Kate's Reviews > The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army

The Illustrious Dead by Stephan Talty
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's review
Oct 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: history, french-history
Read in October, 2011

While the title led me to believe this would be more of a medical exploration of Napoleon's Grande Armee, it focuses far more on the battle tactics (or lack thereof) that led to the failure of his Russian Expedition. But this didn't prevent me from enjoying the book, although enjoy is a strange way to put it, especially since this book contains graphic accounts of many types of tragedies, from torture and battlefield slaughter to the misery and psychological torment of the diseased and survivors.

Talty is a good writer, and takes the time to explain some of the less-familiar terminology of war, as well as supplements his descriptions with battlefield maps for better navigation. His thesis states that Typhus and the unwillingness of Napoleon to bulk up his medical corps led to the downfall of the invasion of Russia. I'd disagree--there were many points at work in this, which Talty outlines deftly: ideological differences between the Russians and the Grande Armee on how to wage war, natural forces, lack of resources (especially food), and major tactical blunders and missed opportunities by Napoleon and his generals. In all of the book, typhus becomes a sideshow to the major carnage of war. I wish Talty had spent more time on the actual anatomical and physiological effects of the disease, and the medical thought of the time.

Overall a good book, but far more a book of military history than medical history.
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message 1: by Mel (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mel Ostrov Fantastic review! I hate to use cliches but you hit the nail right on the head. Wish you could do one for me, positive or negative.


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