The Waterloo Companion: The Complete Guide to History's Most Famous Battle

waterlooStackpole Books, 2001
ISBN 0811718549
Reviewed by Michael Russert

Few historians would disagree with the inclusion of the Battle of Waterloo on a list of the world's most decisive battles. The engagement has been subject of scores upon scores of volumes, which explore all aspects of the battle, the commanders, and the men in the ranks. Even author of The Waterloo Companion Mark Adkin, in his introduction, queries, "So, why another book (about Waterloo)?"

The Waterloo Companion is not just "another book". Nor is it a mere re-examination of the battle or a decorative oversized coffee table book. It is, as the title suggests, a complete guide with detailed maps, reflective commentary and analysis, and colorful uniform plates and photographs. Divided into ten sections, the companion provides the reader with a significant reference source.

Mark Adkin, a former army officer, knows his subject. He wrote The Sharpe Companion to accompany Bernard Cornwell's highly acclaimed Richard Sharpe series, and he is currently completing The Trafalgar Companion.

With an oversized 9-1/2 inch by 11-1/2 inch format, The Waterloo Companion is a magus opus for military enthusiasts. Commencing with a portrait of Napoleon's escape, the study encompasses ever aspect of this decisive battle in a unique and visually stimulating manner. Adkin's meticulous research and readable writing style create a treasure of information. This book cannot only be read, but it will also serve as a complete reference work to which the reader will continually return.

There are innumerable features that make this study so appealing to both the avid Napoleonic aficionado and the casual reader of military history. There is a section examining strategies and commanders of all involved units, alongside textboxes or sidebars providing additional facts concerning places, plans, and events related to the battle. Complete order of battle tables for all armies present of the field compare and contrast Allied and French forces. A series of analytical sketches of all commandeers down to brigade level is included.

The multi-colored detailed maps with battle lines superimposed over modern landmarks and terrain are an essential element of the study. Distinctive panoramic color photographs with troop formations delineated on the photographs provide the reader with a sense of the topography while the text provides penetrating observations. Each map and accompanying photomap includes a key detailing infantry, artillery, and cavalry notes on formation placement. Adkin explains the differences of troop placements, often providing logical and tactical reasoning for alternative decisions. For example, at 11.30 am, he contrasts the symmetry of the French deployment to Wellington's "tangled and confusing" formations and why this appeared to be so.

A judicious selection of primary accounts is included to make the text more realistic and immediate. A bonus is the inclusion of sixteen full color pages of plates, each depicting three uniform paintings by the noted military artist Clive Farmer.

The Waterloo Companion lacks endnotes or footnotes for those interested in further research, yet nonetheless it is a readable and extremely valuable resource tool for the military historian. It is a highly recommended as a reference source and as a visual masterpiece successfully combining an informative text supplemented by detailed maps and colorful graphics. The Waterloo Companion will serve as an indispensable tool for this decisive battle.