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
About the Author
ALAN FORREST is a professor of modern history and director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies. He works on modern French history, especially the period of the French Revolution and Empire, and on the history of modern warfare. He serves on the editorial boards of French History and War in History, and is a member of the advisory committee for Annales Historiques de la Revolution Francaise. He lives in York, UK.