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The Longest Afternoon

Brendan Simms



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Basic Books
10 February 2015
History; European history; Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900; Military history
A heroic tale of 400 soldiers who changed the course of history, The Longest Afternoon will become an instant classic of military history.
In 1815, the deposed emperor Napoleon returned to France and threatened the already devastated and exhausted continent with yet another war. Near the small Belgian municipality of Waterloo, two large, hastily mobilized armies faced each other to decide the future of Europe--Napoleon's forces on one side, and the Duke of Wellington on the other.

With so much at stake, neither commander could have predicted that the battle would be decided by the Second Light Battalion, King's German Legion, which was given the deceptively simple task of defending the Haye Sainte farmhouse, a crucial crossroads on the way to Brussels. In The Longest Afternoon, Brendan Simms recounts how these 400-odd riflemen beat back wave after wave of French infantry until finally forced to withdraw, but only after holding up Napoleon for so long that he lost the overall contest. Their actions alone decided the most influential battle in European history.

Drawing on previously untapped eye-witness reports for accurate and vivid details of the course of the battle, Simms captures the grand choreography and pervasive chaos of Waterloo: the advances and retreats, the death and the maiming, the heroism and the cowardice. He describes the gallant fighting spirit of the French infantrymen, who clambered over the bodies of their fallen comrades as they assaulted the heavily fortified farmhouse--and whose bravery was only surpassed by that of their opponents in the Second Light Battalion. Motivated by opposition to Napoleonic tyranny, dynastic loyalty to the King of England, German patriotism, regimental camaraderie, personal bonds of friendship, and professional ethos, the battalion suffered terrible casualties and fought tirelessly for many long hours, but refused to capitulate or retreat until the evening, by which time the Prussians had arrived on the battlefield in large numbers.

In reorienting Waterloo around the Haye Sainte farmhouse, Simms gives us a riveting new account of the famous battle--an account that reveals, among other things, that Napoleon came much closer than is commonly thought to winning it.
By:   Brendan Simms
Imprint:   Basic Books
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 219mm,  Width: 146mm,  Spine: 19mm
Weight:   327g
ISBN:   9780465064823
ISBN 10:   0465064825
Pages:   208
Publication Date:   10 February 2015
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active
1. Prelude 2. For King and Fatherland 3. A Tragedy of Errors 4. Bolting the Barn Door 5. Inferno 6. Hand to Hand 7. 'Heat and centre of the strife' 8. Legacy: A 'German Victory'?

Brendan Simms is a professor in the History of International Relations and fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. The author of Europe, shortlisted for the Lionel Gelber Prize, he lives in Cambridge, England.

Reviews for The Longest Afternoon

New York Times Book Review Simms tells the story of the combat for La Haye Sainte with the rich, gritty, eyewitness detail that it deserves... Simms' engaging narrative is one of bravery, terror and suffering... Simms offers a reminder that Waterloo was not fought just between the British and French, but was very much a European battle. Wall Street Journal Mr. Simms's fluent and meticulously researched narrative nonetheless provides enough context to engage not only specialists, but also readers unfamiliar with the broader historical background. By focusing upon a particular episode, rather than the bigger picture, Mr. Simms manages to reflect the grim reality of Waterloo better than some more comprehensive surveys. Washington Post A superb little book that is micro-history at its best. Financial Times An hour-by-hour, blow-by-blow account by Brendan Simms of one particularly hard-fought segment of the battle...which achieves the difficult feat of looking from a fresh, useful angle on a subject that is among the most minutely scrutinized in European history...[a] vividly told story...[with] a pacy narrative that evokes the smoke, heat and confusion of battle Spectator, UK Very engaging Evening Standard, UK A vivid and compelling account of a fight that for much of the afternoon was not merely a battle within a battle but was the battle itself. Weekly Standard Short but action-packed book...patient readers will be rewarded by the meticulous way Simms assembles the pieces of an enormously complicated jigsaw puzzle. Washington Independent Review of Books This tight, vivid account brings the reader into the heart of the epic conflict... [A] gripping and original account of men in battle. Providence Journal [Simms] brings his readers into the mud and blood, into the near constant shelling, the cries of the wounded and dying. We are with these soldiers before the battle, hung over, hungry and soaking wet, and during the seemingly endless succession of infantry and cavalry charges. Roanoke Times Told in clear, concise and colorful prose. The rich details and Simms' ability to breathe life into primary source documents make this an exceptional war story. Washington Times Simms brings the life the intensity of war on a 19th-century battlefield, and the depth of bravery in both ranks. Battles and Book Reviews Simms writes from the perspective of the mud-caked battlefield. As a result, Wellington's victory is presented in all its savagery, vainglory, and desperation... [I]t would seem that Waterloo was fought by soldiers who were tortured by right and wrong alike, men who intended to accomplish far more than killing. Military Review Through his clever ability to entwine first-person accounting with historical narrative, Simms allows the reader to explore the many facets of the battle in detailed depth and vivid focus...This is a very authoriative piece. Between the number of powerful first-person accounts and detailed historical events, the book reads as a minute-by-minute eyewitness accounting. The deliberate story line and powerful detailing leaves little room for question...The greatest attraction of this book is its ability to tell the story of the battle in a very realistic sense...The reader is drawn into the history and given insight to feel the accountings in a very real and pragmatic fashion. Military History Simms recounts the fight from a fresh angle, delivering a thoroughly satisfying addition to a vast genre... Aided by a surprising number of letters, memoirs and commentaries from participants, Simms write a vivid account even readers familiar with Waterloo should not pass up. War on the Rocks Narrative and microhistory at its best. Armchair General An important and interesting perspective on a battle... An overview of battle often dehumanizes, describing units of men as mere chess pieces. This book joins many others that attempt to remedy that. There is so much more to be said about Waterloo, how it came to happen, its grand strategic impulses and consequences, Napoleonic warfare in general etc. But as a battle itself is performed by numerous actors in various positions, to be able to see one segment with such accuracy is instructive. Brendan Simms has done an admirable job. Library Journal, starred review Simms does an admirable job of showing that stories do still count. This thoroughly engrossing account will thrill all history lovers. Publishers Weekly For history readers who appreciate grainy, detailed battle accounts, this fine book concerns the carnage, heroism, and occasional stupidity that occurred around a single Belgian farmhouse at the center of the battlefield at Waterloo during a few hours in 1815... A remarkably detailed book. Kirkus [A] gripping account of the bloody, heroic defense of La Haye Sainte...Simms takes advantage of abundant letters and memoirs to deliver an engrossing, often gruesome nuts-and-bolts description of that afternoon. Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power If the Battle of Waterloo saved Europe from Napoleon's return, then just 400 men of the King's German Legion saved Waterloo. Brendan Simms offers a concise, blow-by-blow narrative of how the outnumbered Hanoverian riflemen continuously beat back swarms of French infantry and so secured the British victory. A small masterpiece of scholarship, style, and storytelling. Norman Davies, author of Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations Many people think that the Battle of Waterloo saw the English fighting the French. One might equally argue that it saw the Scottish and Irish fighting the Polish. By telling the fascinating tale of a small band of heroic Hanoverians, The Longest Afternoon stretches our imagination and challenges our complacent stereotypes.

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