Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts

There are few, if any, people about whom more books have been written than Napoleon Bonaparte. Given the man's appropriately lauded sociopolitical and legal achievements contrasted against the nearly unimaginable brutality of the wars bearing his name, unsurprisingly Napoleon's myriad biographers are divided between admirers and detractors, the latter outnumbering the former. However, Andrew Roberts' book, Napoleon: A Life, places the author firmly among Napoleon's devotees. The linchpin of this book, as stated on its jacket, is that Roberts "take[s] advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon's thirty-three thousand surviving letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation." Roberts interweaves his subject's vast written commentary covering the entire spectrum from mundane to meaningful against the backdrop of Napoleon's improbable rise and meteoric collapse as militarist and politician in a short life that still resonates loudly in our world today. Roberts paints the end of Napoleon's career as attributable less to a clearly flawed character than to trusting the wrong people and fighting the wrong battles badly. ("When Waterloo is war-gamed, France usually wins," says a footnote on page 766.) Either way, the result reduced Napoleon from Emperor of France and ruler of nearly all Europe to Britain's lonely prisoner, left to die an outcast on a barren, isolated volcanic rock in the South Atlantic, light years from Paris.

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