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Napoleon: A Life Paperback – Illustrated, October 20, 2015
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“A thrilling tale of military and political genius… Roberts is an uncommonly gifted writer.” —The Washington Post
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.
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“An epically scaled new biography . . . Roberts brilliantly conveys the sheer energy and presence of Napoleon the organizational and military whirlwind who, through crisp and incessant questioning, sized up people and problems and got things done. . . . His dynamism shines in Roberts’s set-piece chapters on major battles like Austerlitz, Jena, and Marengo, turning visionary military maneuvers into politically potent moments.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Roberts is a masterly storyteller. . . . I would recommend his book to anyone seeking an accessible chronicle, rich in anecdote, of Napoleon’s fantastic story.”
—Max Hastings, The Wall Street Journal
“With his customary flair and keen historical eye, Andrew Roberts has delivered the goods again. This is the best one volume biography of Napoleon in English for the last four decades. A tour de force that belongs on every history lover’s bookshelf!”
—Jay Winik, bestselling author of The Great Upheaval and April 1865
“Is another long life of Napoleon really necessary? On three counts, the answer given by Andrew Roberts’s impressive book is an emphatic yes. The most important is that this is the first single-volume general biography to make full use of the treasure trove of Napoleon’s 33,000-odd letters, which began being published in Paris only in 2004. Second, Roberts, who has previously written on Napoleon and Wellington, is a masterly analyst of the French emperor’s many battles. Third, his book is beautifully written and a pleasure to read.”
“Napoleon remade France and much of Europe in his fifteen years in power and proved himself one of history’s greatest military commanders. Roberts’s access to Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, only recently available, allowed him to create a fully human portrait of this larger-than-life figure.”
—The Wall Street Journal, Holiday Gift Guide
“A huge, rich, deep, witty, humane and unapologetically admiring biography that is a pleasure to read. The Napoleon painted here is a whirlwind of a man—not only a vigorous and supremely confident commander, but an astonishingly busy governor, correspondent and lover, too. . . . To dive into Roberts’s new book is to understand—indeed, to feel—why this peculiarly brilliant Corsican managed for so long to dazzle the world.”
—Dan Jones, The Telegraph
“Roberts in his Napoleon achieves the near impossible by writing on this extravagantly well-covered subject with a freshness and excitement that makes readers think they have stumbled on something entirely new.”
—Philip Ziegler, The Spectator, Books of the Year
“Truly a Napoleonic triumph of a book, elegantly written, epic in scale, novelistic in detail, irresistibly galloping with the momentum of a cavalry charge, as comfortable on the battlefield as in the bedroom. Here, at last, is the full biography.”
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard, Books of the Year
“Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon is a brilliant example of ‘great man’ history, brimming with personality and the high-octane Bonapartist spirit.”
—John Bew, New Statesman, Books of the Year
“Entertaining, even addictive . . . Roberts writes with great vigor, style, and fluency.”
—Sunday Times (London)
“Magnificent . . . Roberts’s fine book encompasses all the evidence to give a brilliant portrait of the man. The book, as it needs to be, is massive, yet the pace is brisk and it’s never overwhelmed by the scholarly research, which was plainly immense.”
—Mail on Sunday
“Roberts not only brings the Napoleon story up to date but, with new evidence from the archives and an original spin on the present, makes a compelling case for why we should all read anew about the little Corsican in the 21st century.”
—The Observer (London)
“Magisterial and beautifully written . . . A richly detailed and sure-footed reappraisal of the man, his achievements—and failures—and the extraordinary times in which he lived.”
“A definitive account that dispels many of the myths that surrounded Napoleon from his lifetime to the present day.”
“A compelling biography of the preeminent French general that stands apart from the rest, owing to the author’s thoroughness, accuracy, and attention to detail. Roberts relies on his military expertise, Napoleon’s surviving correspondence (33,000 items in all), and exhaustive on-site studies of French battlegrounds. . . . This voluminous work is likely to set the standard for subsequent accounts.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
About the Author
Institute, he has won many prizes, including the Wolfson History Prize and the British Army Military Book Award, writes frequently for The Wall Street Journal,
and has written and presented a number of popular documentaries. He lives in New York City.
- ASIN : 0143127853
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Illustrated edition (October 20, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 976 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780143127857
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143127857
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 2 pounds
- Dimensions : 2.3 x 6 x 8.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #9,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Most of us appreciate that Napoleon was one of the great military strategists of all time. I, for one, however, did not appreciate the role he played in shaping the modern Europe. Nor did I appreciate the extent to which the Napoleonic Civil Code has influenced every republic and liberal democracy in the world, and continues to do so to this day.
