From Publishers Weekly
Hibbert is both eclectic and prolific, and his energies are hardly flagging; in the last few years, he has produced well-regarded biographies of Wellington, Queen Victoria and George III. Hibbert has a talent for visiting old ground with a fresh eye, and as he crosses the Channel, he does not disappoint. The Napoleon who emerges is not the victor, the emperor nor even the hero brought low, but the man as revealed in his relations with the numerous women in his life: his wives, his mistresses, his sisters and his mother. It is, on the whole, not a pretty sight. Napoleon was often crude, rude, insulting and even violent toward women, some of whom unaccountably found him irresistible. Marie Walewska, the teenaged wife of a Polish count offered to Napoleon to avert the destruction of Poland, fainted at their first private encounter and was raped while unconscious. Still, she appears to have fallen in love with him, and bore his child. Poland, however, was not saved. Napoleon demanded that he be first in the heart of any woman close to him and was ruthless when he detected divided loyalties. He upbraided his stepdaughter, Hortense, for mourning the death of her little boy excessively, and saw to it that Mme. Rcamier's banker husband was ruined and she herself banished because she virtuously preferred her husband to him. Through all of this, Hibbert remains studiously nonjudgmental, allowing readers to form their own conclusions about the character of the great man. 16 pages color, 8 pages b&w illus. not seen by PW.
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Despite the various romantic legends ("Not tonight, Josephine"), Napoleon was generally awkward and insecure in his relationships with women. He did, however, manage to attract a wide variety of desirable women through a combination of dogged determination and the aphrodisiac of power. Hibbert is the author of numerous widely praised historical narratives and biographies, and in this survey of Napoleon's wives and lovers he displays his usual gift for integrating personal stories with broader historical context. Hibbert (to his credit) does not claim that any of these women were powers behind the throne, but this is still an involving look at some interesting women and their relationships with a historical giant. While some--such as Josephine and Marie Louise of Austria--are well known, it is the more obscure objects of Napoleon's desire that are particularly interesting. All subjects seem to have approached their relationships in a manipulative, almost predatory, manner. While we don't learn anything new here about the affairs of state, Napoleon's state of affairs provides good, clean fun. Jay Freeman
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