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Austerlitz, Borodino, Waterloo: his battles are among the greatest in history, but Napoleon Bonaparte was far more than a military genius and astute leader of men. Like George Washington and his own hero Julius Caesar, he was one of the greatest soldier-statesmen of all times.
Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation. At last we see him as he was: protean multitasker, decisive, surprisingly willing to forgive his enemies and his errant wife Josephine. Like Churchill, he understood the strategic importance of telling his own story, and his memoirs, dictated from exile on St. Helena, became the single bestselling book of the nineteenth century.
An award-winning historian, Roberts traveled to fifty-three of Napoleon’s sixty battle sites, discovered crucial new documents in archives, and even made the long trip by boat to St. Helena. He is as acute in his understanding of politics as he is of military history. Here at last is a biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2014: There have been many books about Napoleon, but Andrew Roberts’ single-volume biography is the first to make full use of the ongoing French publication of Napoleon’s 33,000 letters. Seemingly leaving no stone unturned, Roberts begins in Corsica in 1769, pointing to Napoleon’s roots on that island—and a resulting fascination with the Roman Empire—as an early indicator of what history might hold for the boy. Napoleon’s upbringing—from his roots, to his penchant for holing up and reading about classic wars, to his education in France, all seemed to point in one direction—and by the time he was 24, he was a French general. Though he would be dead by fifty one, it was only the beginning of what he would accomplish. Although Napoleon: A Life is 800 pages long, it is both enjoyable and illuminating. Napoleon comes across as whip smart, well-studied, ambitious to a fault, a little awkward, and perhaps most importantly, a man who could turn on the charm when he needed to. Through his portrait, Roberts seems to be arguing two things: that Napoleon was far more than just a complex, and that his contributions to the world greatly surpassed those of the evil dictators that some compare him to. “The historian, like the orator,” Roberts quotes Napoleon as saying, “must persuade. He must convince.” I, for one, am convinced. A fascinating read. –Chris Schluep--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Napoleon Bonaparte was the founder of modern France and one of the great conquerors of history. He came to power through a military coup only six years after entering the country as a penniless political refugee. As First Consul and later Emperor, he almost won hegemony in Europe, but for a series of coalitions specifically designed to bring him down. Although his conquests ended in defeat and ignominious imprisonment, over the course of his short but eventful life he fought sixty battles and lost only seven. For any general, of any age, this was an extraordinary record. Yet his greatest and most lasting victories were those of his institutions, which put an end to the chaos of the French Revolution and cemented its guiding principle of equality before the law. Today the Napoleonic Code forms the basis of law in Europe and aspects of it have been adopted by forty countries spanning every continent except Antarctica. Napoleon’s bridges, reservoirs, canals and sewers remain in use throughout France. The French foreign ministry sits above the stone quays he built along the Seine, and the Cour des Comptes still checks public spending accounts more than two centuries after he founded it. The Légion d’Honneur, an honor he introduced to take the place of feudal privilege, is highly coveted; France’s top secondary schools, many of them founded by Napoleon, provide excellent education and his Conseil d’État still meets every Wednesday to vet laws. Even if Napoleon hadn’t been one of the great military geniuses of history, he would still be a giant of the modern era.
The leadership skills he employed to inspire his men have been adopted by other leaders over the centuries, yet never equaled except perhaps by his great devotee Winston Churchill. Some of his techniques he learned from the ancients—especially his heroes Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar—and others he conceived himself in response to the circumstances of the day. The fact that his army was willing to follow him even after the retreat from Moscow, the battle of Leipzig and the fall of Paris testifies to his capacity to make ordinary people feel that they were capable of doing extraordinary, history-making deeds. A more unexpected aspect of Napoleon’s personality that also came out strongly over the course of researching this book was his fine sense of humour. All too often historians have taken seriously remarks that were clearly intended as humorous. Napoleon was constantly joking to his family and entourage, even in the most dire situations. Scores of examples pit this book.
