After his provocative Eminent Churchillians
and his magisterial, award-winning Salisbury
, Andrew Roberts' Napoleon and Wellington
moves further back into the past to examine those titans of early 19th-century Europe. One was revolutionary, one deeply conservative. One aimed to change everything, the other aimed to achieve nothing except to stop the other changing anything. Roberts pre-empts the obvious moan regarding this well-tilled field, by pointing out that this is the first book to examine exactly what the two men thought of each other, and revealing the fascinating contradiction between what they said in public and in private. Roberts' cautious, subtle reading of character, and the narrow focus on just two men--not a mention of Rifleman Harris here--gives the book a novelistic brio. Wellington could be every bit as vainglorious as Napoleon, but Napoleon was unforgiving. Wellington saved Napoleon from execution after Waterloo, but Napoleon left money in his will to the man who had tried to assassinate the Duke. And once Napoleon had gone, Wellington amassed endless trophies of his great enemy--including not one but two of the Emperor's mistresses. Roberts' wry comment: "To sleep with one of Napoleon's mistresses might be considered an accident, but to sleep with two might suggest a pattern of triumphalism..." English readers, who have long lived with the notoriously bitchy comment from another of Wellington's mistresses, that one of their greatest national heroes was, in bed at least, "a cold fish," will be delighted to hear a second opinion from one of these ex-Imperial bed-warmers, that compared to Napoleon, Wellington was "beaucoup le plus fort". So there. Roberts is witty as well as wise, with chapter titles such as "The War for Clio's Ear". And he ends on a provocative, characteristically Euro-sceptic note: Wellington may have won at Waterloo, but today's "politically united Europe led by a centralised (French-led) bureaucracy", represents a final triumph for the Napoleonic vision... touché. --Christopher Hart
Roberts' study of the two greatest opposing generals of their age instantly recalls Alan Bullock's highly praised Hitler and Stalin. Here we also have two titans who, even though violently opposed, had much in common. This is a highly original revisionist study of the two men and some readers may be surprised by the fresh interpretation placed upon some well-known events. Napoleon praised Wellington's ruthlessness in private but criticised him as a mere "sepoy general" in public; Wellington in contrast publicly lauded the Corsican and his value on the battlefield, but in his correspondence criticised his military techniques. The British General saved Bonaparte from assassination after Waterloo, and Napoleon bequeathed money to the man who tried to kill the Duke (later Prime Minister). This animosity, mixed with admiration, charged the relationship between the two men and lies at the heart of this book. Fortunately Roberts makes light work of the contradictions. The legacy of both men has helped to shape modern Europe and, ultimately, it is this mixed achievement which makes this account so interesting.