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Napoleon: A Biography Paperback – April 1, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Napoleon Bonaparte was a bully, rude and insulting. Women did not like him. But even so, writes Frank McLynn, "he had an amazing ability to sway other men to his purposes," which earned him one of the greatest empires Europe had ever known. McLynn, a noted biographer of difficult personalities, gives us a many-sided Napoleon: the shrewd strategist, the intolerant prude, the scrappy fighter, the charismatic leader, the sadist. ("He liked to strike people of both sexes, to slap them, pull their hair, pinch their ears and tweak their noses.") He nonetheless managed to extend French rule to the gates of Moscow. Why, then, was he so resoundingly defeated? McLynn argues that, among other things, Napoleon was not ruthless enough in dealing with the "endless list of ingrates" that surrounded him.

McLynn's book has several virtues, and readers interested in Napoleon's brief but brilliant career will want to have a look. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

After visiting Corsica, Rousseau declared, "I have a presentiment that one day this small island will astonish Europe." Corsica did. Born there in 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte would convulse the Continent, precipitating thousands of books about him since. This latest, by British historian and Strathclyde University (U.K.) literature professor McLynn (Villa and Zapata; The Jacobites), is a crowded and persuasive one-volume life. McLynn's study but for his addictions to clich‚ and to repetition, and his labored leaning on both Freud and Jung is one the best of the new breed (since the 1978 discovery of Bonaparte's arsenic poisoning made earlier volumes obsolete). No hagiographer, McLynn is hard on Napoleon both as general and as statesman, and faults his failures to rein in his openly "venal" marshals, treacherous administrative elite and astonishingly rapacious siblings. Indifferent to people except as he needed their loyalty, this Napoleon's embodies ambitions not tempered by any idealism, and McLynn dismisses "credulous" previous biographers for seeing anything in him beyond a familiar French grasping for "grandeur" and "glory," apparent on a lesser level from Louis XIV to de Gaulle. To McLynn the difference is that Napoleon's dreams were truly Alexandrine that "His genius was of a kind that needed constant warfare to fuel it and... that all the hopes vested in him were illusory." While deftly exposing the material realities underlying the Napoleonic wars, McLynn also graphically describes the battles, suggesting that few (Austerlitz is an exception) demonstrate any authentic military brilliance. He is even more explicit about the general's tumultuous domestic and sexual life, in which Napoleon allegedly found little but masochistic satisfaction. "The true representative of the nation," Napoleon declared desperately in 1814, as his empire was collapsing around him, "is myself. France has more need of me than I have need of France." Such is still the case, McLynn claims, as France continues to cultivate his myth. Although McLynn's is a well-researched, convincing portrait, aficionados will find it not quite up to the standard of Alan Schom's 1997 Napoleon Bonaparte, which is both better written and more psychologically astute. 16 pages of b&w illustrations.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; Reprint edition (April 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611450373
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611450378
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 6.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,072,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm sure every biographer of Napoleon aspires to be the one to pin this man down once and for all, to figure him out and deliver him on a platter. Well, it does not happen with this book and even if the author claims that this was never the goal, the attempt is there. The result is a tome that might become increasingly tiresome to anyone who is already familiar with the subject and who does not already harbor a dedicated dislike for Napoleon, and too much for those trying to find a starting point. I would not recommend it to beginner students of Napoleon as it is heavily charged with the largelly negative personal biases and opinions of the author, lacks in specific maps - a necessity when covering a battle in great detail - and assumes the reader has a solid grasp of Europe in the 18th century, particularly France.

McLynn, though calling him a "genius" at times, is hyper-critical of Napoleon as a man, son, husband, step-father and leader - at every stage of his career. His relationships with women are always "misogynistic". With the rest of society, institutions and other powers, invariably "machiavellian" - a word repeated ad nauseam, applicable or not. He is equally censorious of his mother, his wives, his lovers, his brothers, his sisters, his entourage, his friends, his assistants, his bourgeois nobility and his marshals. Did I leave anyone out?

His marshals are singled out for scathing condemnation, marched in front of the firing squad of his pen one by one. Those like Masséna, Ney and Augereau who were "low born" are particular targets. Once riff-raff always riff-raff he seems to be saying.

What made reading this book almost unbearable for me, in the end, are Mr.McLynn's psychoanalytic pretensions.
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Format: Paperback
This is the book to grab if you want to know all the important things about Napoleon's life in one book without having to worry about becoming bogged down with too much information.

You will not be a Napoleonic expert after reading the book but you will have learned about all the significant events in Napoleon's life to be able to speak intelligently about them on a general level. This book should be enough for those who have a casual interest in Napoleon, but should also serve as a great starting point for those who want to learn more. For instance, the campaign in Russia is given good coverage in the book but left me yearning for more so one of my next purchases will be a book that deals specifically with the Russian campaign. Fortunately, there are great books out there for nearly every siginificant battle and event that Napoleon was in so this book is a great primer for those. Thanks to this book I've now picked out several other books to read on Napoleon, Nelson, Louis Davout and more.

One of the great things about the book is how easy it is to read. McLynn writes straightforwardly but interestingly. The pages fly by. McLynn does use a lot of words that you don't see every day so keep a dictionary handy. Words like "tatterdemalion" were certainly new to me, but its nice to learn some new vocabulary.

McLynn does engage in a fair amount of speculation about some of the events in Napoleon's life and of Napoleon's motives. Most of the theories advanced, such as McLynn's belief that Napoleon was probably poisoned instead of dying of the officially given reason of stomach cancer, are not outrageous because they have supporting facts. More troubling for some, though not me, may be the psychoanalysis that McLynn engages in.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. McLynn's book confirms my long held view that a fair account of a great man's life (well, shall we say a famous man, because opinions on Napoleon's supposed greatness may differ...) is better approached through a biographer who does not emanate from the same country. Although I read somewhere that Mr. McLynn is supposed to be "worshipping at the shrine", I found his biography thoroughly fair and balanced, very well written, constantly interesting and free of the rubbish very often found in French books on Napoleon. For sure, there are some Freudian explanations of Napoleon's attitudes, which appear somewhat speculative (why, for example, should the young Bonaparte have been "ambivalent" towards Louis XVI just because of his supposed attitude toward a protector who may or may not have gone to bed with Laetizia Buonaparte?). Other points are funny and entertaining, such as a comparison between the infamous Fouché and....J. Edgar HOOVER!!
Napoleon's military skills are frankly acknowledged, but so are his tendencies to sudden depression and the story of his campaigns is told with precision, yet the reader is never lost in the minutiae of some strategy. One may have wished for a few more maps but here is a very good biography, easily read, well written and entertaining, which can be highly recommended to anyone with a general interest in this strange Corsican, whose similarities with his sinister twentieth century successor (Adolf Hitler) are indeed striking.
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By A Customer on August 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a decent biography but nothing really groundbreaking. However in his conclusion, discussing Napoleon as a military commander, McLynn claims that he should not be counted among the great( peerless )commanders in history. I wonder where he got that. Napoleon fought more battles than Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, and Frederick the Great combined and won all but a handful of them. No other commander in military history fought more battles under more different conditions than he did.
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