Capsule Review: Napoleon, a Life; by Andrew Roberts

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Roberts is an unabashed hero-worshiper when it comes to Napoleon. That can become a little irritating. But he has also done tremendous research and presents a very thorough, very readable and very up to date biography of Napoleon (up to date because new information, including 100s of previously lost letters, have continued to turn up and all that information is included in this work).

His hero worship does not affect my five star rating because he does not hide any of Napoleon’s faults, mistakes or disasters. He just feels the need to jump in with explanations, mitigating factors and examples of similar atrocities/mistakes etc. from others to try and keep things in perspective. If you do not share his Napoleon-love, you can still benefit from reading this book. As someone who grew up hearing about Napoleon from an uncle with several editions of Emil Ludwig’s classic biography always present in the house, I am not exactly an unbiased observer, but I think the book really IS worth a read. Factually accurate, extremely detailed and highly readable.

Best “new thing I learned from this book”? Exactly how much money the British spent (very effectively) as subsidies to various European powers to keep Napoleon in check. I knew they spent money but it had never been clear to me how systematic, well thought out, effective and extensive that effort was.
by the way, Roberts’ England-love is also real, and likely deeper than any Napoleon-love he may have. That too shows up in the book 🙂

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One Reply to “Capsule Review: Napoleon, a Life; by Andrew Roberts”

  1. i must confess that i have always held a secret fascination for the great personalities of history. the napoleons, hitlers, stalins and maos of the world always held a certain allure to me. what is that secret sauce in the personalities of a select few which makes them bend millions to their will?

    their lives are the testimony to the fact that the will, (or the resolve, or the grit, call it whatever) matters far more than trivial things like IQ or inherited privilege and wealth.

    dont get me wrong. some of these great men of history, like hitler or stalin, were unquestionably monsters. but that is beside the point. the point is that what astonishing level of resolve these men, born of humble circumstances, must have possessed that they could reach the pinnacles of power where they decided the fate of million.

    i once read a book called the flatland. it discusses the possibility of there being higher dimensions in the universe that we can’t directly observe. it raises an interests idea that the strength of the personality may be the measure of a person that exists in the fourth dimension. it cannot be observed directly, but makes all the difference by infusing the person with a force of personality..whatever…

    napoleon is obviously the archetype of the great man of history. he was’t exactly born in humble circumstances, but even from his starting point his achievements were awe-inspiring.

    ending with some of my favorite napoleon quotes.

    soldiers, 40 centuries are looking upon you.
    (on the eve of battle of pyramids)

    never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake.

    he (a general) may be good, but is he lucky too?

    it all comes down to a bit of luck in the end.

    what is history but a fable agreed upon.

    after me apocalypse.

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