Top critical review
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A Great Read
on 13 August 2003
5 out of 5 for readability, 1 out of 5 for impartiality. So I give it an average mark of 3.
The book is a pleasure to read, but it quickly becomes apparent that the author is highly reluctant to remark on, or even mention, Napoleon's failings, weaknesses, and the worst excesses of his rule. We are not told, to give one example, about the press censorship which characterized his regime. Indeed the impression is given that he was a champion of liberality and freedom.
Whilst undoubtedly a genius who cast an extremely long historical shadow, it is hard for example to read the chapter about Napoleon selling out his revolutionary ideals by establishing a hereditary dynasty of his own, without an ironic smile. The facts are glossed over in the manner of Soviet historians describing the establishment of the "dictatorship of the prolerariat". Whilst in reality Napoleon rode coach and horses over the revolutionary aspirations of overthrowing the hereditary monarchy and peerage by establishing himself as a totalitarian dictator, the book tells us that before doing so, "Napoleon consulted public opinion. It was favourable." Well that's ok, then!
Equally, Napoleon's warmongering imperialism, and insistence on establishing puppet regimes across Western Europe (as hypocritical as his declaring himself Emperor) is treated highly sympathetically. The depiction of the war against England as a defensive war, entered into with the greatest reluctance, makes you wonder if the author has actually read the primary sources.
Overall, this book is a great read, but its blinkered style means it is certainly not to be regarded as a definitive text on Napoleon the man.