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Josephine: Desire, Ambition, Napoleon Paperback – 5 Jun 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow (5 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009955142X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099551423
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 187,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hello! Thank you for visiting my page. It's a great privilege to be on here - and to say hi to readers. Thank you very much for all your support! My twitter account is @katewilliamsme, come and say hello!

I grew up in a very modern house in a dormitory village in the Midlands- and as a consequence became completely obsessed by the past. When I was about six, we got a new washing machine - and I took the huge cardboard box, covered it in silver foil and told my little brother it was a time machine. I used to rumble it about and tell him 'Look! We're in Egypt in the time of the pyramids - but you can't get out!' So he had to listen to all the stories inside, my poor brother...

'One of Britain's best young historians', Independent.
'Historian Extraordinaire', The Today Programme, Radio 4
'Queen of historical fiction', Guardian
'Unforgettable', (the book, not me!), The Lady.
'Gripping, seductive', The Times

I'm still looking for that time machine - and still living in it, really as I am so obsessed by history.

Thanks so much for coming with me in my time machine.....

My latest novel, The Storms of War, is the first in a trilogy about the de Witt family. The first explores their lives from 1914-1918, as the youngest girl, Celia, sees her perfect world crumble and change. I've wanted to write about the wars since I visited the trenches in France when I was ten on a school trip. I was fascinated by how small they were - and how men could ever live in such places.

The second book will be published in 2015 - just writing it now! That will explore their lives from 1919 to 1927 - the twenties, flappers, the Crash - and a murder...

I have published four history books, my most recent (2013) was Josephine: Desire, Ambition, Napoleon (UK) and 'Ambition and Desire: the Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte' (US). It has been optioned by Ecosse Films (Nowhere Boy, Mrs Brown, Great Fire) and they are working on the script now.

My previous novel,The Pleasures of Men, about Catherine Sorgeiul, a young woman in 1840 who terrifies herself with her obsession with a murderer, appeared in 2012. I began writing the book while living in Paris, one summer - as she found herself wandering the streets alone at night, Catherine and the Man of Crows came into her mind.....It was the Simon Mayo Book Club Book in January, shortlisted for the London award and the screenplay is underway.

My second book, Becoming Queen, about the passionate youth of Queen Victoria and Princess Charlotte, England's lost queen, was published in September 2008. It was serialised in the Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazine, and a Book of the Year in the Tatler and Spectator. I made a BBC 2 show about it, acclaimed by Radio Times as 'superb', receiving 2.2 million viewers.

Her first book, England's Mistress: the Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton was published in 2006, after five years of research in archives across the world. It was Book of the Week on Radio 4, a Book of the Year in the Times and the Independent and shortlisted for the Marsh Prize for Biography. 'A wonderful, sparkling biography', Amanda Foreman.

I appear regularly on radio and TV. I was the social historian on our three series of BBC 2's Restoration Home and I am the in house expert and historian at CNN. I've also talked history and royals on the Bake Off, the Jubilee, royal wedding, coronation anniversary and Prince George coverage - and appeared often on Newsnight, Today, Sky News and various documentaries. I have made two radio documentaries, on Samuel Smiles and the history of the smile.

It's a great privilege to write - and I love hearing from readers. Thanks for coming to my page!

Product Description


"Kate Williams' entrancing biography of Josephine is a sparkling account of this most fallible and endearing of women." (Daily Mail)

"Williams is the Cole Porter of 18th century history. Her serious and thorough investigation is presented in an accessible and playful way." (The Times)

"A whirlwind tour of French history." (Virginia Rounding Telegraph)

"Scintillating . . . Williams illuminates [Josephine's character] with skill." (Country Life)

Book Description

The incredible rise and unbelievable fall of Josephine, a mistress, courtesan and Revolutionary heroine whose energy and ambition has often been overshadowed by Napoleon’s military might. Historian Kate Williams, author of Becoming Queen, tells Josephine’s searing story of sexual obsession, politics and surviving as a woman in a man’s world.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have very mixed feelings about this book. The positives first - it is very readable and Josephine emerges from these pages as a real, full person. Her intelligence, resoucefulness, charm, emotionality, resilience, and devotion (eventually) to her husband are made clear. The book gives excellent accounts of Jospehine's life, often drawn from her own writings , including her imprisonment during the revolution, her creation of a beautiful home at Malmaison, her relationships with her children from her first marraige, the tensions between her and the Bonaparte family, and her great extravegance in art, clothes and much else are all made clear.

