14.9.15

Book Review: Napoleon: A Life

Napoleon Bonaparte - Emperor, Conqueror, Revolutionary -  is a figure greatly embellished by history. Equally reviled and worshipped, Napoleon is perhaps one of the best documented and most researched historical characters. The Napoleonic wars were fought in a period of a printing boom. This was a time of diaries, memoirs and busy letter writing. Andrew Roberts does a great job tying these different strands to present a well-documented and thorough portrait of the great man in Napoleon: A Life
Love him, hate him or find him absurd, this book leaves you with the impression of the monumental achievements of Napoleon. While not an Alexander or a Genghis Khan, Napoleon was able to latch on to the Great Revolution and ended up fashioning France to his image. The book takes you on quite a fantastic voyage from Corsica through Metropolitan France, Egypt, Italy, Russia, Elba and St. Helena. It walks you through the different events in his life. To name a few - the Brumaire Coup, his Italian victories, his Russian debacle his exiles and his Waterloo. Each chapter of the book traces a high note of Napoleon's life - success or failure, the Emperor was always a powerful personality. The book does a great job bringing together biographies of Napoleon's enemies, vassals, his own letters (of which there are an incredible number), memoirs of the victors and the vanquished and academic documents from many years. A striking feature of the book is the description of the the different battles that Napoleon fought. The tactical maps are decent and will make for a good reading for military history buffs.
The enormous size of the book is definitely intimidating. At 800 pages, it tries to tie up way too many sources to offer a complete picture. In the eyes of the author, this complete picture is complimentary. Material from Napoleon's own words are used to justify poor judgement and excuse indiscretions. Some of the battle movements are clumsily explained and it feels like a hastily summarized view. It especially loses momentum in detailing his many defeats especially before his first exile.
Overall, this is a pretty good one-stop reference on Napoleon. Verdict: 3 stars. Borrow if history is not your thing, or buy if you are missing a work on Napoleon