Napoleon’s love affair with Josephine has been presented all too often in plays, novels and movies as a Romeo and Juliet story: in fact, it was anything but. He had an overwhelming crush on her, but she didn’t love him, at least in the beginning, and was unfaithful from the very start of their marriage. When he learned of her infidelities two years later while on campaign in the middle of the Egyptian desert, he was devastated. He took a mistress in Cairo in part to protect himself from accusations of cuckoldry, which were far more dangerous for a French general of the era than those of adultery. Yet he forgave Josephine when he returned to France, and they started off on a decade of harmonious marital and sexual contentment, despite his taking a series of mistresses. Josephine remained faithful and even fell in love with him. When he decided to divorce for dynastic and geostrategic reasons, Josephine was desolate but they remained friendly. Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise, would also be unfaithful to him, with an Austrian general Napoleon had defeated on the battlefield but clearly couldn’t match in bed.
Napoleon was able to compartmentalize his life to quite a remarkable degree, much more so even than most statesmen and great leaders. He could entirely close off one part of his mind to what was going on in the rest of it; he himself likened it to being able to open and close drawers in a cupboard. On the eve of battle, as aides-de-camp were arriving and departing with orders to his marshals and reports from his generals, he could dictate his thoughts on the establishment of a girls’ school for the orphans of members of the Légion d’Honneur, and shortly after having captured Moscow he set down the regulations governing the Comédie-Française. No detail about his empire was too minute for his restless, questing energy. The prefect of a department would be instructed to stop taking his young mistress to the opera; an obscure country priest would be reprimanded for giving a bad sermon on his birthday; a corporal told he was drinking too much; a demi-brigade that it could stitch the words ‘Les Incomparables’ in gold onto its standard. He was one of the most unrelenting micromanagers in history, but this obsession with details did not prevent him from radically transforming the physical, legal, political and cultural landscape of Europe.
More books have been written with Napoleon in the title than there have been days since his death in 1821. Admittedly, many have titles like Napoleon’s Haemorrhoids and Napoleon’s Buttons, but there are several thousand comprehensive, cradle-to-grave biographies too. Every one of them published since 1857 relied upon the correspondence that Napoleon III published as a tribute to his uncle. We now know that this was shamefully bowdlerized and distorted for propaganda purposes: letters that Napoleon never wrote were included while embarrassing or compromising ones that he did write were passed over. In all the compendium included only two-thirds of his total output.
In one of the great publishing endeavours of the twenty-first century, the Fondation Napoléon in Paris has since 2004 been publishing every one of the more than 33,000 letters that Napoleon signed. The culmination of this immense project demands nothing less than a complete re-evaluation of this extraordinary man. Napoleon represented the Enlightenment on horseback. His letters show a charm, humour and capacity for candid self-appraisal. He could lose his temper—volcanically so on occasion—but usually with some cause. Above all he was no totalitarian dictator, as many have been eager to suggest: he may have established an unprecedentedly efficient surveillance system, but he had no interest in controlling every aspect of his subjects’ lives. Nor did he want the lands he conquered to be ruled directly by Frenchmen. He believed that one can control foreign lands only by winning over the population and sought accordingly to present himself in terms that would make him sympathetic to the locals, feigning sympathy for their religion as a means to an end. (It is notable that his strategies varied considerably in Italy, Egypt and Germany.) In the one instance where this was not the case—Haiti—he later acknowledged that the brutality of his policies had compromised his effectiveness and mused with foresight that one could not keep people subject for long at a great distance. Above all he hoped to modernize Europe.
‘They seek to destroy the Revolution by attacking my person,’ he said after the failure of the royalist assassination plot of 1804. ‘I will defend it, for I am the Revolution.’ His characteristic egotism aside, Napoleon was right. He personified the best parts of the French Revolution, the ones that have survived and infused European life ever since. Although the Terror had finished five years before he grabbed power, the Jacobins were a powerful force who could always return. Similarly, a royalist restoration which would have wiped away the benefits of the Revolution was also possible. Instead, the fifteen-year rule of Napoleon saved the best aspects of the Revolution, discarded the worst and ensured that even when the Bourbons were restored they could not return to the Ancien Régime.
The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire. At the same time he dispensed with the absurd revolutionary calendar of ten-day weeks, the theology of the Cult of the Supreme Being, the corruption and cronyism of the Directory and the hyper-inflation that had characterized the dying days of the Republic. ‘We have done with the romance of the Revolution,’ he told an early meeting of his Conseil d’Etat, ‘we must now commence its history.’
