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Publisher's Summary

In a masterful dual narrative that pits the heights of human ambition and achievement against the supremacy of nature, New York Times best-selling 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 epi...
©2009 Stephan Talty (P)2009 Random House
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Joshua Kim on 06-10-12


I loved this book so much I immediately went to Netflix and ordered the 2 available documentaries on Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia. Also tried to convince my wife that our family should trace Napoleon's route for a family vacation (still working on her). This is a part of history that I did not know well.....and I had no idea that typhus played such a major role in Napoleon's defeat. Books that combine disease and history are a particular love of mine, and this is one of the best examples. Talty is a wonderful writer, masterfully evoking the horrid details of the retreat from Moscow and the larger role that disease has had in shaping human history. Highly recommended.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By chris on 01-26-10

Wildly Entertaining

Every now and then I gamble on a book I don't think I'll love, and end up being pleasantly surprised. I can't tell you what drew me to this title, but I never would have expected to get so engrossed in a book about Napoleon, Russia, European war, doctor practices, and disease. The narrator is spot-on and this book is so well-written, you will be amazed.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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