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The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade
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The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  359 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
Nothing in British campaign history has ever equalled the tragic farce that was the Charge of the Light Brigade. In this fascinating study, Cecil Woodham-Smith shows that responsibility for the fatal mismanagement of the affair rested with the Earls of Cardigan and Lucan, brothers-in-law and sworn enemies for more than thirty years. In revealing the combination of pride an ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 1st 1991 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1953)
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The news of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the left of them filled the newspaper reading public of Victorian Britain with the certainty that Someone had blunder'd in the conduct of the Crimean War.

Cecil Woodham-Smith's clever, insightful account of the Charge of the Light Brigade starts with the backgrounds of Lords Lucan and Cardigan and the rivalry between the two men which came to head during the Crimean war when Lucan was in overall command of the ca
Roger Brunyate
The People Behind the Battle
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

— Tennyson.
Pursuing a friend's question about the lack of fiction set during the Crimean War (1854–56) I have read Tolstoy's semi-autobiographical Sevastopol Sketches and Beryl Bainbridge's idiosyncratic Master Georgie. In terms of historical drama, I also refreshed my memory of Tony Richardson's 1968 movie, The Charge of the Light Brigade. Lacking any other fiction (exce
Ann Goddard
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books about history, and it has become even more relevant with the recent troubles in the Crimean Peninsula. Today's students are less familiar with the poem's famous verses: "Theirs is not to reason why, theirs but to do and die." Woodham-Smith began researching her book about Florence Nightengale and became fascinated by the war which brought the famous nurse to prominence. It tells of the vagaries of the British Army at the time, the egos, and the weird way that war ...more
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, history
In the modern era, military blunders abound with such regularity that they hardly draw much interest or surprise anymore. In such an era, a book that considers the most spectacular military blunder of the Victorian era, the Charge of the Light Brigade, might merely seem to be whistling in the wind. However, the maneuver at the crux of the Crimean war continues to be significant today not simply for the scope and nature of the event itself, but for its ramifications. The Charge of the Light Briga ...more
Woodham-Smith does the complex topic full justice, without becoming overbearing. This is THE book to read to comprehend what led to this disastrous action.

I've been and still am currently studying the Great War and am dumbfounded by the similarities and the fact that indeed the British general staff had ample proof of its defunct tactics and concepts already in 1853-1856. It was all there: trench warfare, the prototype of machine gun action, grape and canister shot, shelling--alongside with tho
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
This history puts paid to any misconceptions that one might have about the suicidal charge at Balaclava. The charge has been memorialized in poem and film but here is the real story and it reads like exciting fiction. Through their ineptitude, Lords Cardigan and Lucan sacrificed the men under their command as cannon fodder for the Russian guns and over the years it has somehow become glorious. The author does not gloss over the reasons for the assignment of these incompetent commanders or their ...more
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
Two men in history, two brutal men in history, this is their story i.e Thomas Lord Brudenell and George Charles Lord Bingham. These two men each singlehandedly caused unimaginable amount of terror on their subordinates for trivialities magnified only by them.

It was the age when wealth and position was favored more as opposed to experience and education. This was the principle that was used when appointing commanding officers in the army.

Now wealth plus ignorance equals pride, arrogance, stupidi
Christopher Saunders
Cecil Woodham-Smith's The Reason Why recounts the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade with unparalleled style. Not a truly objective history, Woodham-Smith's book is an eloquent, sweeping condemnation of the Victorian class system. Using two officers - Lords Cardigan and Lucan - as a prism on British society, she shows the combination of arrogance, bad judgment and miscommunication that led to the sacrifice of the "Noble 600."

James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan proves singularly representativ
Adam Tschorn
During the men's European runway shows this summer, I overheard a fashion editor describing a military history book he'd read. "The commanding officers in the British army at the time of the Crimean War were dandy aristocrats who were more concerned with one-upping each other with over-the-top uniforms and military regalia than they were with military strategy," he said.

With the cardinal-red military jacket, blue sash and chest full of medals worn by Prince William during his April nuptials to K
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the classic history of the personalities and events leading up to the Charge of the Light Brigade.

