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Napoleon: Life, Legacy, and Image: A Biography Hardcover – December 11, 2012

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Using biography as framework, Forrest tackles interpretive problems that attend Napoléon’s swath through history. Did he reverse the French Revolution or consolidate its reforms? Was he a one-man band of destruction, or did France’s adversaries bear some responsibility for the Napoleonic Wars? One challenge Forrest faces is the publicity Napoléon assiduously cultivated about himself in the press, in heroic paintings, and not least in his memoirs––the Gospel according to St. Helena, to derisive historians. Forrest concedes that Napoléon’s propaganda achieved at least popular acquiescence to his regime and also that it strengthened positive elements in his reputation as a general and as a civil administrator. Proof of France’s thumbs-up memory of Napoléon stands in the shape of the Arc de Triomphe and his tomb in the Hôtel des Invalides. But one must go elsewhere for evidence of Napoléon’s dictatorial proclivities, such as in his execution of a Bourbon prince and his invasion of Russia against the prophetic counsel of advisers. Forrest provides another such place, for, not fooled by Napoléonic imagery, he makes a patiently remorseless case against Napoléon’s historical legend. --Gilbert Taylor


“With his emphasis on the construction of the Napoleonic myth, Forrest offers an introduction to a fascinating figure that should whet readers’ appetites for more.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Forrest] seeks not only to show us Napoleon the man, but also Napoleon the player in a vast drama. . . . An open-minded, cleareyed view of a man who manifested the best and the worst of his species.” —Kirkus Reviews

"A comprehensive, yet always thoroughly accessible account . . . Forrest sets out to write for a broad audience and succeeds admirably . . . this book helps us understand why, 200 years on, Napoleon still matters." —BBC History Magazine

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; Reprint edition (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250009030
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250009036
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,389,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on April 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As the subtitle states, author Alan Forrest tells the story of Napoleon with emphasis on his legacy and image. He shows how from the very beginning, Napoleon was a master propagandist. He created his own image through flourish, dash and good press which he initiated and controlled and bad press which he vigorously suppressed.

Carlo Bonaparte, a somewhat connected lawyer in the turbulent politics of Corsica, saw to it that his son Napoleon, had a good military education. While in school Napoleon read widely and prepared himself for the opportunities the Revolution provided to non-nobles. He made the best of the commissions he received and used their successes to cultivate an heroic image.

Forrest's best example of Napoleon's self-propaganda is the Egyptian campaign. Its goal (containing the British) was not met. There was a tremendous loss of life. After delivering an unabashedly self-serving farewell to the troops, Napoleon virtually left them in Egypt to fend for themselves. Taking the scholars on the campaign not only fit his academic bent, but also had a post-campaign propaganda benefit. They returned to France with lecture material, artifacts for public viewing and content for artists to paint. There were no embedded reporters so Napoleon was reasonably free to emphasize the successful battles and ignore the losing ones. To the people of France, the campaign appeared as a great success and Napoleon as a hero.

Napoleon skillfully exploited the Revolution's egalitarian ideals all the while promoting a monarchical status for himself. Even his Revolution-inspired advisers encouraged him to make a dynastic marriage to produce an heir. Forrest shows how he was able to pull this off.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bugsy123 on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In an afterword (Acknowledgements) the author indicates his original interest was a social history of the French Revolution. It shows.

While not a bad read, this book is more a study of Napoleon's environment than most biographies. Rather putting me in mind of studying the sun's corona during an eclipse. (No, I'm not that much of a Napoleon fan that I think he's like the sun :)

I also found the writing style to be a bit dragging at some points, not that bad for a scholarly work, but I think feuds, battles, and intrigues should not be in the same "voice" as lists of day-to-day this and that.

For history buffs, this is worth checking out. But if you are only going to read one Napoleon biography, nope.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Roberts on May 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoy the books written by Alan Forrest as they tend to hit on important topics that are often left untouched by many historians. This book reaches into new territory for him. The book was a good read, very easy, but at the same time it was broad. Many of his military campaigns are not covered in depth, but this is not a military book. Forrest covers Napoleon's internal reforms in more detail and makes them interesting. The downside to the book is that I do not feel that it has too much of a direction. At the end of the book I learned something and enjoyed it, but even now I cannot tell you what he was trying to accomplish. Really I would give this book 3.5 stars, but it is worth checking out.
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