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Review for Waterloo, The Truth at Last

Author : Paul L. Dawson

In writing this review I am breaking one of our site’s rules. We read all of a book before reviewing it and I did not read all of this book, by the time I reached half way I began to feel it was just too difficult to understand the points being made. The main problem, for me, was the mix of individual detail and the broader conclusions which then became a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees.
It is clear that a massive amount of research, much in sources not regularly or never previously plundered, has gone into the writing. There is a lot of excellent presentation of data but it is mixed with some rather unacademic, tenuous conclusions.
As one example of the latter on pages 59 to 61 the author discusses the French grand battery. His evidential base for his ‘myth busting’ are two reports. Each of these state that there were 54 guns as opposed to the 80 of the ‘myth’. The author then produces a list showing that there were 3 sets of 12 plus a set of 32 plus a further 6 and as a total reaches 62. By my reckoning that is in fact 74 and quite close to Napoleon’s 80. To stress his point he claims that 80 is almost double 54 and this is simply sloppy mathematics. He makes no mention of the French howitzers, or the hour that his informants made their counts, neither does he offer any possible explanation as to why Napoleon should have created the ‘myth’.
What is most probably the case is that by the time the grand battery was fully functioning sufficient units had come into line to make the number of guns 80. Indeed what would have been surprising, given Napoleon’s regular tactics, would have been for him to have used barely a quarter of his guns in his main battery.
A question raised by the above argument is ‘what is the truth?’ Indeed this is a question we may legitimately ask of the author’s claim in the title that this book is ‘the truth at last’. The stories in this book are each a truth but they are certainly do not amount to the truth.
This is a large book 547 pages, some rather nice illustrations but is without any maps. It is not for the newcomer to the battle as much depends on the reader being familiar with the layout of the battlefield and the ‘myths’.

Having enjoyed Paul Dawson’s book ‘Marshal Ney at Quatre Bras’ [reviewed on this site] I was disappointed that this book was not of the same quality. I cannot recommend it as I found a lot wrong with it but for all its faults I will keep it on my bookshelf and dip into it from time to time.

Published by : Frontline Books. Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2018
ISBN : 978-1-52670-245-6

Review last updated : 2018-05-07 07:59:55

See also : other "Napoleonic Wars" reviews