The Hundred Days of Napoleon (P. & D. SNOW)

On the occasion of bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815) a new book for the general public, beautiful and accessible, richly illustrated and accompanied byabout twenty facsimiles reproducing various documents representative of this last Napoleonic campaign: poster, letters from soldiers, newspaper ... A work to be classified among the “Beaux-Livres”, as pleasant to read as to leaf through, but which remains deeply marked by its Anglo-Saxon origin.

The authors

This book is the result of the duo work of Peter and Dan Snow. Journalist, writer, Independent Television News correspondent for diplomacy and defense from 1966 to 1979, Peter Snow is known to have been the presenter of the BBC Evening News from 1980 to 1997. Dan Snow is also a regular of the small screen, having directed, written and presented various documentaries.

The concept

This work is a beautiful book for the general public distinguished by the presence of numerous facsimiles of archival documents that the reader can manipulate as he pleases, thus getting a little closer to the time he is studying and to the profession of the historian. This fashionable concept had already been used at least twice to tell the story of the First Empire: by Dimitri Casali in his book “Napoléon. In the intimacy of a reign ”, as well as by David Chanterrane and Emmanuelle Papot with“ Napoleon: his life, his battles, his empire ”. In direct connection with the bicentenary of this year 2015, this new work entitled (with a touch of overbidding) "The Hundred Days of Napoleon. The quest for ultimate glory ”is devoted exclusively to the return of Napoleon in 1815. If the context of the Hundred Days is of course explained, it must be noted that this work mainly focuses on the Belgian campaign and especially on the decisive battle of Waterloo fought on June 18 between the Emperor of the French and the Duke of Wellington.

Our opinion

Without a doubt, this book falls into the category of "beautiful books", aesthetic and fun, just as pleasant to read as to leaf through! In beige tones reminiscent of old paper, with a filigree Gribeauval canon, the reader is immediately immersed in a nineteenth century world. An apparent chronology imitating handwriting, a large number of table illustrations, engravings or period objects, biographical inserts presenting the main actors of the Battle of Waterloo ... It must be recognized that the model is very successful!

The aesthetic quality does not come at the expense of the narrative quality. After a quick presentation of the geopolitical context and the armies concerned, the authors very quickly get to the heart of the matter: the battles of Ligny, Quatre-Bras and Mont-Saint-Jean. Despite the apparent thickness of the book (swollen by the facsimile sleeves), it is relatively succinct: no more than fifty pages interspersed with numerous illustrations. The challenge is therefore to explain the campaign and especially the ultimate battle in a coherent and accessible way. Challenge successfully met thanks to a clever mix of tactical explanations and anecdotes to present the battle in a way that is both precise and epic. Understanding the different troop movements that decided the fate of Europe from June 15 to 18 is facilitated by the provision of a small, clear and effective cartographic booklet allowing to understand the evolution and the challenges of the engagements thanks to focusing on different scales, from the small scale allowing one to embrace the land separating Charleroi from Brussels at a glance, to the very large scale centered on the Hougoumont castle-farm.

Finally, and this is what characterizes this type of work, four pockets contain for the curious reader about twenty facsimile documents to take a closer look at what those tragic times were: proclamation of Napoleon, letters of soldiers, instructions to the cavalry, extracts from a campaign newspaper, One of the Times, maps and field sketches made after the battle ... Documents, sometimes published for the first time, which come from the Historical Service of the Defense of Vincennes, from the National Army Museum in London, the National Archives of the UK or the Bridgeman Art Library!

However, it should be noted that this work translated into French (with some imprecisions such as the misuse of the term "mousqueton" instead of "rifle", certainly to translate the term " musket ") By Antonia Leibovici was originally published in English under the title" The Battle of Waterloo - experience », A title perhaps more suitable than that of the French version since as said previously the book and the testimonies focus more on the battle of Waterloo than on the whole of the Hundred Days ... But we certainly preferred avoid throwing in the face of the French Napoleonic market, perhaps susceptible, the name of this final defeat! Moreover, tactfully, the original cover featuring the famous painting " Scotland For Ever! »By Lady Buttler representing the charge of the Royal Scots Grays has been replaced by the famous painting to the glory of the Emperor by Sternberg and representing Napoleon back in France acclaimed by the men of the regiment who came to arrest him in front of Grenoble! A small quote from Napoleon was even added above that of Wellington on the back of the box ... And we sought a kind of guarantee by having the book prefaced by Jean Tulard whose name appears on the box. just as evident, if not more, than that of the authors relatively unknown in France ...

Nevertheless, despite this make-up intended for the French-speaking market, the book remains deeply marked by its Anglo-Saxon origin! Indeed, the analysis of the geopolitical context, and even the account of the battle, is never exempt from a small touch of Anglophilia tending to present Napoleon as the disruptor of European order, enemy of genius, predator against which fight tirelessly Great Britain and its noble officers. The Anglo-Saxon actors of the battle are particularly honored since more than two thirds of the biographical inserts are devoted to personalities of the coalition, to the detriment of the actors of the Grande Armée. An imbalance which is however not uninteresting since it allows to discover personalities often little treated by the French-speaking general public works. The objects presented in the book are also mainly from the ranks of the allies. Perhaps more problematic is the choice of the documentary corpus since the letters of the soldiers all come from the coalition camp ... and are not translated! In the end, out of nineteen facsimiles, fourteen are only accessible in Shakespeare's language, which may disappoint the French buyer to whom this information is not communicated on the box ...

In the end, an aesthetic, clear and accessible work, but that should be obtained knowingly to avoid disappointments.

Peter & Dan Snow, The Hundred Days of Napoleon. The quest for ultimate glory, Guy Trédaniel Editeur, 2015.

Video: Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Waterloo 1815 (January 2022).