Bette Midler observed that it might be twenty to one in the morning in New York, but it’s still 1940 in London. In which case, it’s still a quarter past six in the evening in Paris. If history marches like a timepiece, then France’s clock stopped in 1815, around eight on the night of June 18 when, as the charge of Napoleon’s chasseurs crested the ridge that lay between his lines and Wellington’s center, the riflemen of the 1st Foot Guards rose up from the reverse slope and opened fire at point-blank range. The wild ride that began at the Bastille in 1789 ended outside Brussels in a wet meadow—in Brabant Dutch, a waterloo.

Historians may insist that Napoleon’s defeat was sealed at 1630 hours, when the Prussians attacked Napoleon’s flank at Plancenoit. But memory is emotional, and...


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