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on May 8, 2012
In his introduction to this second volume of a 1000 page biography, the author points out that he sees Napoleon neither as half-god, nor as devil. N rose to power out of chaos. He did not cause the chaos. He did create some structure, some of it durable. Then he created more chaos. A positive legacy exists. It could be much more but for the man's flaws and failures. His megalomaniac self promotion to the status of a new Charlemagne was his undoing. That is, if we need a single or main cause. Overstretching, in a word.

This volume 2 picks up the tale after the great victory of Austerlitz, with Napoleon at the peak of his glory. From here he goes to a triumph over decadent Prussia (just half a century after Fritz the Great, whose successors had run down the army to hopeless incompetence), then a less glorious near-stalemate in Poland, confronting Russia. Polish dreams of unity and independence were not quite satisfied. The Tilsit Peace was the end result of this period. End results are usually temporary.

Napoleon thought he could force England on its knees, but it didn't go that way. The continental blockade hurt both sides, and maybe the French more. He committed a similarly grave misjudgment with regard to Spain: the Spanish people did not react kindly to the invasion by a French army and imposition of a French monarch as replacement of the old dynasty. Surprise. Guerilla was born out of this, the little war, which would so bother big war in future. Napoleon apparently never understood that.

Prussia reacted negatively to humiliation as well. German patriotism and then nationalism and later chauvinism grew out of the disastrous defeat at Jena. That lost battle can be seen as the long distance ignition for greater things to come, alas. Most certainly Bismarck's invasion of France in 1870 was an act of revenge.
All the time, the big trouble with Austria and the squabbling with the Vatican continue and provide background noise. Hopes for a true cooperation with Russia linger, falter, and fail. A blundering Russian campaign at the same time with a worsening calamity in Spain lay the groundwork for the end.

While Napoleon is surrounded by enemies, Asprey keeps saying about this and that and the other foreign politician that they were in England's pay. He never provides sources for this allegation. As a cynic, I don't doubt it, but I would have wished for substantiation, unless this is a generally accepted piece of fact in the historical profession.

Another (minor) irritation: a man called Christoph Martin Wieland was a major German classical writer, one of the fathers of the classical school. Napoleon gave CMW an audience at a conference in Erfurt. Asprey calls Wieland Weiland, not once or twice, but always, up to 5 or 6 times. Hear me grumbling.
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on February 19, 2015
At best this book was okay. With a life so interesting, Asprey decided in this book to focus on the coverage of the battles, without explaining the linkage or strategy very well. Why victory or defeat occurred seems glossed over in many cases. Perhaps his Rise of Bonaparte covers the man better. This book dominates with lists of battles and number of soldiers and a thousand generals names thrown in. Minimized was his ease with women and how that influenced his performance. Missed are the dynamics of politics in leading France and his attempt to make Europe part of France. But numbers of soldiers and names of battles and places. A few maps may have helped clarify. The author also seems to have developed an affinity for his subject as he often interjects defenses against historians harsh view of the egomaniac and habitual liar. There are probably better bios out there of the man Napoleon as he was surely more dimensional than this book conveys. The end in Elba and then St. Helena seems to be rushed through unlike the various battles. Some autopsy details would have been better off leaving out. At the end all I could wish for was that someone else with all this data had written a better book.
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on December 27, 2010
Asprey's second book on Napoleon Bonaparte picks up right were the first one had left off, Napoleon now Emperor of the French, was engaging in a series of wars and struggles known as the Napoleonic Wars. Europe was determined to destroy this usurper to power and he was determined to beat them back and gobble up their kingdoms as well.

