mean this as a compliment, it is like an adult version of Feist's book.

Looking for more evocative detail without losing historical accuracy, I then turned to Bernard Cornwell, master of historical fiction. I have read and loved the Sharpe series set during the Napoleonic Wars but this time, I relied on his 2014 factual account, enlivened by skilful use of first-hand accounts, called Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles.

I next looked for something a little more involved and with more focus on events leading up to and following on from the battle.

This lead me to Tim Clayton's Waterloo: Four Days that Changed Europe's Destiny. At some 600 pages, it is certainly more involved. The notes are 40 pages long and the bibliography another fifteen! It is, however, clear and an admirable distillation of writings on the battle.

Wanting to consider alternative interpretations of the battle, I revisited a book from my teaching days, Waterloo: New Perspectives by David Hamilton-Williams. Admittedly, these new perspectives end in 1993 when the book was published but it certainly was an update on my 1969 introduction to the topic.

Finally, keen to get my details of equipment right, I relied on a great reference book by Philip J Haythornthwaite, The Napoleonic Source Book. Maps, profiles of generals, outlines of campaigns, weapons, tactics, overview of the nations involved and much more are covered. It is brilliant to dip into at need. It was my primary source in understanding the mechanisms of muskets and artillery.

Uniforms are a whole other story and I will cover how I read up on them in my next post.

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