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Napoleon: A Life (2014)

by Andrew Roberts

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3533713,646 (4.19)21
Biography & Autobiography. History. Military. Nonfiction. HTML:The definitive biography of the great soldier-statesman by the New York Times bestselling author of The Storm of Warā??winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography and the Grand Prix of the Fondation Napoleon 

 


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 Robertsā??s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleonā??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 Napoleonā??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 hist
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English (35)  Spanish (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
I came to this big book, Napoleon: a life by Andrew Roberts, with purpose, after reading Balzacā€™s The Black Sheep, a book which (for me) prompted the question: How and why did the French allow an Emperor to be installed so soon after a peopleā€™s Revolution? Not only did this book answer my question but it also opened doors to so much that is fascinating about power and opportunity.

A very brief answer to my question (by page 240) is: Right time and place, and good luck. Napoleon was a wide reader. His Corsican/Italian/noble heritage served to provide him with a scholarship to a French military school but at the same time distance him from the distractions of the French boys who were his fellow students. Having specialised in artillery, he soon proved himself an able strategist and a brave and meticulous commander. Although only in his 20s, he rose rapidly, not just through ability but because many of the higher ranks had either left France or been weeded out in the Revolution because they came from the ruling class. His foreign military adventures kept him from the political intrigues in Paris that characterised the post-revolutionary Governments. At the outset, he was an able propagandist. As head of the army in Italy, his artfully constructed reports ensured that his victories captured the public imagination and the massive financial ā€˜contributionsā€™ and cultural treasures sent back to France not only kept the post-revolutionary economy afloat, but conferred some immunity from criticism. These spoils of victory also ensured that the lot of both the common soldier and the common citizen was vastly improved under his leadership. He took care to foster an esprit de corps that not only gained him military successes but also loyalty. After returning from Egypt (not so successful) much of the Government had descended into corrupt incompetence. He was perceived by the people as a capable hero returning to save France. He then took the opportunity to fill a leadership vacuum during a bloodless political coup, where he conducted his own coup within a coup and become First Consul supported by a new Constitution that centralised power and sanctioned absolute control. Two years into his ten-year term, a motion by the Senate to increase his term by another ten years turned into being First Consul for life. This was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people in a plebiscite as was the notion, two years later that he should be crowned Emperor.

For most of his life Napoleon was both a skilled and extremely competent leader who surrounded himself with men of talent. He was a tireless and tenacious administrator. He was never afraid to ask questions that would reveal his ignorance and was known for his clarity, precision and ability to co-ordinate widely dispersed facts and opinions. His refrains when chairing meetings were, is this fair? and, is this useful? His civil achievements were the product of the rationalising universalism of the Enlightenment.
Essentially a compromise between Roman and common law, the Code Napoleon consisted of a reasoned and harmonious body of laws that were to be the same across all territories administered by France, for the first time since the Emperor Justinian. (p. 276)

Itā€™s remarkable that cartoons by greats such as James Gillray, that portrayed him as short (he was of average height) have endured to shape public perceptions of him to this day. Reports from those that worked closely with him, such as valets and servants, consistently praise his calm benevolence as an employer who was considerate and forgave errors in such a way as to inspire life-long loyalty to the extent that many of them wanted to follow him into exile.

More than half the book is about major battles: Marengo, Austerlitz, Eylau, Friedland, Wagram Borodino, Dresden, Leipzig and Waterloo. Here the book falls short. He does his best but it seems beyond Andrew Robertsā€™ capacity to bring the battles alive. Instead, all the shifts in troops, artillery and fortunes become too hastily drawn and convoluted to properly comprehend. I really wanted to feel present at these battles and understand how they could turn on trifles.

Napoleonā€™s decline is heart-wrenching. Itā€™s a tribute to Roberts that I should feel so. This is a wonderful biography of an amazing man with a grand vision. Life is always short. Napoleon enlarges what we might think is possible. ( )
  simonpockley | Feb 25, 2024 |
Exhaustingly detailed and boring for the non-military reader! ( )
  yukon92 | Jan 3, 2024 |
Iā€™ve had a passing interest in Napoleon since I was a young man, but only in the last handful of years has that interest developed into something more like an enthusiasm for learning about this charismatic leader, the French Revolution, and the various Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon Bonaparte lived an adventure filled and full life, even having died young at age 52. He was at once a brilliant tactician (having only lost 7 out of the 60 battles he was in), a superb statesman (introducing legislation and policies that would shape France for generations to come), and occasionally a monster.

This book dives deep into his early years on Corsica, and tracks his meteoric rise through the ranks from a young Lieutenant to the Emperor of the Republic of France. It does a good job of providing a birds eye view of the major battles, and perhaps most importantly paints a vivid picture of the man - his habits, his likes and dislikes, and his demeanour. It talks about the card games he liked to play, the way he drank his coffee, his morning habits, and how long he slept. All of this helps paint a picture of the man.

I could easily read this again and probably absorb just as much as I did the first time around, and I just might. Terrific book. ( )
  nakedspine | Nov 16, 2023 |
A near-peasant upstart from a small Mediterranean island transforms himself into the emperor of nearly all of Europe, using not much more than gall and genius. Many have the former, but the latter is in rare supply. In combination, in the 18th and 19th centuries, they reshaped the world. Andrew Roberts does a superb job of keeping the reader engaged in the political and social machinations of Napoleon Bonaparte's time, and does so in a way that consistently maintains more sympathy for the man than many biographies have done, even while exposing the man's moral and military failings. His military failings were comparatively few, and Roberts makes the jumble of countries, principalities, duchies, and cultures Napoleon conquered clearly defined. The book not only serves as an exemplary biography of the man at its center, but as a valuable primer in a historical period the waves of which still wash our political shores. It is a fine and valuable work. ( )
  jumblejim | Aug 26, 2023 |
Roberts does an excellent job of squeezing Napolean's life into this one volume. He covers military, political, and personal aspects of NB's life. The biography is easy to read, well-referenced, and includes some information from a recently published massive collection of Napolean's letters. I don't have any major complaints, but...

There is no real political or psychological analysis, just reportage. That's fine, I suppose the reader can draw their own conclusions, and it reduces the size of the biography, but if a work is simplified in this way it seems less significant and reading it may seem like a less important use of your time.

The maps vary in quality and there should be at least a few more. The author is only fair in his ability to describe battles geographically. While reading this I bought the atlas of battles in the Napoleonic Wars in the West Point series, but I didn't care for it either.

I can't be sure, but the main use of the author's review of Napolean's letters seems to be the discovery that he was a micromanager and took his job as emperor seriously. This is mostly revealed in footnotes and gets a little tedious after the first several of these cataloging what odd thing or other Napolean was writing to some minor official about.

In discussing Napolean's postmortem findings, the author states that benign gastric ulcers used to sometimes become malignant before the invention of acid-arresting medication. This is some kind of garbled misunderstanding. (I won't explain Helicobacter pylori here or the difference between gastro-esophageal junction and gastric body carcinomas.) ( )
  markm2315 | Jul 1, 2023 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roberts, Andrewprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harden, BriannaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vien, Joseph-MarieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my siblings, Ashley Gurdon and Matthew and Eliot Roberts
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Introduction: Napoleon Bonaparte was the founder of modern France and one of the great conquerors of history.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Biography & Autobiography. History. Military. Nonfiction. HTML:The definitive biography of the great soldier-statesman by the New York Times bestselling author of The Storm of Warā??winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography and the Grand Prix of the Fondation Napoleon 

 


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 Robertsā??s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleonā??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 Napoleonā??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 hist

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