For his reforms to work they needed one commodity that Europe’s monarchs were determined to deny him: time. ‘Chemists have a species of powder out of which they can make marble,’ he said, ‘but it must have time to become solid.’ Because many of the principles of the Revolution threatened the absolute monarchies of Russia (which was to practice serfdom until 1861), Austria and Prussia, and the nascent industrial kingdom of England, they formed seven coalitions over twenty-three years to crush revolutionary France. In the end they succeeded, but, thanks to Napoleon, the Bourbons were too late to destroy the revolutionary principles he had codified into law. Many of those who opposed him were forced to adopt aspects of his reforms in their own countries in order to defeat him.
‘There are two ways of constructing an international order,’ Henry Kissinger wrote in A World Restored, ‘by will or by renunciation; by conquest or by legitimacy.’ Only one of these was open to Napoleon. In Britain, which had already had its revolution 140 years earlier and thus enjoyed many of the legal benefits that the Revolution brought to France, Napoleon faced William Pitt the Younger, who saw in the destruction of French power—be it revolutionary or Napoleonic—an opportunity to translate Britain’s maritime trading success into global great power status. Napoleon’s threat to invade Britain in 1803 ensured that successive British governments would remain determined to overthrow him. Their decrying of French imperialism was pure hypocrisy as Britain was busy building a vast empire at the time. Napoleon boasted that he was ‘of the race that founds empires’—but he had a different kind of empire in mind, more in keeping with those of Caesar, Alexander and Frederick the Great.
Napoleon is often accused of being a quintessential warmonger, yet war was declared on him far more often than he declared it on others. France and Britain were at war for nearly half the period between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and Waterloo, and Napoleon was only a second lieutenant when the Revolutionary Wars broke out. He launched the Peninsular War and the war against Russia in 1812 in the hope of extending the reach of his ‘Continental System,’ a misguided protectionist answer to Britain’s control of the seas, and thereby force Britain to sue for peace. It was thus Colbertian protectionism that brought him down, far more than the bloodlust and egomania of which he is so often accused.
His decision to invade Russia was not in and of itself his worst mistake. The French had defeated the Russians three times since 1799, so it was understandable that he should believe he could do so again. He had fought in blizzards at Eylau and in the Sierra de Guadarrama, and at the end of long lines of communications at Austerlitz and Friedland. It was the very size of his army in 1812 that forced the Russians to adopt their strategy of constant retreat, and their adroitness in avoiding battle until they had lured him to within 75 miles of Moscow accounted for much of their victory. He could not have known how to block the ravages of the typhus epidemic that killed around 100,000 men in his central striking force as its origins and cure would not be discovered for another century. Despite this, had Napoleon chosen either one of two other possible routes back from Malojaroslavetz, he would have saved enough of the Grande Armée to preserve his crown. He thought he could bring the enemy to a decisive battle and pushed his forces too fast and hard in pursuit of that goal. He failed to appreciate that the Russian army had fundamentally changed and that Alexander I would stop at nothing to annihilate him.
Overall, however, Napoleon’s capacity for battlefield decision-making was astounding. Having walked the ground of fifty-three of his sixty battlefields, I was astonished by his genius for topography, his acuity and sense of timing. A general must ultimately be judged by the outcome of the battles, and of Napoleon’s sixty battles and sieges he lost only Acre, Aspern-Essling, Leipzig, La Rothière, Lâon, Arcis and Waterloo. When asked who was the greatest captain of the age, the Duke of Wellington replied: ‘In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.’
He convinced his followers they were taking part in an adventure, a pageant, an experiment and a story whose sheer splendour would draw the attention of posterity for centuries. He was able to impart to ordinary people the sense that their lives—and, if necessary, their deaths in battle—mattered in the context of great events. They too could make history. It is untrue that he cared nothing for his men and was careless with their lives. He lost a friend in almost every major battle, and his letters to Josephine and Marie Louise make it clear that these deaths, and those of his soldiers, affected him. Yet he could not allow that to deflect him from his main purpose of pursuing victory, and he would not have been able to function as a general if it had, any more than Ulysses Grant or George Patton could have done.