It is quite readable and engaging: the author's tone is mostly conversational, and to a modern audience feels like a cross between a war story and Downton Abbey. The book has a couple of deficiencies: it's hard to keep up with the large (and often similarly titled) cast of individuals, and there is a LOT of attention paid to the real and perceived slights between these aristocrats- but their
Susan Cooper
Nov 28, 2014 rated it liked it
For anybody interested in military science, this book would receive four or five stars. For me, it had more detail than I am interested in.
Ian Baaske
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
At the time of the Crimean War in 1853, the British army was run by incompetent aristocrats who had purchased their commissions. Not only were the officers with actual battle experience on the Indian subcontinent not promoted according to their ability, they were openly despised by many of the upper echelon. It was thought that keeping the military in the hands of the propertied classes would prevent revolutionary fervor from spreading through the ranks, as it had in other countries. Because the ...more
Mardin Aminpour
Apr 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Cecil Woodham-Smith’s The Reason Why recounts the tragedy of the charge of the light brigade at Balaclava in the Crimean War to ascertain the reasons that brought about this calamity. On 25 October 1854, the British light brigade, acting on a miscommunicated dispatch, charged against the Russian troops on the heights overlooking the British position in the valley. The Russian heavy artillery turned the valley into a British bloodbath. Around 600 men died in a miscalculated charge. Loss of suppli ...more
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A most fascinating book on the men who lead the Charge of the Light Brigade on that fateful day in October 26, 1854 against unbelievable odds. Specifically surrounding the background and tension that lead up to the charge between Lord Cardigan and Lord Lucan.

The Charge, though it does not necessarily represent the largest of English blunders, was at a turning point in England’s military system of purchasing commissions with rank and money. Lucan and Cardigan who lead the charge were fully incom
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
A really fascinating account of the personalities and events that led to the military debacle known as The Charge of the Light Brigade. At least, I'd thought it was always known as a military debacle, but apparently, until this book was written in the 1950's, it seems to have been looked on as an unfortunate mistake that only served to highlight the courage, honor, and quality of the British soldier. In the immediate aftermath of The Charge, the officer who led the charge, Lord Cardigan, was cel ...more
Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Aptly named book that not only explains the why, but does so with breathtaking color and detail, brilliantly capturing the Monty Python quality of the miscast aristocrats Lord Cardigan and Lord Lucan, brothers in law barely on speaking terms, the consequences of whose ineptitude, one-upmanship, and utter lack of humility is vividly illuminated at every term. The pomposity of these men reduced me to laughter and exclamations on every other page. In the process, Woodham-Smith draws a devastating p ...more
Jul 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
What a story! This book has been on my shelf for decades – it belonged to my dad, and I remember him telling me that it was a good read. He was right – The Reason Why is very readable popular historical writing, in fact it’s a bit of a page turner, written in a style that hasn’t dated since it was published in 1957. There’s the astonishing arrogance of Lord Cardigan displayed in numerous run-ins with the military authorities and fellow officers, there’s the complete indifference of Lord Lucan to ...more
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

But how did such a colossal military fuck-up happen?

This book tells the story of the power, patronage and personality conflicts that led to that fateful moment.

