How the French Won Waterloo by Stephen Clarke

How the French Won Waterloo by Stephen Clarke – or Think They Did was published in the 200th Anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo. It’s the second book I read by Clarke and it will not the last. His style is hilarious, I loved the first book I’ve read by him, 1000 Years of Annoying the French. It does have a catchy title and it is just fab.

He says that: “Two centuries after the Battle of Waterloo, the French are still in denial.” I thought he was joking, until I’ve read a review for his book on goodreads: “Tous les Français savent que la bataille de Waterloo a été une terrible et douloureuse défaite de la France, de Napoléon et tous les idéaux portés par la Révolution et l’Empire.” Right… terrible and painful defeat of his ideals? Oh dear… there was another one in Europe, more recently, with a few similar ideals, trying to conquer the whole of Europe for his people. His people (rightly I might add) don’t celebrate him though, his book was banned, and he is viewed as a black mark on Germany’s history by all. So, how come Napoleon is viewed differently in France is puzzling. For me, the terrible and painful thing about Napoleon is that his wars, by 1815, managed to kill or wound ~30% of the Frenchmen under 25, and they were attacking, not defending themselves.

Clarke mentions in the book that Napoleon annexed Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, and most of modern-day Germany. I’m an outsider when it comes to this, I wasn’t born or raised in neither of those countries, nor Britain and France. At school we’ve learned about the Napoleonic wars as part of the European history and he was not presented in a good light, obviously. I imagined the views were widely similar in all those countries, including France.

How the French Won Waterloo by Stephen Clarke

I think the best way to describe the book is to copy a short passage from it. It’s relevant to both the way Napoleon is presented in France and Clarke’s writing style:

“Every year the Fondation Napoleon offers six grants of 7,500 euros to post-graduate students writing a thesis on Napoleon. The Fondation Napoleon is an organisation whose mission statement is to ‘support the work of historians, to study Napoleonic history and inform the general public about it, and to help preserve and highlight Napoleonic heritage’, so it is a pretty sure bet that subjects like ‘Damage caused to the French economy by Napoleon’s use of his conscripts as cannon fodder’ or ‘Trying to trace the lost artistic treasures looted by Napoleon’s soldiers throughout this empire’ probably won’t receive a grant. And 7,500 euros may not sound very much, but French universities charge almost no tuition fees, so the grant represents about a year’s rent for a student – a useful sum that also ensures the continued survival of Napoleon’s glory.”

If you like the passage, you’d love the book. For me, it gets 5 stars.

How the French Won Waterloo by Stephen Clarke

Details about the picture: Waterloo is in Belgium, so I’ve used some Belgian waffles as a prop.
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Century
Year it was published: 2015
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): History
Pages: 304

About the author: The way he describes himself on his website is fun, so this is a small extract:
“I grew up in Bournemouth, where I played bass in some of the worst rock bands in musical history before leaving town to study French and German at Oxford.
After university, I got a series of high-powered jobs – in the wine industry (grape picking), tertiary sector (washing up in a German hotel), and in international diplomacy (teaching English to bored French businessmen).
As soon as I heard about the possibility of a French 35-hour week, I moved to Paris and got a job as a journalist on an English-language magazine.
I also do my bit for the non-fiction side of Anglo-French relations. There’s Talk to the Snail, a little book that tries to describe French society according to ten “commandments”.”
Books by Stephen Clarke: 1000 Years of Annoying the French; Dirty Bertie; How the French Won Waterloo (or Think They Did); The French Revolution & What Went Wrong.
Website & Social Media Links: stephenclarkewriter



1 thought on “How the French Won Waterloo by Stephen Clarke”

  • It’s a period in history in which I don’t have a lot of knowledge, so perhaps this is a book I should read. I’ll admit my curiosity is piqued. I enjoyed the excerpt you shared and find the titles to both books by this author hilarious!
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