The evidence of real love between Josephine and Napoleon runs throughout this account. Despite her infidelities in the earler part of their marriage,and despite his numerous affairs later, they certainly appear to have developed a true and lasting bond, and this book makes clear the agonies which divorce for dynastic reasons caused them both.'Josephine' was Napoleon's last word before he died on St Helena.

However this book is let down for me by the one dimension depiction of Napoleon himself. No credit is given for any of his accomplishments, and he is portrayed througout as a tyrant only interested in his own glory, Not even his capacity to inspire the love and devotion described in these pages is given any real credit, and the phrase 'Napoleon did not care' is used frequently and speculatively throughout.

Whilst a generaly enjoyable read, this gives, for me, a very distorted picture and readers who wish to know more about why Napoleon was revered as well as hated might wish to read further, particularly Napoleon for a short account or Napoleon: A Political Life for a fuller analysis
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 20 July 2014
Format: Paperback
To be honest this was a book that I became interested in purely for the fact that I wanted to read up a little bit more from the female point of view in the French Revolution and whilst I was fully aware of Napoleon during this time, I really didn’t know anything about his first wife Josephine (or rather Marie Josèphe Rose (her birth name.)

So whilst I had originally picked this up on a whim to learn more, what I managed to obtain from this book was a figure of strong womanhood, who not only managed to change herself like a chameleon to suit her social status’ but also managed to escape the guillotine a fete in itself. She was charismatic, she was a fascinating character and whilst many tend to think that Napoleon was the power in the relationship, in reality it was more an equal footing for both.

All round this book not only kept me glued but when backed up with solid research which is presented in an easy to follow manner, all round I was hooked from the first chapter onwards. Great stuff.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 7 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is history at its most readable and accessible as Williams retells the story of Josephine, and her tempestuous relationship with Napoleon.

Based on the letters of Josephine herself, and her friends - and enemies - this follows Marie-Josèphe from her plantation home on French Martinique, to her eventual death in France. Along the route we meet her handsome, dissolute first husband, her various lovers, and witness the Revolution, before our 'heroine' meets Napoleon.

This is a gripping read as Williams seeks to overturn the stereotypical image of Josephine as nothing more than a silly, frivolous, ill-educated coquette. If you like your history to focus on the personal rather than the political, and to be written with the flair and panache of a novel, this may well be a great choice.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 Dec. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The unsophisticated daughter of a Creole family whose Martinique sugar plantations ran on slave labour, Josephine was shipped to France for what proved a tragic and short-lived arranged marriage. Widowed with two young children in the dangerous and unstable world of the French Revolution, she soon acquired the requisite skills to become the mistress of a succession of wealthy and powerful men, culminating with Napoleon.

Her extravagance was shocking in its excess, her behaviour manipulative and devious, perhaps the most appalling example being her eagerness to marry her daughter off to one of Napoleon's least appealing brothers, in an attempt to compensate for her own inability to provide the French leader with a son and heir.

Despite all her faults, the author is clearly on Josephine's side, and emphasises the qualities which made her attractive to men and popular with the public: she was graceful, a good listener, and kind to those in trouble. Her main achievements seem to have been providing an attractive figurehead to offset Napoleon's boorish and intimidating image, her public relations role in organising social events and dealing with people, and the private passion for gardens, including, exotic plants, birds and wild animals imported from abroad, which led her to develop the beautiful estate of Malmaison.

This is an entertaining biography with some moments of real poignancy, as when, having at last steeled himself to announce his divorce of Josephine, Napoleon still hankers for her company so much that he cannot resist coming over to Malmaison to walk with her in the rain.
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