"Neither was Napoleon that father of the wars that accompanied the process, as his detractors would have us believe. Almost constant warfare between was the legacy of the revolutionary chaos, a series of wars invoked by European and English rulers determined to topple this dangerous interloper and restore Bourbon feudalistic rule to France" p.xxii

In this war, Napoleon had the greatest victory of his career, the Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors; Napoleon would defeat the forces of Austria and Russia at the same time. William Pitt the Younger is said to have collapsed dead at the news. This battle marked the official end of the Holy Roman Empire, as its last Emperor Francis II, dissolved it in favor of the Austrian Empire and proclaimed himself Emperor Francis I. Austerlitz had made Napoleon the master of continental Europe. Although he would still have adventures by conquering Prussia and fighting in Poland, he was clearly the man in charge. He would use his new position to create the Continental System that would force the great Empire of the Sea, Great Britain, into an impossible position. He would create puppet states and place his own brothers and in-laws on to those thrones.

"Napoleon's gentle if contemptuous treatment of Czar Alexander is curious, as if regarding the Russians as visitors from another planet. He disparaged Russian arms, having noted even before Austerlitz that the cavalry although splendidly turned out had not yet learned to use savers effectively. `The Russian troops are brave,' he commented after Austerlitz, `their generals are inexperienced, their soldiers ignorant and sluggish which in truth makes their armies to be little feared.' He regarded Alexander as an ambitious but inexperienced and impetuous young man surrounded and controlled by firebrand courtiers such as Prince Dolgoruky who were in English pay. Alexander's participation in the Third Coalition was a temporary aberration, an unwise intrusion in European affairs. `Russia is the sole power in Europe able to make war of fantasy,' he wrote. `After a battle lost or won, the Russians vanish; France, Austria, Prussia, to the contrary, must live a long time with the results of war." p. 2

However, enforcing the Continental System would prove costly for the Emperor of the French. He would invade Portugal through Spain in order to enforce it. When the Spanish royal family began to give Napoleon a hard time, he would depose the King of Spain, Charles IV, in favor of his own older brother Joseph. Once more, a Bonaparte would take a throne of a Bourbon king. Spain however would never be fully conquered and Napoleon would have to invest to many troops fighting the Spanish gorilla* forces.

"A final weakness stemmed from Napoleon himself. His diplomacy was atrocious. The exclusion of either King Charles or Prince Ferdinand from rule was doomed from the beginning, as anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Spanish character would have realized. The center of power envisaged by Napoleon did not exist. The grandees who had propped up the throne were despised as the French. Military occupation had turned into a war of pacification that neither Napoleon nor his generals how to fight. It was a fast-moving series of small wars in a big country, not a war of corps or divisions. Early successes, a few hundred insurgents shot here, a few thousand there, villages burned, arms collected, private properties and fortunes sequestered, officials and priests forced to swear allegiance to the new crown, cities and towns required to pay enormous `contributions'--all these were ingredients for a massive civil explosion." p.113

For want of an heir, Napoleon was forced to divorce Josephine and remarried this time to Marie Louise of Austria, ironically the niece of the infamous Queen Marie Antoinette. The new Empress would give birth to the Baby Napoleon, known as the King of Rome.

Nothing however would be as equally disastrous as Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Seeking to punish Tsar Alexander I for his backing out of the Continental System, Napoleon invaded the Russian Empire. The French Emperor would have victory after victory, but as Russia withdrew, the Russians burnt their own cities and farms. As the winter came the French had no resources and they had to retreat with very heavy losses. Seeing Napoleon as weak, the rest of Europe joined in to help destroy him. The French were eventual overwhelmed and were forced to surrender. Napoleon would be exiled to Elba, and King Louis XVIII was put on the throne that his brother had lost.

Napoleon was restless in Elba and plotted his way back to the throne of France. King Louis XVIII had made quite a mess of things, just like his brother, and Napoleon would land in France to claim what he felt was rightfully his.

"It was surely one of the boldest acts in history, Napoleon landed on the southern coast of France with 1,000 soldiers, two cannons and some very fiery words set forth in three proclamations, one to the French people, one to the French army, and one to the Old Guard." p.375

Napoleon's new reign would last one hundred days. This brief reign would cause immediate war. Napoleon would fight his last battle at Waterloo, where he lost to allied forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington.

