Isandlwana is one of those epic battles about which very much is written and very few is known, not at least because their were only a handful European survivors - and only a minority of the countless researchers and "experts" were interested in the Native version of the story.
Mike Snook is a real expert, a former officer of exactly the same regiment which had its legendary last stand in the shadow af that mountain called Isandlwana. So "How Can Men Die Better?" is not only the title of his meticulously researched book, but obviously for the author also a very personal question, perhaps even an obsession.
The numbers of books, essays and articles about this battle are legion, but they are by and large divided in two main parties: those pro-Durnford and those contra-Durnford. Anthony Durnford was the commanding officer of the Native Contingents, and his decision after the first alarm to take the offensive and leave the camp with his mounted forces is often seen as the turning point, the big mistake of this battle - and he as the main culprit of this disaster. The other school of thought defends the man and declares him as a scapegoat of nearly everyone: The British High Command, the British Government, the colonial administration and last but not least Buckingham Palace and its toadies. Snooks position is crystal clear, for him Durnford was the person mainly responsible for this shameful defeat, and not the least reason seems to be that Durnford was NOT an officer of Snook's beloved 24th regiment, but an outsider.
Mike Snook's main theory is an antithesis to the modern popular image - that the British troops at Isandlwana were lame ducks caught on the wrong foot and then making every possible and impossible mistake. In Snook's view his glorious 24th put up a brave fight (unquestionable), behaved like any highly professional unit (less unquestionable), formed fierce pockets of resistance which offered a highly effective resistance (questionable) and under the circumstances performed nearly perfectly (highly questionable). The main flaws of Mr. Snook's thesis is in the author's personality itself: as a soldier he has the typical scorn for civilians and amateurs, so in his description of the course of this battle the colonial militias and Native contingents are at best negligible and at worst the weak spots, his spirited defence of his regiment's honour reveals him as a biased apologist. Nevertheless his huge knowledge of the battle and especially the battlefield offers fascinating details, so he can prove that several companies formed squares which offered a stubborn resistance for quite a long time, one unit even put up a running find which found its end far away from the actual battlefield, here the author offers some very competent and graphic analyses of the troop movements, shown by archaeological evidence. But his line of argument has some weak points: whereever no evidence exists, Snook argues with the reasoning what a professional soldier would do in that moment, which is no scientifically founded proof at all, soldiers are probably human beings too, and surrounded by hordes of enemies, fighting in a hopeless situation a soldier would probably show the same broad range of behaviour like every other person - from cool determination to outright panic. In his eyes the brave regulars paid the price for the overeagerness and insubordination of Durnford, and the inefficiency of some amateurish colonists and jumpy Natives, protecting with their last stands exactly these peoples line of retreat.
His theory has the same problem as all the others before: however the story is told, the outcome is always the same: the British were outwitted, outnumbered, outmaneuvered, outgeneraled, and eventually even outgunned. Perhaps Snook is right and several units indeed formed squares and offered prolonged resistance, but if this resistance was really as effective as portrayed by the author is open to question, at least the facts and numbers tell a different story, because the colonial troops lost also most of their recruits, and even the "bolting" Native Contingents had an extremely high number of casualities, the amaChunu for example lost more than 90 percent of their fighting men, so the tale of a heroic, life saving rearguard action is at best only partially true.
Snook as an experienced officer offers some new, intriguing details of a battle shrouded in legends, but overall his book opens no new perspectives for this British defeat, and his somtimes highly original conclusions are marred by his biased opinion about the "proper" behaviour of "real" soldiers and his protective stance for his regiment.