Since my first exposure to this book in a college history class, I regularly revisit this book for a fascinating look at just how absurdly screwed up this era could be. You get a good handle on the personalities of the parties involved - For the
Les Wolf
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An exciting book. The story of that fateful charge of the Light Brigade is the story of Lord Cardigan and Lord Lucan and the aristocracy that shaped the military at that time. The privilege and prejudice, the character flaws and tactical oversights and the perceptions and experience of the military men in charge are all explored in a fascinating way.
The book is filled with ironic and amusing consequences. The misinterpreted orders and the surprising unanticipated victories, the elevation of the
Mar 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an interesting book. As a frequenter of Regency era literature I was familiar with the basics of the 'purchase' system for commissioned officers in the British military during that time.
Although, Ms. Woodham-Smith is far from unbiased, and has a solid soapbox under her, this was a compelling read detailing two battles during the Crimean War (Alma and Balaclava) that were so woefully mismanaged and showed so definitively the incompetence of the British commanding officers (mainly Lords
Oct 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
"The Reason Why" by Cecil Woodham-Smith is a beautifully written, thrilling, non-fiction page-turner. If you have any interest in military history or Victorian England, I heartily recommend it. What is most amazing about the author's achievement is how consistently well-written it is. Woodham-Smith is as adept at describing the intricacies of the psyches of her subjects as she is explaining the strategic aspects of battle. The first two-thirds of the book are devoted to the two main characters: ...more
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
I first read The Reason Why way back in 1982 for English in my final year of high school. It was the book I enjoyed most out of all the books I had to read for school that year and was probably the one that started my interest in reading history. Nearly thirty years later, I still think it measures up well against most similar books I have since read. In trying to understand what lay behind the ill fated Charge of the Light Brigade, Cecil Woodham Smith delves far into the backgrounds Lord Cardig ...more
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Reason Why looks at the causes of the defeat of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. This book follows two Generals through their military careers and what leads them to the battle of Balaclava. Lord Lucan and Lord Cartigan are at odds during their entire military career. Fighting back and forth and trying everything they can to discredit the other. The book follows their careers through all of the bad decisions and cover ups that they do until they are both sent to the battle field to figh ...more
Jun 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: military-history
This was a very good book and an extremely interesting read. It was also very informative of conditions that existed in the British army after the Napoleonic wars, through the Crimean War. It centers around the personalities of Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan, and examines the conditions that lead to the Charge of the Light Brigade in Crimea. It was extremely frustrating to read about the systemic incompetence the existed in the British army, at this time. What was even more amazing was that these ...more
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. A fascinating tale of the most famous disaster in British military history. Cecil Woodham-Smith shows that responsibility for the fatal mismanagement of the affair rested with the Earls of Cardigan and Lucan, brothers-in-law and sworn enemies for more than thirty years. In revealing the combination of pride and obstinacy that was to prove so fatal, the author gives us a picture of a vanished world, in which heroism and military glory guaranteed an immortality impossib ...more
Colleen Browne
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A concise history of the Charge of the Light Brigade written like well written fiction in Woodham-Smith's characteristic style. Smith brings to life the brothers in law charged with directing the brigades that met with such abject failure in Balaclava in the Crimean War. I read The Great Hunger for the first time as an undergraduate back in the late 70's and was impressed with the research and writing of the author at the time. I have since re-read it and largely because Woodham-Smith authored t ...more
davidson mulkey
Nov 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a great examination of the character of 2 men born to privaledge and the army of a nation that allowed them to purchase their way to become commanders of men.

"Do you have experience in battle leading a professionally trained army?"

"Tut, tut my deaw fewwow. My fathew is the 6th Earw of Cawdigan. Haw, haw...Hewe is some cowd hawd cash."

"Oh, I see. Well that changes everything. Here's you reciept and your sword Lieutenant-Colonel Cardigan. Go tell those 1000 men what to do."

This book was a
May 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, bookgroup
I have to admit I started this book with a bad attitude, planning to skim it--it wasn't the one I wanted to read. In the end, I had to admit it was good popular history--shocking how ridiculous the guys in charge were--sound familiar? Nice to know that if nothing else, at a remove of 150 years people agree how ridiculous and disastrous leaders can be. Bonus: as a knitter, it's always fun to read about Raglans, Cardigans, and Balaclavas.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
At the beginning of the book, I am wondering "where is this going?" and "how am I supposed to keep track of all of these names and personalities?" About half way through, it all comes together, and well worth the work of the set up. Even feeling a little lost in the first half, the book is a well-written "page-turner." Honestly, I can't believe I stayed up past my bedtime reading about the Crimean War, but it was absolutely fascinating.
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Military history- not a subject I'd normally be interested in, but decided to read a chapter before getting rid of the book. Ended up getting hooked thanks probably to the author's writing style- she made this strange system and some of the main players in it (they were real pieces of work!) unexpectedly fascinating.
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Cecil Blanche Woodham-Smith (née Fitzgerald) was a British historian and biographer. She wrote four popular history books, each dealing with a different aspect of the Victorian era.
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