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4.5 out of 5 stars25
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on 15 March 2010
I'd just ploughed through Franseschi and Weider's wretched 'Wars against Napoleon' and so my apetite for another biography of the same subjest was less than high, but what a difference. While both books reached the same conclusion of Napoleon as a decent and much loved leader conspired against by the other European powers, this one is gripping, fascinating and above all explains not just the reasons behind Napoleons decisions, but also those who fought him. It even reads lightly during his childhood and adolescence, a period which did'nt really interest me but which most biographers feel compelled to cover. Always readable and informative, if you only ever buy one book about Napoleon, try and make it this one, and I defy anyone to read the final chapter and not feel sympathy for him, and some anger for those who left him to die on St. Helena.
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on 11 February 2011
I love this book.

Vincent Cronin obviously knows his subject thoroughly and has a keen interest in and appreciation of Napoleon.

As another reviewer said it is a sympathetic biography which looks for the good in Napoleon's actions, but it does not gloss over the less favourable aspects of his character.

The opening chapter is called 'A Happy Childhood' and Cronin manages not only to convey that to the reader, but he also gives a sense of what life was like in Corsica when Napoleon grew up there, down to details such as the food produced and eaten and the routines of everyday life; without these ever being dull.

Cronin has written for the intelligent layman and no prior knowledge of Napoleon or The Napoleonic Wars is needed to enjoy this book; it left me with a better understanding not just of Napoleon but of late 18th and early 19th century Europe.

I've read a lot of biographies on people from different walks of life; but I have never enjoyed a biography as much as this one. I rarely re-read books but I have read this twice and I imagine I will return to it again some day.

If you do read it I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
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I recently picked this up at a church fete prior to a trip to France next week, realizing I had only a hazy idea of who Napoleon was, and what he'd done. My memory had been jogged by his appearance in the recent TV adaption of War & Peace; just about the only thing I've retained from reading the book many years ago is the scene where he's presented with a painting of his son, The King Of Rome, prior to the Battle of Borodino.

This is a book which focusses on the man: his origins, family, personality and relationships. This explicitly personal touch extends into the accounts of the world-changing events which he was initially caught up in, and quickly came to control and fashion: the French Revolution, the subsequent war, the attempts to bring liberal reforms to Europe and the construction of the French Empire. Here, for example, is how the author describes the Ulm campaign and the Battle of Austerlitz [p316]:

"In less than a month Napoleon marched [his army] 400 miles across France, over the Rhine and into Bavaria. There, in a fourteen-day campaign, he completely defeated an Austrian army under General Mack, capturing 49,000 prisoners. With another burst of speed, he raced a further 350 miles east, occupied the Austrian capital, and at Austerlitz [...] cut the Austro-Russian army in two. With a force half the size of theirs, Napoleon killed, wounded or captured 27,000 men and seized 180 guns, himself losing only 8,000 men."

It sounds like a busy month for any 36-year old man. This emphasis on Napoleon's personal qualities strongly suggests that none of these momentous events would have taken place without him, and that he truly changed the world that millions of people were living in. There's also room in the story for touching glimpses into his private life: thus, while he was engaged in his final military campaign against (what turned out to be) overwhelming odds in 1814, his wife "too had her victories to report: The King of Rome 'has told me to tell you that he's eaten up all his spinach - there's a staggering piece of news for you!'" [p446].

I greatly enjoyed the author's The Golden Honeycomb last year, and this book is just as well-written. It's been criticized (by those who know more about history than I) as being too sympathetic to its subject, giving him the benefit of the doubt in every controversial matter. Leaving that aside, I greatly enjoyed reading it as a well-rounded, always fascinating portrait of an extraordinary man, and would strongly recommend it to other readers.
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on 21 December 2015
This is an unpretentious, sensitive, sympathetic portrayal of a famous figure in French history. The later chapters carried on shedding a sympathetic light on the man even though he showed very poor judgement, as in the mistimed and impatient retreat from Moscow, the various occasions where he could have secured peace however disadvantageous and the man's rather childish behaviour on St Helena. Cronin also defends Napoleon's use of censorship during his reign. Mind you war is the great antithesis of democracy and it was attempts on Napoleon's life that led to his becoming emperor of the French.

