The career of Napoleon and the advancement of the greatest personal epic since Julius Cæsar were brought to a shuddering halt on the evening of Sunday, 18 June 1815. In his spirited account of one of the most significant 48-hour periods of all time, Andrew Roberts combines revealing recent research with extraordinary pace as he expands the five key phases of the battle.

A new chief of staff; a missed opportunity to advance; an untimely and accidental cavalry attack; an apocalyptic downpour that fatally softened the earth underfoot and thwarted the Emperor’s colossal cannon; a myriad of partially-informed snap decisions – were elements that allowed Wellington’s armies to grasp victory from the command of France. Amongst the all-too-human explanations for the blunder that cost Napoleon his throne, Roberts sets the political, strategic and historical scene, and finally shows why Waterloo was such an important historical punctuation mark.

The generation after Waterloo saw the birth of the modern era: henceforth wars were fought with infinitely more appalling methods by constantly changing blocs of powers. By the time of the Great War, chivalry was dead. The honour of bright uniform and the tangible spirit of élan, esprit, and éclat and – at least initially – the aesthetic beauty of battle took their final dance at Waterloo.