Napoleon certainly never lacked confidence in his own capacity as a military leader. On St Helena, when asked why he had not taken Frederick the Great’s sword when he had visited Sans Souci, he replied, ‘Because I had my own.’--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B00INIXLPW
- Publisher : Penguin Books (November 4, 2014)
- Publication date : November 4, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 61428 KB
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- Print length : 869 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0143127853
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Roberts’s work is unique in that his is among the first biographies to leverage recently published primary documents that provide new windows into Napoleon and his character. This allows fresh glimpses of the man both at work and at play. What takes shape is a human being, not a God-like myth or statue with a rigid character. Napoleon, like most of us, changed throughout his life. He adhered to (or was influenced by) competing values that frequently fought one another for dominance within his mind. Who he was at 25 was very different than who he was at 40, and again at 50. The value of Roberts’s work is that it reveals the folly of casting an historical character like Napoleon in one specific light. Was he an idealistic revolutionary who believed in a society free from the prejudice and injustice of the old world? Was he a tyrannical despot who imprisoned his enemies and used war to advance his own personal interests? Casting him into molds like this is what we typically seem to do, but it simplifies what Roberts’s clearly shows is a story of far more complexity and contradiction.
What this means is that Napoleon is too complex of a subject to summarize in a single paragraph. But a few sentences will give you an idea of the view of Napoleon through Roberts’s research. Napoleon was an enlightened agnostic with a love of knowledge and learning and a belief in their power to do good for all humankind. He was an intellectual of the highest order and was just as at home in a library as he was on a battlefield (in fact, he frequently traveled with his personal library). He adhered to enlightenment ideals blossoming during his youth that stressed liberty and merit as opposed to aristocracy and privilege. He was also a militarist, and it imbued him with discipline and courage. His capacity for knowledge, memory, and quick-thinking was truly legendary, and examples abound of his incredible memory even as late as his exile on Elba. He can relatively easily be associated with egomania and megalomania, and yet—for most of his life—he showed a capacity for self-reflection and self-criticism uncharacteristic of such a personality disorder. He displayed genuine concern for people under his charge. His staff members, as well as members of the army, are frequently quoted describing his hard work ethic but also his playful and caring attitude toward them. He was, in many ways, advanced for his time regarding social issues. He favored full equality for Jews and Protestants (indeed, all religions) and leveraged their talents. He was tolerant of homosexuality in an age where it was generally not tolerated: his veritable vice-ruler for much of his reign was Cambacérès, who was gay.
But Napoleon’s faults are also laid bare in Roberts’s narrative. Throughout his life, he generally showed a lack of great integrity and a willingness to break rules to suit his own purposes. He clearly had a view of women that was not progressive, and did much to undermine the freedoms women gained during the Revolution. He naturally was an anxious man, and I believe that “impatience” is probably the character trait that persisted most saliently through every phase of his life. He lacked an understanding of economics, and this, more than any other mistake, was the root of his downfall (the infamous Continental System). He was not a bloodthirsty person in any sense, and his rule was very rarely characterized by repression based on terror. But he was directly responsible for needless executions on at least three occasions throughout his life, and humanity came second to victory when his army was on campaign. As caring as he could be with staff members and soldiers, he often completely lacked emotional intelligence when it came to his own family members (particularly his siblings). Here we see some of Roberts’s most vehement criticisms. Napoleon’s use of his siblings as rulers of client states defies beliefs that he long held (and fought for) regarding meritocracy, and also ignored the sheer lack of talent possessed by some of these family members.
These kinds of ideological clashes, modeled here by Napoleon’s belief in meritocracy but pervasive practice of nepotism, illustrate what I like to call the “Napoleonic Paradox” or “Napoleonic Contradiction.” One cannot read Roberts’s work and not see the ironies presented in Napoleon’s life. There are numerous examples where beliefs and practices of one period of his life simply contradict those of other periods (or even the same period). This is not, I believe, traceable to any kind of inherent character flaw in Napoleon. Rather, it is the natural and (relatively) slow metamorphosis in a belief system over the life of a man—visible in many other famous statesmen reviewed in such a way. Roberts’s work gives us the chance to see these changes take shape. Overall, I believe it is fair to say that Napoleon’s idealistic and modest qualities began to give way to more megalomaniacal qualities after his victory at Austerlitz (1805) and especially after the Treaty of Tilsit (1807). It was here that he reached a level of power unlike any achieved by any other European for centuries. During the years of his zenith (1810-1812) and his subsequent downfall (1812-1814), we see a Napoleon generally unchecked by the modesty and reason more characteristic of his early years in power, and instead see a man corrupted by his awesome authority. But throughout all of his life, we see this war of ideals and practices vying for dominance within him. Napoleon himself does not seem to have been overtly conscious of many of these contradictions, or this war of ideas taking place in his subconscious.