All that said, I for one felt inspired reading about this energetic and largely good natured man - a rare trait for men of such power - and the Napoleon spirit as gleaned from these pages has helped me prod my own will power in fulfilling tasks of a non pleasurable nature. In that sense and that sense only: vive l'empereur !

Four stars.
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on 30 September 2015
There are insights aplenty here. I just read Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell so already had some ideas about Napoleon. But this book was a revelation. It ends up being a lesson on power corrupting but starts with someone fairly simple, who becomes a soldier by chance and who has not much ambition. He gradually discovers what is possible and takes the whole of France along.

It is a clear commentary but does rather leave a lot out and gives a slanted view. For example it gives the impression that he was the saviour of Egypt. People there remember a terrible massacre and have a very different view. (I was reading it while in Egypt in 2015) Read Simon Schama, Citizens, for an explanation of the French revolution which put France in such a mess that Napoleon was welcome. Read Waterloo to find out why he in the end failed. Read this book to find out why he tried.
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on 21 January 2010
A must-read for anyone interested in the Napoleon era. Time goes by as you can not put this book aside. It is true that the author does not hide its sympathy for his hero and in, this sense, it is not totally objective, specially when justifying the transition from a Republic to a "personal" Empire. However, after having read several critical biographies of Napoleon this was somehow a welcome change.
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on 13 June 2014
I enjoyed reading this book and learning what a great general, administrator, leader of his country and hero was.Napoleon Bonaparte.

I thought however the author was far too brief in his explanations in providing background information relating to the important people who were his advisers and opponents and especially his relationship with his own family.

Most deserving of greater detail however were the women in his life for example his mother, sisters, wives and mistresses. They needed to be covered in greater detail as I felt they impacted greatly on his ambitions and objectives.
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on 6 July 2012
picked this one up at a second hand store. with promises of examining Napoleon the man i was interested as most biographies run into the trouble of ending up doing an account of the napoleonic wars rather then actually saying enough on what Napoleon himself was like. from the very first page i was hooked and just couldn't stop reading. the author writes with great ease and passion that each page just flows by. hardly ever is Napoleon left as it recounts every little detail about his life and what his thoughts and feelings were on many matters giving you an epic account of a great man. Napoleon early love affairs and his actions through the french revolution are followed in wonderful detail as you feel you yourself are following the man through his life. the books is different from others in that it doesn't give much time to his military campaigns other then where the average anecdote is needed or where important events in shaping him but concentrates a huge amount on his internal reforms on becoming first consul and later emperor. this was truly fascinating reading as you lean that his energy and enthusiasm was no less in the public sector and his work and the great advances he made in rising up france almost defy belief. you often see a more human side to Napoleon as well in this book such as one incident of when the Swiss guard were butchered by a mob during the revolution Napoleon stepped out and stopped a man from killing one wounded guardsman. at another time during the battle for Borodino Napoleon the day after the battle rode out across the field to oversee the collection of the wounded, hs horse trod on a man who gave a whimper to show he was still alive. Napoleon ordered him to be put on a stretcher to which his aid said "its only a russian" Napoleon shouted back "after a victory there are no enemies only men". whats also covered in detail is Napoleons many friendships which serves to dispel am old myth that he had no friends and didn't believe in friendship. this was a truly wonderful book and i would have given it 6/5 if i could have, recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the man.
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on 6 August 2013
As someone who had never been altogether familiar with the life and times of Napoleon, I found this history to be highly interesting. My American historical education tended to treat European history between 1782-1812 as an ambiguous mish-mash of tensions between the British factions ("war" party vs. "peace" party) and the Continental revolutionary tendencies. Vincent Cronin's Napoleon helped to put a human face to the conflict raging in Europe during this period and helped to make the "Napoleonic Wars" less abstract in how they actually affected the average European. With that said, Napoleon's life really did play out much like a novel, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading biography.
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on 28 January 2013
Very well written, amusing and interesting. This is a fascinating man obviously, and this bio was a pleasure to read.
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