The book is very well written and exhaustively research. And according to the marketing materials that accompany the book, Roberts is the first biographer to made full use of the 33,000 letters Napoleon wrote just now being made available. Frankly, given the number of references to those letters, and the insight provided by the quotes taken, it’s hard to imagine you could get a real feel for the man without them.
I am admittedly not a big fan of battle strategy and those parts of this rather exhaustive book did drag a bit for me. And I read the electronic version in which the maps are very difficult to read. What I did like about the material covered, however, is that this is a book of history. Unlike, say, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which covered much the same period, it is not a book about the parlor life of the European aristocracy of the era.
But while the battle strategy was not my favorite part, I find it hard to believe that Napoleon’s Maxims of War are not sitting on every modern CEO’s desk to the extent that copies of Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War, are. His emphasis on speed, attacking the enemy’s hinge points, and never diluting your main force, I believe, have an abundance of application to modern business management.
He was, in many ways, a contradiction, but that contributed to his greatness. He named himself emperor, for example, but had camaraderie with the average foot soldier that was unheard of among officers of the day. He was not one of them but they viewed him as authentic. Few modern leaders achieve that conceptual duality. They either don’t establish themselves as leaders or they create the image of the arrogant you-know-what. They trusted him, in short, and trust is at the heart of all leadership. Without it nothing else matters.
His most amazing contribution, however, and the one that I frankly knew least about before reading this book, was the Napoleonic Civil Code. “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.”
All told, whether you enjoy history or not, this book should be on your reading list. You will be amazed at how much better you will understand modern Europe and the world at large.
What we get in fact is a deep analysis of the man, of his times, of his accomplishments, and of his failures and while there is praise aplenty, there is no shortage of criticism and myth busting.
The first hint that this will not be a hatchet job comes from Roberts's life itself: an ardent Thatcherite, Roberts supports meritocracy; the now obvious idea that someone should be appointed to a position if he has proven he can discharge the duties that come with it rather than because he was born to it. And Napoleon promoted soldiers to general if they won battles, he appointed civil servants that could deliver results. He made dukes of haberdashers and grocers that could dress and feed his Grande Armée.
He destroys the British myth that Napoleon was some sort of ogre. His portrait shows readers a charming man who instantly commanded the love of the crowds he addressed and who encouraged frank and forthright speech. An ogre would have executed an innkeeper who overcharged him for breakfast, but Napoleon laughed at the innkeeper's quip on why he overcharged him.
Another myth to go is that of the great love affair between Napoleon and Josephine. Roberts replaces that romance with a more realistic assessment. Napoleon held a deep affection for Josephine and he came to realize she had been his good luck charm. And perhaps she was first amongst all his loves. But for Napoleon, destiny and legacy came first.
And Napoleon's legacy did not emerge from Austerlitz or Rivoli or from any of his battles. Roberts makes a perfect case that his greatest achievement was without a doubt his Civil Code. He did not actually write the code, that was the work of one of the many men he appointed because of their abilities, but only Napoleon could have pushed it through a throng of competing interests. With it, he standardized all the different legal customs in force in different regions of France. He forced his Code upon Germany, Spain, Italy and interestingly no one got rid of it after Napoleon was overthrown. Oh, and Napoleon also standardized weights and measures. Would we use the metric system today without him?
But Roberts is not all praise. He faults Napoleon when he needs to and Napoleon did make mistakes. Those he made at Waterloo cost him his throne for good. That loss was his own fault, brought about through series of mistakes and bad judgement that cannot be blamed on weather conditions or his own health on that fateful day.
Napoleon bashers are quick to point out the lavish sums and titles Napoleon bestowed on members of his family, and in one of this book's few shortcomings, Roberts shies away from the obvious explanation, or at least doesn't emphasize it enough: Napoleon was Corsican and Corsicans, like Sicilians and Sardinians, find it difficult to trust those outside the family. Given that background, one ought to be astonished at how many appointments were made outside Napoleon's relatives and Corsican friends.
During his exile on St Helena, Napoleon recounted his glory days for the benefit of his biographer. Looking back on all he had experience, he supposedly said "Quel roman que ma vie!" ("What a story has my life been!")
Indeed it was, and Andrew Roberts recounts it in an excellent biography. Critical but fair and sympathetic.
Vincent Poirier, Quebec City
Top reviews from other countries
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.
Igualmente hace pensar que habría sido de Europa si no hubiese invadido Rusia o hubiese esperado hasta la primavera antes de dar el ataque a Moscú.
En pocas palabras es un libro muy interesante para los que les gusta la Historia.