Capsule Review: Napoleon, a Life; by Andrew Roberts

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 🙂