Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Decent Maps!

Book Review: Waterloo Battlefield Guide by David Buttery

(Book cover art and plates kindly provided by the publishers. Please do not reproduce without obtaining permission)

The first thing that I noticed about this book was the maps. There are lots of them, they are clear, sufficiently detailed and colourful. Now that, which should be standard, is refreshing and a great start. This good, first impression did not disappoint as I delved more deeply into what is an excellent publication. From the title I expected that this would be a guide to the famous battle and ostensibly it is, but it is also much more.
The book’s eleven chapters cover the background to the campaign, the armies, plans and initial manoeuvres, the battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny, Waterloo (in phases) and Wavre, the aftermath and visiting the battlefield. Each chapter includes an historical description. Those about the battles include a description of key points of interest to the visitor (or armchair visitor). Each chapter also features several ‘sidebars’, most of which provide a brief biography of some of the key people from both sides, as well as numerous reproductions of paintings, photos, and maps.

An example of one of the many excellent photos of the battlefields that feature in the book. This one of Hougoumont from the south (p. 72).
I began reading this book with some trepidation, having read Buttery’s book “Wellington vs Junot” and being decidedly under-impressed. I found that tome to be a subjective and value-laden version of history and also to contain numerous errors and breaks in the flow of logic of the text. I need not have been concerned. This book is easy to read and is, in the main, a fine example of the objective writing of history at its best. Buttery demonstrates great skill in his writing, producing a text that is written with no assumed knowledge, making it suitable for the novice, but also with sufficient detail and insights to reward the experienced Waterloo ‘campaigner’. The detailed, descriptive and insightful text is far beyond what I expected in a guidebook.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the maps are a real highlight. These include a campaign map, two maps each of Ligny and Quatre Bras, separate maps of each of the stages of Waterloo, two maps of Wavre and a modern map of how to get there, indicating some of the key features. Each map is clear colourful and sufficiently detailed to be of tremendous use to the visitor, wargamer or reader wishing to follow the location of the action presented in the text.
The maps in this book, for example this one of the attack by d'Erlon's Corps (p. 80), are excellent: numerous, clear and colourful. Authors and publishers note: these are the sort of maps that should accompany every history text!
Another photo from the book, this time the looking in the direction of d'Erlon's attack towards what was the Anglo-Allied line (p. 84).
As I mentioned above, I became more impressed the more that I read, but one can always be ‘greedy’, n’est pas?! My wish list for this book includes more maps (I did say that I was being greedy), orders of battle for the opposing armies, pictures of the types and variety of troops present and a complete list of the references used. These, with the exception of the latter (only a selected list of secondary references is provided), are not big omissions and, realistically, could not be included due to the combination of the aim of such a guidebook and the limitations of space.
The book itself is of the normal, high standard that we have the luxury to expect. The ‘handbook’ size (A5) means that it could be carried around with you on a tour of the battlefields, although the hardback binding, thick stock and 304 pages make it a weighty tome (approx. 740 g). As this is primarily a reference book, I am pleased that the publishers opted for quality over a light-weight, paperback version.
In summary, congratulations to Mr Buttery and the publishers for producing such a fine book, in time for the bicentennial of the famous battle. It’s a great introduction for the novice reader, but even the experienced ‘student’ of Napoleonic history will find numerous gems of detail about which you were not aware or revel in the details that will aide studying the battle or planning a bicentennial game. The book is worth it alone for the photos of sections of the battlefields and points of interest and, of course, the fine maps!


  1. Interesting, sounds like a good general introduction to the battle- thanks for the review, and I totally agree about the importance of good maps.
    I was thinking that Ian Fletcher's "A Desperate Business: Wellington, the British Army and the Waterloo Campaign" might be worth having a look at too.

    1. Fletcher's book sounds interesting, from the one review on Amazon. Is it as good as Howarth's masterly "Waterloo: A Near Run Thing"?

    2. I couldn't tell you James, not having either in my collection - which boasts only two basic books on Waterloo, I have read others from the State Library just can't remember what they were...
      I did notice that abebooks.com has Howarth for as little as $1 in paperback and $4.65 in hardback...tempting....

    3. It's a 'steal' at either price. You need to be a bit wary of the postage charge, which can be many times the price of the book, although the total may still quite reasonable; by the standards of what we pay in Aust., that is.

      I am sure that you know all that already...

  2. Thanks for the review, James. Looks like another one for the Christmas/birthday list!

    How does it stack up against Adkins' Waterloo Companion?

    1. Ben, the short answer is that I don't know. The longer answer, skimming some of the 25 reviews on Amazon and looking at the sample pages is that they are very similar, but different. Adkin's book seems to have more detail on the campaign and the battles and to have some of what Buttery's lacks, such as the OBs, the full biography and a detailed index. The maps (from the sample) seem equally high quality and clear, and apparently are overlaid on the modern terrain. There are photos of the battlefield, but not the history, background, description and photos of the 'points of interest'.

      So, it depends what you want, or perhaps you need to tell Mrs Rosbif and the junior Rosbifs that you "need" both—if the library will take them! (ha, ha)