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Napoleon III: A Life Hardcover – December, 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is a sparkling portrait of the man who ruled France from the aftermath of the 1848 revolution until his catastrophic defeat by the Prussians in 1870. Louis Napoleon, benevolent dictator and sexual addict, is rescued from the shadows of his more famous uncle and more esoteric academic studies. Journalist and biographer Bresler (The Mystery of Georges Simenon) tells his story with verve: his narrative is vivid without extravagance, and meticulous without losing momentum. After a childhood in exile and a series of bungled military conspiracies, the daring young Louis escaped from prison dressed as a workman. His beautiful English lover helped subsidize his rise to power as prince-president and later as emperor. During Louis's reign, bloody revolution gave way to ballroom festivity. At one dance in the Tuileries Palace, Louis saw his future empress, the Spanish beauty Eugenia de Montijo, enter in a "flamboyant gown of ivory brocade" with a wreath of orange blossoms in her hair. He oversaw a dramatic expansion in the rail network, masterminding the modernization of France and the embellishment of Paris by Georges Haussmann. Bresler is anxious to counter the "black legend" of Napoleon III, but is not blind to his protagonist's complicity in the brutal repression of 1852, and points to imperial self-indulgence as a cause of disaster at Sedan in 1870. This is a masterpiece of popular history, combining serious purpose with a refreshing lightness of touch. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Bresler, a lawyer, journalist, and author of Lord Goddard: A Biography of Rayner Goddard, Lord Chief Justice of England, opens this book with an attack on members of the "academic Mafia" who write boring books that are little read. Then he declares that here he's aiming for a broad readership--which he's likely to get. This marvelous biography brings to life a fascinating, neglected character: Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew of the Napoleon) who ruled France from 1848 to 1870, first as president and then as emperor. At different times in his life, this Napoleon was a buffoon, an idealistic reformer, a promoter of economic growth and cultural vitality, a diplomatic blunderer, and a tragic failure who died a mysterious death. (Using his skills as a lawyer, Bresler marshals fresh evidence to demonstrate, among other things, that Napoleon III's death was caused by British medical incompetence.) Fascinating, thorough, and authoritative, this book is highly recommended for all academic and public libraries.
-Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers; 1st edition (December 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786706600
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786706600
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #838,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I've been interested in Napoleon III ever since writing a college paper about him, many years ago, so I always attempt to obtain biographies concerning him when they are published. Each book I've read tells me something new, and this one is no exception. I was disappointed, however, because the book contains several factual, and numerous typographical, errors. All in all, 1988's "Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire" was a better book.
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Format: Hardcover
Napoleon III has always been an enigma, both during his own time and remaining so today. This book refreshingly spares us the ho-hum political, military, and economic details of Nap III's reign and concentrates instead on the man and how events and people influenced him and made him what he was -- a rather tragic, confused, and vain little man trying to fill the shoes and name of an illustrious predecessor. The author for the most part is sympathetic to his subject and uses a variety of published material and private research to support his observations of Nap III and why he reacted to circumstances and events as he did. The author writes with a very readable style and presents a complete yet not dull life of his subject. Of particular interest are the many affairs that Nap III carried on before and after marriage and his relationship with his wife and Empress Eugenie. I would highly recommend this book as a fine overview of Nap III's life and conduct.
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Format: Hardcover
If you are a celebrity hound, and regard Napoleon Bonaparte's mediocre nephew as a celebrity, this book is for you. There is no slogging through politics, economics, diplomacy, ideology or other heavy matters. Instead, the author is more interested in how Louis Napoleon made love to Lizzie Howard than why he made war on Austria and Prussia.
As a kind of paparazzo on paper, Bresler is quite able. He can tell a good story well, and the first part of Louis' life - as the exiled prince contrives harebrained plots to overthrow the Bourbon monarchy, then stumbles into the presidency of the Second Republic - is a good story. While the narrative relies chiefly on secondary sources, there is original research on points (all personal rather than political) that interest the author, such as the truth about Louis' paternity and the identities of his illegitimate children. Also, the selection of illustrations is good, including both photographs and color reproductions of period paintings.
It is probably for the best that the book delves little into affairs of state, about which the author's ideas are generally sophomoric. At one point, he tries to divine why Napoleon intervened in Italy in 1859. He can think of only three possibilities: the enticements of an Italian paramour, nostalgia for a youthful fling at anti-Austrian insurrection and fear of assassination by the carbonari. The word "geopolitics" seems not to be part of his vocabulary.
Even for gapers at the rich and famous, interest must flag after Napoleon's ascension to power (which he cemented by staging a coup d'etat against his own government). The conspiracies of his youth are exciting, the extravagances, illnesses and mistresses of his middle age less so.
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Format: Hardcover
The influence of Napoleon III on nineteenth-century French history and culture is inestimable: his unlikely rise to power after the 1848 Paris revolutions cemented twenty years' worth of extravagance and folly, resulting in the splendors of the Haussmann re-development of the capital city and the horrors of the Mexican debacle and the Franco-Prussian War. There was probably never a less-likely "man of destiny" than this emperor, who managed to come to power (and hold on to it) mostly through dumb luck, and if this biography by Fenton Bresler focuses too strongly on the private life of the Second Empire's court it may be suitable for a man who seemed much more interested in managing his mistresses than his empire.
Bresler's account is immesely readable and clear, which should be the first requirement of all popular biographies, and you do emerge from it with a strong sense of the personalities of the major figures in Napoleon's life: his amazingly resourceful (and lucky) mother, Queen Hortense of Holland; his sybaritic grandmother Josephine; his fascinating and iron-willed wife the Empress Eugenie; and his manipulative and adoring ministers and cronies. It is true that the lack of political and historical synthesis sometimes seriously mars this work: what may be worse is that Bresler's desire to say at least something that the emperor's other biographers haven't uncovered leads him to point out his newer discoveries (such as that the imperial couple had likely already prepared an escape route to Chislehurst years before the Franco-Prussian War) at overextreme length. Also his reliance on Napoleon's and Eugenie's near-contemporary biographers--whom later historians have dismissed as too fawning and inaccurate--seems a real mistake.
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Format: Hardcover
Lifelessness is a defect of far too many biographies - and works of historical fiction. Fenton Bresler's "Napoleon III" succeeds admirably in avoiding it.
Before Napoleon III there was Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, and he is a vivid, living presence on every page of this work. Less a political biography than a personal one, the book cuts through the gilded pomp of the Second Empire to give us Louis, the man. Hotblooded, stubborn, flirtatious, fickle... More than half the book is devoted to his life before he became Emperor. Yet the book is also good in analyzing Louis as an ideologue. It has been conveniently forgotten that prior to becoming emperor, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte wrote a number of books laying down the basis for the new ideology which Karl Marx, in attacking, baptized as Bonapartism. An accomplished schemer, Louis was blessed with talents better suited to the coming age of politics than to the warrior times of his uncle. In the end, though, his lack of military skill became the Achilles Heel responsible for his downfall. He would have been better suited for the age of the sound bite than that of the sword.
De Morny and Persigny, Lizzie Howard and La Castiglione... the men and women of Bonapartist Paris are skillfully introduced to us on every page. Eugenie fans will not be pleased with the more critical assessment of her in this book: she is portrayed as a meddling political spouse to a degree that makes Hillary Clinton seem apolitical. A boring marriage to a wife who hated sex may havbe hastened Louis' ultimate detachment from the court he'd created.
Many a competent professional is overshadowed by an ancestral predecessor; from young doctors to aspiring actors, many a young person finds that over time the example which inspired them ultimately becomes their bitterest rival.
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