This time Napoleon would be exiled to St. Helena where he would remain in a gilded cage until his death. Napoleon's legacy is a mixed one, Asprey's work on him stands out because he does not give in to either side, the British paint him as a monster and the French a saint. He was both and neither, Asprey presents Napoleon as an incredible human being and that is it. He is a man who was the winner of a thousand battles who was ultimately brought down in the end. He took on the entire world and lost but he is remembered for taking it on.

*These were of course the original gorilla forces.
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on November 24, 2014
This was the first full-length work I've read on Napoleon and I was very impressed. It's meticulous in its research and detail, compelling in its storytelling, and rich in history. Asprey does a terrific job of relaying complex battlefield tactics and maneuvering in such a way that the reader is able to picture the battles as they took place, masterfully rendering the battlefield in your mind. He is careful to place people and events in context that helps to make them relatable, giving true insight into the era. A wonderful read for anyone interested in Napoleon, France, Europe, or simply human history!
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on August 25, 2013
This is the second volume of a 2 volume set, which are both well worth your time. You will gain a new understanding of who the real Napoleon was, without all the prejudices and bias you probably heard before. I highly recommend reading both volumes, "The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte", and "The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte".
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on October 28, 2001
Update: Robert Asprey died January 26, 2009. He left a major portion of his estate to New College of Florida. I knew him, wrote for and with him, and called him my mentor for over 35 years.

For those who read history with an eye for understanding the human traits that so enrage or encourage us all, reading the second book of Asprey's work on Napoleon reminds us what the elusive term "leadership" really is. For those who were taught that leadership is "not a personal or individual thing but rather a relationship and a process whereby people influence one another concerning real changes they intend for the organization or a society" this latest book should serve as a wake-up call. Leadership in Napoleon's time (and today?) is a personal and individual thing. Once again Asprey has meticulously researched a side of Napoleon vis a vis his leadership roles as simultaneous imperial administrator and military commander, with such incredible insight that the reader is forced to rethink all that he or she thought about this incredibly complex man. Most telling, and most prescient of all the chapters, are the end ones describing how the many nation entities of the European continent, along with England, waged incessant battle until Napoleon was doomed to failure. States Asprey, "Why did (Napoleon) persist in his discredited strategy (moving ahead without reinforcement/resupply)? The short answer is because he did not believe that it 'was' discredited. We are dealing here with disparate and complex factors working on a strange amalgam of past and present caught in the fearful coils of the arrogance of ingnorance, trapped in his belief of enemy impotence and cowardice, failing to recognize that his once omnipotent and beautiful army had weakened and withered into halting old age, that the political elixir which he had brewed to save Europe from itself had turned poisonously bitter and impotent...That was the real key to his disjointed actions and spurious decisions and it is at once terribly sad, yet in another sense strangely noble --- a defeated man refusing to accept defeat." And contributing to Napoleon's defeat (and education) was the war he was forced to contend with in Spain against terrorists and guerrillas. Those forces wore Napoleon's army and lessening resources down, weakening them to the point they could not be used in future battles. Napoleon loathed terrorism and guerilla tactics, but in the end, was forced to use them to wear down opposition forces. Asprey makes nearly two hundred years of history as relevant as if it had happened on 9/11/01. It is now up to the greatest military and economic power on Earth to deal with disparate and complex factors and not get caught in the fearful coils of the arrogance of ignorance. Asprey reminds our leadership how and why.
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on June 10, 2015
Very interesting about his campaigns and many activities.
But there was not enough about the man himself and what drove him.
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on August 7, 2015
The second part of this two-volume work is just as great at the first. Asprey's research and writing puts you into the life and adventures of Napoleon. Vivid details are a plenty! Highly recommended!
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on April 10, 2012
The book was very interesting, the author gives you much details, also pictures a man for his accomplishments and failures without distorting his persona.I truly admire this character, he can be a great model for self accomplishment in all aspect of life.
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on September 15, 2015
This book is a great read after watching the miniseries available on Amazon what a military genius he was
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