Top critical review
11 people found this helpful
on 3 September 2005
The blurb on the Amazon website says the author has found his metier writing fast-paced, episodic histories based on meticulous primary research. He has a vast output and this may well be true of his other titles but I have to say I did not find it to be the case with this book.
I bought it mainly for the first chapter "The Old Guard at Waterloo", but was reassured that other chapters included Arnhem Bridge, Rorke's Drift, the Glourious Glosters, etc. and anticipated these would just be a bonus. The Waterloo chapter was a huge disappointment. If you have read a history of Waterloo, you will know that the Guard attacked at the end of the day, were repulsed, formed squares and there is controversy over what excat insult their commander used to reply to an Allied request to surrender. You will finish the chapter none the wiser. I was hoping for some research into French sources and some views from the Guards I had not heard before. Instead the chapter includes background on the Guards, an overview of the Waterloo campaign, an overview of the battle, and an account of the manuevres by the Guard and Allied units repulsing them: all of this has been written many, many times before. In the bibliography, the books listed are those by Howarth and Naylor, both worthy reads but hardly the meticulous primary research that the publisher claims for its author.
Maybe this put me in a bad mood, but the second chapter on the Alamo was crashingly dull. One of the things I enjoy about military history is first hand accounts from the soldiers but (and Mr Perrett can safely say I should have spotted this!) when a unit makes a last stand there tend not to be too many survivors to write their memoirs! Nowhere is this more true than in the third chapter on Custer's 7th Cavalry but again the level of analysis was too shallow for me. Having watched a documentary on the History Chanel a few years ago I didn't find out anything I didn't already know (and I would in no way regard myself as any sort of an expert).
Around the middle of the fourth chapter on Rorke's Dtift I am about to give up as the meandering narrative introduces more commanders who are just names, moving units around that I can't keep track of on the maps in the book.
Perhaps the later chapters are better but I felt this was an opportunity missed. The lack of first hand accounts is a drawback, but the chapters spend a long while setting up the last stand, then describe it in terms of maneurvres between different units. I found myself having to rely on other sources (books, TV documentaries or films) to imagine what it must have been like to be there. In his introduction, Perrett wonders what makes a unit stand to the last man, but in the chapters themselves there is very little analysis of this.
In conclusion I would say you should look carefully at this book before buying - check it out in your local bookshop, and if you are still keen order from Amazon at the lowest price you can see. I'm sorry, Mr Perrett, I really wanted to like this, but was very disappointed.