As far as Roberts’s writing style, the narrative is chronological, which makes sense for a biography and is easy to follow. Roberts does not spend much time analyzing the myriad evidence and relaying an argument to the reader. His goal, after all, is to use evidence to show Napoleon the man, providing us a deep-dish look at his successes and failures—the roundness and depth of a man. He does not have an overarching thesis he is using the evidence to prove. Some readers will love this, as it allows for the reader to form their own conclusions. Others may be frustrated that we rarely can catch our breath and read, “what does it all mean?” This isn’t to say that Roberts does not offer opinions from time to time. He defends Napoleon in many of his most controversial moments (for example, the Cadoudal-Pichegru conspiracy and the execution of the Duc d’Enghien). He also specifically identifies Napoleon’s exaggerations or outright lies, and does not shy away from criticizing his decisions (Roberts believes Napoleon only has himself to blame for the disaster in Russia in 1812 and his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, among others).
If you like to read about battles, oddly enough this “biography” provides a great deal of detail. There is plenty in the narrative regarding most of the battles Napoleon took part in, usually with detail on troop movements and the units involved. Lovers of military history will likely eat this up—others may find it tedious. The first group will likely be as disappointed as I was in the maps available—but this is a criticism I make of just about every military history book I review.
Napoleon was a complex man. He lusted for greatness and was the epicenter of conflict for more than a decade. But we also see a man with good intentions, compassion, and an oft-doting father and husband. It is these stories of tenderness, combined with ones of ruthlessness, that make Roberts’s biography ultimately so effective. We are able to see Napoleon, not as an historical caricature, but as a man possessed of both awesome virtues and crippling faults. Napoleon's greatness and contribution to history is thoroughly revealed. So too are his foibles and failures. It is a story that often leaves you equal parts repulsed, impressed, and sympathetic. I can think of no possible better outcome for a biography.
If we wish to nominate someone as a ‘great spirt’, I will settle for what Albert Camus said of Simone Weil, that she was “the only great spirit of our time.” But I digress here. By good and evil, I mean good and evil in the world, not the empty predicate good or good in an absolute sense or good and evil in the form of Manichaean dualism. Those who so carelessly refer to Napoleon as a ‘Great Man’ must not have any real idea of the suffering and agony his actions caused in the world. The great insight of Hegel, one that we do not like to admit of today, is that the progress of which we are the happy inheritors is built upon the exponential misery, wretched sorrow, hideous agony and dare I say, the plain evil of the past. There is no safe way to use force in the world, it destroys all that it touches, both the perpetrators and the victims. It seems to me that progress is always accompanied by some sense of regret. Is the evil done and the suffering caused worth the ‘progress’ attained? Only the naïve and simple minded can afford to have a clear and clean conscience.
‘Napoleon’ is a philosophical event as much as a historical personage. The material in this book implies some philosophical questions. For example, what is the relation between the inheritance of the European philosophical tradition and the appearance of Napoleon? What does ‘Napoleon’ mean as philosophical event? We can see such a relationship tangentially implied or embedded in so much of the material included in this book. ‘Napoleon’ was something new in the world yet also an inheritance from the patrimony of the European philosophical tradition. There is a hybrid ensemble of traditions and inheritances which compose the essential roots of the new Napoleonic cultural identity. ‘Napoleon’ as a philosophical event then becomes rooted in the experiences of emancipation and imagination just to name one quintessentially Napoleonic dichotomy. Napoleon became the manifestation of conjunction and disjunction, utopia and dystopia, a double unreality in so many ways and yet a new hyper-reality in the world. Or, for those who prefer their dichotomies a bit more concretely, the dichotomy between ruthless dictator and inspired lawgiver, emperor by the grace of God and by the Constitution, or Napoleon as the emperor and but of a republic. Hegel aids our awareness of ‘Napoleon’ as a philosophical event. He shows us how opposites can coincide to form an intrinsic unity of opposition in the process of resolution through conflict.
From a Hegelian perspective, Napoleon cannot be solely the result of historical contingency rather, he is also the cause of substantial reality. He is the spearhead of action, he is not what he thinks or what he conceals, but he is what he does, and Napoleon knew what he was doing. He knew the ‘truth’ of his times and was aware of historical necessity in the same manner as Alexander and Caesar. Each knew the nature of his era better than his contemporaries. Napoleon was no despot because he did not impose his rule; those around him recognized something and chose to follow the ‘world soul’. He stood at the forefront of his historical period upon which he had a ubiquitous and panoramic vision. His contemporaries, he had no peers, could not fully understand or interpret him and thus felt compelled to follow him in the unfolding of history. Napoleon is at ounce at the forefront of and the creator of historical actuality. Napoleon made history but did not fully know the history he was making and was also thus a victim of the historical necessity that he created and that in turn created and subsequently swallowed him, a kind of multiple person and a multiple reality like few others in history, a world soul.
Napoleon understood, as did Hegel, that the State is not founded upon a contract as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau so neatly and naively thought. The State is established by deed, guile, strength, cunning, power and violence; by great leaders, a ‘world soul’ as Hegel styled it, or in the person of the ‘prince’ as Machiavelli styled it, working within and shaping the course of historical necessity shaped by dialectical progression. Nor was Napoleon a usurper as some historians have characterized him. From the Hegelian perspective, Napoleon was the founder of the modern state as we have come to understand it. For example, organized central administration, decentralized economic organization, a professional civil service, equality before the law, a strong executive and no State religion since the State is the religion. We have come to take these as givens. Some may find here that we have the ominous precursors for modern totalitarian governments based on the absoluteness of the State though I believe it too easy and too superficial to see Hegel simply as the philosopher and justifier of the absolute State or as a proto Marxist. This depends on a narrow reading of Hegel solely at the level of political theory and leads to a narrow understanding and thus a misunderstanding of Hegel. For example, there are some who claim that Hegel provided the comprehensive philosophical framework giving the oppressive State coherence and legitimacy, but I submit that oppressive regimes have never let the lack of a coherent philosophical framework, let alone one as deep, abstract and abstruse as Hegel’s, prevent them from arbitrary oppression, usually any excuse suffices quite well. Many have also suggested that Hegel formulated his philosophical system specifically to support the Prussian monarchy of King Friedrich William III. This is a highly reductive reading of Hegel. Part of the attraction for Hegel no doubt was the potential for Napoleon to bring the needed unifying characteristics and organizational discipline of the State to the witch’s cauldron of completing localities and petty interests that formed the German cultural identity without a German national identity. Again, what is the price of progress?
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For the general reader & specialist, a masterly & epic account of Europe's greatest tactician since Julius Caesar.
Napoleon’s ambition aptly complemented by his leadership style, ability to inspire men and brilliance on the battlefield made him master of Europe. However, he was not without his vices and could be regarded as the quintessential warmonger, responsible of bringing war and destruction upon Europe for many years. His decline began with his failed invasion of Russia. Also, his enemies learnt from him and applied his methods against him, while he himself began to ignore his own highly successful military maxims. He was finally defeated when much of Europe allied against him and brought an end to his regime in 1815.
As the narrative begins with the French revolution in the backdrop, a little prior reading on the French revolution would be helpful in better understanding the initial chapters. Sizable space has been devoted to Napoleon’s campaigns – Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Waterloo - and these have been well described by the author at the ‘Operational level’; a level of warfare, the creation of which is credited to Napoleon. However, in the present century it is difficult to visualize how Divisions, Demi Brigades and Line regiments under Napoleon’s famous Marshals - Murat, Davout, Soult, Ney, Lannes, Masséna, Oudinot etc. - were exactly fighting at the tactical level. Thus, the possession of a companion book on Infantry & Cavalry tactics of the Napoleonic wars would greatly aid in better visualizing the various battlefields. I intend to procure such a companion and re-read this book, also as I recently realized that I was in possession of ‘Dictionary of the Napoleonic War’ by David G. Chandler – currently sitting idle in my library- a book if noticed earlier would have made the reading of this volume more enjoyable and educative.
Overall, Andrew Roberts’s cradle to grave biography of Napoleon- with Napoleon’s recently published thirty three thousand surviving letters as a source material - is exhaustive in its contents and provides a good account of Napoleon’s professional and personal life, his work, his achievements and his failings. Whether he was an enlightened despot or a quintessential warmongers is to be decided by the readers. Nevertheless, the book is highly recommended for anyone interested in Napoleon.