Customer Reviews: Napoleon in Egypt
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on March 10, 2009
It's the careless statements about collateral details which cast doubt on the accuracy of the main narrative. For example:

page 7: Alexander's "body was brought back to Alexandria to be buried in a magnificent tomb, made of gold and glass". Not the tomb. The original coffin was made of gold and later replaced by Ptolemy X about 89 BC with one of glass (or, more likely, translucent calcite).

page 79: "Dolomieu ... discovered a seven-ton stone sarcophagus covered in hieroglyphs which he took to be the long-lost tomb of Alexander the Great. ... Several decades later this sarcophagus would be identified as that of Nectanebo I". Actually Nectanebo II. (The author might have given us the sequel: that is, the rumour that Napoleon had wanted to be buried in the sarcophagus of his hero, Alexander, and so had it sent off to France in 1801. But the ship was captured by the British and the sarcophagus ended up in the British Museum.)

page 56: "Nelson ... was a battle-scared veteran, having lost his right eye leading his men ashore at Corsica". Not quite. He lost the "sight" of his right eye not the eyeball. (He never wore an eye-patch.)

page 136: Cairo's police chief, Barthelemy, is described as being "habitually dressed in a large white turban". This is unlikely as he was "a Greek Christian". In the Ottoman Empire, only Moslems were allowed to wear white turbans. Greeks had to wear blue and Jews yellow turbans.

page 160: "Nelson watched from the "Vanguard" as the sun sank behind the fort at the end of the Aboukir peninsula..." and the author then goes on to describe a great deal of the "Battle of the Nile" until "around eight p.m." as if the conflict had taken place in the dark. In fact, at Alexandria on August 1, sunset does not occur until 19:56 and twilight lasts until 20:22. The author could have found this out by simply consulting a nautical almanac or a web site. "Just before ten p.m." the French flagship "L'Orient" blew up (at just an hour-and-a-half into the night).

page 166 footnote: "the American poet Felicia Hemans". She was born in Liverpool, lived in Wales and England, and died in Dublin. She never set foot in America. As well as "Casabianca" ("The boy stood on the burning deck ...") she wrote the equally lackluster (and erroneous) poem "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England" which was drummed into American school children until the 1950s. Perhaps that's why the author thinks she was "American".

page 185: "Desaix and his division began heading south down the Nile." Rather, "up the Nile" as it flows from south to north. (The same disorientation on pages 278, 286.)

page 389: "This black basalt slab... known as the Rosetta Stone." Actually "granite".

page 411: The author tells us that both Kléber and Desaix were killed "on the very same day". But two dates are given: 18 June for Desaix at Marengo in Italy (on page 408) and 24 June for Kléber in Cairo (on page 411). Both dates are wrong. The two generals died on 14 June 1800.

page 425: The Napoleonic bee emblem "was copied directly from the hieroglyph of an ancient Egyptian temple" and designed by Denon according to the author. No source is given for this intriguing bit of Egyptomania. The Napoleonic bee emblem looks nothing like the Egyptian bee hieroglyph and is generally thought to have been derived from Charlemagne's recreated regalia used for Napoleon's coronation.

page 429 note 1: "Different sources give Napoleon's height as anything between five foot two and five foot eight." The author forgets to tell us that there were English feet and French feet in use at the time. The French foot (pied du roi) was bigger than the English foot. Thus, 5' 2" in French measurements is about 5' 7" in English measurements. Both measurements equal about 1.7 metres.

I read a library copy of the British Jonathan Cape 2007 hardcover edition (ISBN 978-0224076814) which has the worst sort of glued binding (where the pages just fall out). The dust cover has a reproduction of Jean-Léon Gérôme's fanciful 1867 painting called "Napoleon and his General Staff in Egypt".

I found "Bonaparte in Egypt" by J. Christopher Herold, first published in 1962 and reprinted as a paperback in 2005 (ISBN 978-1844152858), to be a better alternative.
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VINE VOICEon November 26, 2008
Illustrated with maps, diagrams and photographs this book looks at Napoleon's ambitious overseas adventure... his invasion of Egypt while he was serving the Republic as a general.

Fresh from his campaign in Italy, Napoleon collected a large fleet, transports and a small army, all with the consent of the Directory. His objective was to take over Egypt, which was nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire, and in doing so spread the ideals of the Revolution and to threaten British holdings in India.

The author does an excellent job of discussing the practical problems involved in collecting the invasion force, the initial campaign for Egypt, Napoleon's attempts to rebuild that ancient country's social structure in accordance with his ideals of liberty and fraternity and his scientific mission to explore the land of the Pharoahs. The book is not only well-researched but it is also a gripping read. I feel that it could have done without intimate details of Napoleon's love life, but that may be just me. Otherwise, this is an excellent military and social study.
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on April 26, 2009
This is an exceptionally well done book. The scope of this work is on the mark. It describes the political, military, and scientific aspects of the expedition, giving each aspect its due. It also adroitly covers the other players in the story: the Egyptians, their Mameluke overlords, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Navy.

It offers food for thought on Napoleon's motivations concerning the expedition as well as later after be became ruler of France. There are also insights regarding interactions between westerners and middle eastern people which, depending on your point of view, may have application to the present.

All of the information is relayed in logical, smooth flowing prose that is a pleasure to read. Detracting from this pleasure are errors of fact/terminology that create doubt about the author's accuracy. In addition to errors of fact cited by other reviewers, I would like to point out two:
* Providing background between Egypt and Europe, the author writes "...the charms of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, proved irresistible first to Julius Caesar and then to Mark Antony, while rivalry between these two ambitious men plunged the Roman Empire into civil war." (pp. 7 & 8). False. Mark Antony was a loyal adherent of Julius Caesar and was one of his most trusted lieutenants. There was no rivalry leading to war between these two men. After Julius Caesar was assassinated, there was a rivalry between Mark Antony and Octavian (later Augustus) which resulted in civil war. The author's confusing Julius Caesar with Octavian is a salient error given this is basic history.

