Most helpful positive review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A teasing introduction
on 4 September 2014
This book spans the whole of Napoleon's life: his upbringing on Corsica, his education in France, his rise through the ranks of power in a particularly propitious environment during the French Revolution where he might otherwise have remained a soldier, ostracised from the aristocracy; it covers his rise to consul, his campaigns, his years as Emperor, his defeat in Russia leading to depleted forces, invasion, exile, escape, resurgence and the final fireworks in Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.
So many significant events punctuate this period that in trying to cover them all Forrest can only present an introduction or overview rather than a comprehensive study. Evidently there are many topics of interest which can only be broadly covered: Napoleon's propaganda and image-projection, Napoleon's love-life, his battle tactics and his mastery of both the political and military spheres. Forrest analyses the motivations of the Frenchman, giving a measured and understandable viewpoint on why he did what he did, and what his real thoughts were based on his actions rather than the constantly manipulated image which he portrayed to the public, most notably in his memoirs written in exile.
Due to the complicated period of history, I found this a book to be read in chunks rather than bits. It is 4 star because although very interesting it lacks the sparkle and panache of a book which stays with you forever. It feels as if the small, quirky details which make history so exciting are cast aside too often in Forrest's agenda to cover the whole period in so little space.
Ultimately this book does exactly what it says on the tin/the blurb: it gives a realist account of how a seemingly unexceptional boy became the world's greatest general and captured the imagination of a nation in his lifetime and long after his death.