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

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The Illustrious Dead

The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army

By Stephan Talty

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Format: Paperback, 315 pages
Other Information: Illustrated
Published In: United States, 01 June 2010
"Gripping . . . a compelling story of personal hubris and humbling defeat."--Jack Weatherford, author of the "New York Times" bestseller "Genghis Khan and the Making of theModern World " In a masterful dual narrative that pits the heights of human ambition and achievement against the supremacy of nature, "New York Times" bestselling author Stephan Talty tells the story of a mighty ruler and a tiny microbe, antagonists whose struggle would shape the modern world. In the spring of 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte was at the height of his powers. Forty-five million called him emperor, and he commanded a nation that was the richest, most cultured, and advanced on earth. No army could stand against his impeccably trained, brilliantly led forces, and his continued sweep across Europe seemed inevitable. Early that year, bolstered by his successes, Napoleon turned his attentions toward Moscow, helming the largest invasion in human history. Surely, Tsar Alexander's outnumbered troops would crumble against this mighty force. But another powerful and ancient enemy awaited Napoleon's men in the Russian steppes. Virulent and swift, this microscopic foe would bring the emperor to his knees. Even as the Russians retreated before him in disarray, Napoleon found his army disappearing, his frantic doctors powerless to explain what had struck down a hundred thousand soldiers. The emperor's vaunted military brilliance suddenly seemed useless, and when the Russians put their own occupied capital to the torch, the campaign became a desperate race through the frozen landscape as troops continued to die by the thousands. Through it all, with tragic heroism, Napoleon's disease-ravaged, freezing, starving men somehow rallied, again and again, to cries of "Vive l'Empereur!" Yet Talty's sweeping tale takes us far beyond the doomed heroics and bloody clashes of the battlefield. "The Illustrious Dead" delves deep into the origins of the pathogen that finally ended the mighty emperor's dreams of world conquest and exposes this "war plague's" hidden role throughout history. A tale of two unstoppable forces meeting on the road to Moscow in an epic clash of killer microbe and peerless army, "The Illustrious Dead" is a historical whodunit in which a million lives hang in the balance. "From the Hardcover edition."

About the Author

STEPHAN TALTY is a widely published journalist who has contributed to "The New York Times Magazine," "GQ, Men's Journal, Time Out New York, Details," and many other publications. He is the "New York Times" bestselling author of "Empire of Blue Water" and "Mulatto America: At the Crossroads of Black and White Culture." "From the Hardcover edition."

Reviews

As much a history of typhus as it is a history of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, this book presents both subjects in graphic detail, leaving the reader with no illusions of the "glory" of 19th-century warfare. In the spring of 1812, Napoleon assembled the largest army seen in Europe up to that time for the invasion and conquest of Russia-690,000 men under arms, most of whom would actually cross into Russian territory, followed by approximately 50,000 civilians. That's more people than lived then in Paris; this moving population would have ranked as the fifth-largest city in the world. Some 500,000 of them would never return, less than a quarter of them dying as a result of combat; the reason for most of the deaths is the subject of this book. Using contemporary sources, Talty (Empire of Blue Water) presents the whole horrifying experience as lived by the common soldier, the doctors, and officers up the ranks to the generals. He makes his case for the typhus being transmitted by the body louse. Strangely enough, the disease was no longer prevalent in Europe after 1814. Strongly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/09.].-David Lee Poremba, Winderemere, FL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, typhus ravaged his army, killing hundreds of thousands and ensuring his defeat, according to this breathless combination of military and medical history. After summarizing the havoc this disease wreaked on earlier armies and sketching Napoleon's career, the book describes his invasion of Russia with more than 600,000 men. Almost immediately typhus struck. Infected lice excrete the microbe in their feces, and victims acquire the disease by scratching the itchy bite. Talty (Mulatto America) describes the effects in graphic detail: severe headache, high fever, delirium, generalized pain and a spotty rash. Death may take weeks, and fatalities approached 100% among Napoleon's increasingly debilitated, filthy, half-starved soldiers. Talty makes a good case that it was typhus, not "General Winter," that crushed Napoleon. Readers should look elsewhere for authoritative histories of Napoleon's wars and of infectious diseases, but Talty delivers a breezy, popular account of a gruesome campaign, emphasizing the equally gruesome epidemic that accompanied it. 12 maps. (June) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"An eloquent and vivid portrait that includes a view through the telescopes of rear-echeloncommanders, the rifle sights of front-line skirmishers, and the clouded spectacles of field surgeons laboring in candlelit abattoirs . . . the finest kind of popular history."--William Rosen, author of "Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague" and the "End of the Roman Empire" Praise for "Empire of Blue Water""A swashbuckling adventure . . . [the] characters leap to life." --"The New York Times Book Review" "Reeking of authentic blood and thunder, and as richly detailed as a work of fiction . . . dramatically evokes the rough and tumble age when pirates owned the seas. A thrilling and fascinating adventure."--Caroline Alexander, author of "The Endurance" "Stephan Talty's vigorous history of seventeenth-century pirates of the Caribbean will sate even fickle Jack Sparrow fans. A pleasure to read from bow to stern."--"Entertainment Weekly" "Serves up swashbuckling history at its briny, blood-soaked best, with enough violence and passion to keep the pages flying by."--Tom Reiss, author of "The Orientalist" "Talty's delicious new book succeeds where other volumes of history fail. . . .A ripping yarn, worthy of its gaudy subject."--"Dallas Morning News" "From the Hardcover edition."

EAN: 9780307394057
ISBN: 0307394050
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (CA)
Dimensions: 20.37 x 13.46 x 1.88 centimetres (0.32 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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