What the Editors Are Reading


As a means to a brief escape from the (so far) miserable 21st century I picked up and began reading The Reason Why, an excellent work of nonacademic history published in 1953 by Cecil Woodham-Smith (in England, the sexes share the name “Cecil,” as they do “Evelyn”) that tells the background story of the famous charge of the Light Brigade against a Russian gun emplacement near Balaclava in the Crimea on October 25, 1854.  The charge was ordered by Lord Lucan and led by Lord Cardigan, brothers-in-law who detested each other equally.  Owing to a miscommunication in the chain of command, the British cavalry was sent against the wrong artillery; and though it managed to overrun the guns and kill some Russian soldiers, it was forced to retreat at once.  Of the more than 700 horsemen who rode down the narrow valley under withering crossfire from the high ground left and right, 195 returned.  Lucan and Cardigan, both arrogant and unpleasant men—the first entirely careless of human life and the second an infamous martinet—were as brave as they were insufferable, as even their detractors admitted.  Following the battle, Cardigan returned to his yacht, where he had a bath, drank a bottle of champagne,...

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