* On page 88 the author writes, "...he supervised the 200 men of his platoon in setting up their camp,...". I don't believe that a platoon comprised 200 men. Platoons are much smaller. This misapplication of basic terminology calls into question the author's ability to accurately assess the military memoirs that are his sources.

It's disappointing that a book that seems to be so well researched contains such fundamental errors that a reader is led to question its overall accuracy. The storytelling is superb but the history is sloppy.
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on August 4, 2014
The more I read about Napoleon in Egypt, the more I am wondering about this myth that Napoleon was a great leader. Forcing his army to march in the desert without water, not bringing proper artillery, and questions remaining whether or not he ordered his sick troops to be euthanized, the example of great leadership simply is not here during this period of time in Napoleon's life. As for this book, well written, focused on Napoleon's time in Egypt with just a brief segment before and after. Once again, he makes for an interesting character.(less)
4 minutes ago · comment · see review
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on March 18, 2016
This book is a great account of Napoleon in Egypt. It also contains a lot of information on the officers and men that served under him and the incredible hardships they faced. There are also some very interesting parts about the savants that Napoleon brought with him to Egypt as well. If you enjoy a good book on Napoleon this is one you won't want to put down.
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on June 8, 2016
A european army expect to be see as "Liberators" of a Middle East Country.....was more two hundreds years ago, can be today, The result was the same....caos, death and resistance of the arabs,

In favour of Napoleon, him did show more care of the muslim faith than the USA in Iraq.
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on January 8, 2009
I enjoyed every page of this superb history. In excellent, entertaining prose we are given the reasons and context for this strange expedition, the many personalities involved, and their adventures on the way to Egypt (where they miss being intercepted by the British navy by one day!) We are then treated to a blow-by-blow account of the military encounters and political machinations that ensued on the part of Napoleon, his generals, the feeble French goverment back home, the Mamelukes, the Turks, the British, and Egypt's neighbors. The aftermath and consequences of all this are satisfyingly, often shrewdly, dealt with. This expedition eerily foreshadowed the rest of Napoleon's career. But this is not all - there are the many scientists and "savants" which Napoleon brought with him, and their groundbreaking discoveries which began Egyptology as we know it. There are wonderful accounts of daily life in Cairo at the time and the local Muslim point of view. (Another fascination for me was that reading this book, I could not help but think of the recent ill-advised U.S. invasion of Iraq, whose organizers hoped to be greeted as liberators and spreaders of enlightened government, but were instead scorned as interfering invaders by many.) This book is full of amusing details. I couldn't ask for a more clear, engaging account of this inherently interesting subject.
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on June 19, 2014
When people think of the Napoleonic Wars, the retreat in the snows of Russia, Nelson's great victory at Trafalgar, the Sun of Austerlitz, and the final battle on the bloody fields of Waterloo usually come to mind. But little remembered is in 1798 when Napoleon and a French Revolutionary army invaded Ottoman Egypt. This turned into a 2 year war in the Middle East, with the French fighting the Turks, Mamluks, and even the British. There were many colorful battles involved: The Pyramids, the Nile, Acre, and Mt Tabor. It was like the Crusades, and very much a holy war. This is a splendid book and one of the best Napoleonic reads out there! (and mind I have read a lot of them)
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on January 31, 2010
After having my interest stirred by a long ago documentary, I've been searching for just such a book like this, chronicling Napoleon's adventure in the East (or the Orient as he liked to think of it). The book is easy to read and goes at a good pace and is not just all about tactical manoeuvers. Of course I couldn't help but notice the parallels between the French invading Egypt to "liberate" the people from their oppressors and the U.S. invading Iraq to "liberate" them from Saddam. I'm not going to nitpick the minor errors because they're not important.

But now Strathern has whetted my appetite to learn more about some supporting real-life characters from this drama. One is only a footnote in the story, a Madame Tempie. She was the wife of a frigate captain and she practically challenged Napoleon to a duel to show that wearing petticoats does not automatically signify cowardice. I want to know more about this woman! The other is Sir Sidney Smith. I'd never heard of him until reading this book. I don't know why as he was running around doing all sorts of daring do, from saving the life of the Swedish king to being captured and escaping the French, going on to serve under the Turkish sultan, as well as scuffling with Napoleon on several different occasions. I'm surprised I've not been able to find that many books about him on Amazon.

But this just goes to show you some of the exciting and interesting people you'll find in this book.
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VINE VOICEon March 27, 2009
The author conveys the drama and adventure of the young Napoleon and his army in Egypt. The prose can't help but grip the reader, even a reader who knows the outcome of the stories, battles and adventures will keep turning pages.

The author describes and documents his take on Napoleon's motives and the political pressures on him. He describes how he acquired his resources, refreshingly with facts and explanations. (The financial end of campaigns is often generalized in this type of narrative.) He follows the chronology of events with a few fittingly placed interludes that span time that give a flavor of the daily life in Cairo. He describes some of the interpersonal differences and loyalties and in the end summarizes what happened to the survivors later in their lives.

By describing how the taxes were collected, how Beys paid their tributes, how "justice" was meted, how trade was insecure and thereby constrained, Strathern showed not just how the Mameluke system worked, but also how Egypt related to the Ottoman Empire.

A few reviewers have noted inaccuracies but none of these will be memorable or relevant to the general reader and none changes my overall response to the work. Paul Strathern can write and bring to life the drama, tragedy and significance of the short incursion.

I highly recommend this book for general readers of history.
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