Libro 16/52 :: The Illustrious Dead by Stephan Talty


In the movie Good Will Hunting, Will (Matt Damon) meets Sean Maguire played by Robin Williams for the first time. They talk books. Will has a recommendation for Sean:


“United States of America: A Complete History, Volume l. Jesus. If you wanna read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History in the United States. That book’ll f****** knock you on your ass.”


I didn’t read United States of America: A Complete History or Howard Zinn’s book. But I did read The Illustrious Dead by Stephan Talty. This book knocked me on my ass.   




Of the Libro 52 Challenge books I’ve read thus far – this is the best.

Screen shot 2013-05-04 at 11.33.12 AM


The book revolves around Napolean’s 1812 campaign into Russia and the role typhus played in the saga.


You have probably seen this map before; it’s widely regarded as the best statistical graphic ever drawn. For people who evaluate statistical graphics… apparently this is the cat’s pajamas.



It depicts Napolean’s Grande Armée leaving with um… an army of soldiers (600K) and returning through the Russian winter with much, much fewer (60K). The reality that underpins The Illustrious Dead is a mere 25% of the 540K men who died did so on the battlefield. The rest died from typhus, cold, hunger or thirst.


But this isn’t merely a war book.



It’s lessons are numerous.



Supply chains.



Hero worship.

The remarkable extent of human suffering.


The Illustrious Dead illuminates the rise of Napoleon and his accomplishments. Today Napoleon is largely known for being an egotistical little warmonger. But consider this: Upon conquering the better part of Europe, Napoleon would then recruit, motivate and integrate the defeated army into the ranks of the Grande Armée.


This would be akin to the U.S. invading Afghanistan, defeating them and then absorbing their entire armed forces as we rally towards Iran. Following that victory, we win the Iranian hearts and minds and they join our ranks under the American flag as we head towards North Korea.


You get the idea.


To pull this off time and again as you barnstorm a continent, you must be good. Real good. Just look at this roster of the Grande Armée in 1812, prior to leaving France.

• 300,000 Frenchmen, Rhineland Germans, and Dutchmen

• 95,000 Poles

• 35,000 Austrians

• 30,000 Italians

• 24,000 Bavarians

• 20,000 Saxons

• 20,000 Prussians

• 17,000 Westphalians

• 15,000 Swiss

• 4,000 Portuguese

• 3,500 Croats



The greatest tribute to Napoleon’s brilliant hold on France is that he led the largest and strongest fighting force on Earth into battle and 12 months later 90% were dead. Yet few questioned his leadership. Even more staggering, the 10% of the army that was left still believed in Napoleon wholeheartedly.


Painting : Napoleon at Fontainbleau


The fascinating aspect of the role typhus played in the decimation of Nap’s army is this was a bit of déjà vu. Years before, as a malaria epidemic slayed hundreds of Frenchmen daily, Napoleon scrapped his plans for American expansion by handing Thomas Jefferson the greatest gift of his life: the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the US at that point.


The price of Napoleon’s sunk cost in the US?


Less than 3 cents an acre for the 828,000 square miles stretching from Louisiana to Montana.




Talty weaves together an impressive historical account whose threads include insights into Russia, France, England, and America. Numerous times throughout the book I had to remind myself this was a work of non-fiction. This truth is more amazing than a fictitious account could ever be.


Bottom Line: Read this book. It‘ll take you on a incredible ride and make you smarter.



Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente at Red Angle ( He’s reading 52 books this year. He’s ahead of schedule on the reading… a little behind on the writing.



Screen shot 2013-05-04 at 11.32.16 AM

LIBRO 52 Challenge YTD

1. Kennedy/Nixon by Chris Matthews

2. Poke the Box by Seth Godin

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 

NA. Buy-In by John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead

4. Education of an Accidental CEO by David Novak

5. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

6. Blood, Brains and Beer by David Ogilvy

7. Lyndon Johnson :: Master of the Senate by Robert Caro

8. 1776 by David McCullough

9. To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink

NA. Profiles In Courage by JFK*

10. Write It When I’m Gone by Tom DeFrank

11. FDR by Jean Edward Smith

12. The Cluetrain Manifesto by Locke, Searls, Weinberger + Levine

13. One Click by Richard Brandt

14. Persuasive Presentations by Nancy Duarte

NA. James K. Polk by Walter Borneman

15. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

16. The Illustrious Dead by Stephan Talty

Categories: Libro 52 Challenge

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

22 replies


  1. Libro 17/52 :: The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk | redanglespanish
  2. Libro 18/52 :: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Dan Pink « the red angle
  3. Libro 19 + 20/52 :: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson + In Cold Blood by Truman Capote « the red angle
  4. Libro 21/52 :: Ctrl Alt Delete by Mitch Joel « the red angle
  5. Libro 22 + 23/52 :: Down & Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind + Makers by Chris Anderson « the red angle
  6. Libro 24/52: Tales From Q School by John Feinstein « the red angle
  7. Libro 25/52: The Business of Belief by Tom Asacker « the red angle
  8. Libro 26/52: 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman « the red angle
  9. Libro 27/52: Drive by Dan Pink « the red angle
  10. Libro 28/52 :: Enough by John Bogle « the red angle
  11. Libro 29/52 :: Contagious by Jonah Berger « the red angle
  12. Libro 30/52 :: Lexicon by Max Barry « the red angle
  13. Libro 31 + 32/52 :: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman + A Very Short Tour of the Mind by Michael Corballis « the red angle
  14. Libro 33/52 :: The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton « the red angle
  15. Libro 34 + 35/52 :: Choose Yourself by James Altucher + The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzwieg. « the red angle
  16. Libro 36/52 :: Inside The Box by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg. « the red angle
  17. Libro 37 + 38/52 :: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta + Wild by Cheryl Strayed « the red angle
  18. Libro 39/52 :: Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. « the red angle
  19. Libro 42/52 :: Black Irish by Stephan Talty « the red angle
  20. Libro 43/52 :: The Firm by Duff McDonald « the red angle
  21. Libros 44-50 :: The final chapter of the Libro 52* Challenge. « the red angle
  22. Top 5 Books of 2013 :: My Next Book…. « the red angle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: