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Napoleon: A Life Paperback – May 2, 2006
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"Devoted" by Dean Koontz
For the first time in paperback, from Dean Koontz, the master of suspense, comes an epic thriller about a terrifying killer and the singular compassion it will take to defeat him. | Learn more
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“Paul Johnson . . . is a historian at the top his game. His judgments are sure. His historical range is sweeping. His storytelling is crisp and his writing elegant.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“The selection of the venerable British historian . . . Paul Johnson to write on Napoleon . . . has turned out to be a wise one: Johnson is succinct, critical, and deeply skeptical of the Napoleonic legend.”
—The Atlantic Monthly
“This is a jewel of a book; comprehensive, brief, and passionate.”
“Johnson provides an excellent overview . . . [He] presents a concise appraisal of Napoleon’s career and a precise understanding of his enigmatic character.”
“[A] succinct yet lively biography . . . very readable and entertaining.”
—The Washington Post
About the Author
- Item Weight : 5.4 ounces
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143037455
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143037453
- Product Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.56 x 7.17 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint Edition (May 2, 2006)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #388,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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But he never had an overarching philosophy that would unite his country and other parts of the Empire in the manner that the Roman Empire did.. In the end his tremendous ego and determination to conquer (in some way) the British Empire thru the Continental System was his downfall. He made great contributions to French society in the way of buildings, monuments, and the Napoleonic Code (For example, the code forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified), but in the end he ended up a lonely man on a tiny island far from any civilization, his home country and much of Europe thoroughly devastated by 20 years of constant warfare.
The explanation for some of Napeleon's success is technological. He was a master map reader. Napoleon's battle field strategy was predicated on three tactics: surprise, speed of attach, and point of attack from the rear. His aim throughout his career was to move swiftly to a position where he obliged the enemy to fight a major battle, destroy the enemy's forces, and then occupy his capital and dictate peace terms.
Napoleon was also a master propagandist. Napoleon either invented or benefited from the invention of the first modern nation state and the absolute concentration of authority. The army became the state. The modern nation state is capable of total warfare: economic, political, and combat. Napoleon's success was the catalyst that created a rival and ultimately more power nation state, Germany.
He is the grandest possible refutation of those determinists who hold that events are governed by forces, classes, economics, and geography rather than by the powerful wills of men and women.
He needed not a paymaster, like a mercenary, not a disembodied ideal, like a patriot, but a source of power, so that he could capture it and obtain more power.
The object of power, in is view,was not only to crush opposition to his will, but more usually to inspire fear, so that power did not need to be used at all.
The whole Napoleonic empire was an emergency entity, built to blaze but not to last.
A huge unbridgeable chasm yawned between his person and the next man down the chain of command.
Top reviews from other countries
Lots of strands that get lost in the much longer history books on Napoleon are much more evident in such compressed books where every word and section has to count. Johnson’s main thesis that Napoleon was a truly great military leader in certain situations (his weakness being he did not understand how to fight defensive battles and wars), plus suffered an inability as an individual to develop and understand the importance of long term political strategy, since France was upsetting the natural order that ruled in Europe, was I found very well argued.
Inevitably the book by its brevity has to go light on certain areas notably internal French politics and the changes (or lack of them) ensuing from the Revolution. Even so the many points and observations made across the life of Napoleon do uncover a lot of fault lines that feed into explaining in part how later events unfolded. These range from Napoleon’s relatively poor Corsican upbringing and being consequently an outsider in France (which had only just taken control from Italy of his birthplace Corsica) to his personality of “walking away” from defeats (Egypt, Spain and Russia) and bearing of grudges, plus exercising too much nepotism in favour of inadequate family members.
His failure over 20 years odd to develop reliable non-military mentors or relationships (French and international) and understand the power of accepting political compromise over military victory and dictating of terms, reveals Napoleon as with many victorious military leaders being unable to easily take counsel, possess a lot of patience or be magnanimous. The unwinding of all he had achieved internationally from 1810 onwards and his treatment at the hands of the French as well as other countries, shows the consequences of such an uncomprising personality. More importantly over that period he did have many opportunities to compromise but passed on them all.
Johnson is big on Popper’s later “law of unintended consequences” flowing from what Napoleon had set in motion by his actions given events later in the 19th and through to the 20th centuries. However for the reasons stated above, it is doubtful Napoleon had any real understanding of what might happen subsequently given his poor appreciation of what was occurring contemporaneously as a result of his actions!
By the way, Napoleon was no hero. He’s mentioned as an early predecessor to the 20th century monsters of Hitler and Stalin. Onto to the next book on him.