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4.0 out of 5 stars Brief book
One the plus side, this book was a very good introduction to Napoleon Bonaparte's life. It was also brief and did not become bogged down in detail, which is the problem with many biographies aimed at lay readers. It was pretty fast paced and a good sketch of the man who has had such an impact.

On the downside, I felt that in places it was reading as a history...
Published on 4 Oct 2008 by Mr X

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably sloppy research
Johnson's judgement of Napoleon is his own opinion, but historical fact is not, and this "biography" is so stuffed with sloppy inaccuracies that it's hard to know where to begin. To take two at either end: in Chapter 1 we are told that Bonaparte's brother Lucien became King of Holland! It was Louis. Final chapter: we're informed that while on St Helena Napoleon befriended...
Published on 15 Jan 2005 by Andrew Birkin

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect introduction, 9 May 2009
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Napoleon (LIVES) (Paperback)
Contrary to other reviewers, this is the very first book ever I've read about Napoleon. So who am I to say it's the perfect introduction you'll ask? Well, although I'll readily grant there's perhaps sloppy research involved (I wouldn't know really), I definitely had the sense that, in less than 200 pages, this book gave me a very good outline of the man and his achievements and failures.

Is it biased? It probably is. But then again, which book about Napoleon isn't? He's probably one of those people you're either (ardently) for or (obstinately) against. Johnson paints the whole story in broad strokes, but that is to me precisely the merit of this book. If you're interested in the minutae of a particular campaign or aspect of this complex man, this is not the book for you. If, as me, you're looking for a short introduction I found that was exactly what I got. It's short, written in a very clear and fluent style, and above all: it gave me a desire to read other books on Napoleon and his era. Surely that's a good thing?
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the great contrast between France and England, 3 Nov 2006
Theodore A. Rushton (PHOENIX, Arizona United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Napoleon (Lives) (Hardcover)
History gets better with age.

On that basis, Be Warned! This book contains ideas. That in itself will upset people who like certainties instead of ideas. Don't buy if you don't like ideas. But, if you're intelligent enough to think, it is a gem. Buy it, and be prepared to think.

For all practical purposes, Napoleon and the French invented the horrors of the 20th century. Napoleon invented the absolute tyranny based on the idea of an elite right to impose "democratic" standards on lesser peoples; the French came up with the guillotine to impose revolution by terror. Finally, Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau came up with a theory of racial superiority to justify French dominance.

Paul Johnson briefly outlines Napoleon's military genius, envied by all generals and perhaps perfected by U.S. Grant, Erwin Rommel and George Patton. He also deflates the legendary Napoleon with examples of his incredible stupidity, typified by the millions of horses driven to death through exhaustion which greatly weakened the French armies from 1810 to Waterloo. It's as if Patton drove his tanks until the treads fell off, leaving his army at the mercy of a counter-attack (at Waterloo?).

For decades, British children were admonished, "Be good, or Nappy will get you." No other threat was needed, Napoleon richly deserved the honours as the tyrant and ogre of Europe. Patton was "fired" for slapping an injured soldier; Napoleon blithely had thousands of prisoners of war slaughtered with bayonets, to save the cost of bullets. Loyalty was based on the unlimited license given to his soldiers to loot for personal gain, and the army's orders to loot the art, cultural riches and treasuries of Europe. Hitler was an amateur in comparison.

Yet, Napoleon is a great man. Hitler will never be great. As Johnson makes abundantly clear, Napoleon used destruction and terror to end the tyranny of the feudal ages and drive people screaming into the Enlightened Age. (Hitler tried the reverse.)

It raises the question of whether the British incremental change is preferable to the French revolutionary turbulance, terror and tyranny. The US has tried both; the Civil War was needed to crush the last elements of feudalism; the Civil Rights movement launched a revolution in the 1960's based on law, order and respect. Johnson also raises the intriguing "alternative history" question of what might have been if Napoleon had settled the Louisianna territory instead of selling it to the US and plundering Europe.

It is a timely comment on modern America and unlimited power in limited hands, even though it was written well before George Bush launched his war to impose democracy on Iraq. Time and time again Johnson cites examples of Napoleon's policies that parallel modern events. Today, Bush is restrained by the innate decency of the American people. Napoleon, like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, Idi Amin, Hussein and others, had no limits.

There is a vast difference between America and France, between a Bush and Napoleon. Anyone reading this book will gain a much deeper appreciation of American values, especially in contrast to Napoleon's lack of human values, compassion and decency.

It will lead you to think.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NAPOLEON GIANT OR MONSTER OR BOTH, 9 Mar 2011
I. Morgan (Chelmsford , Angleterre) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Napoleon (LIVES) (Paperback)
It is a long time since having read about the French revolution and its most prominent survivor. The book is critical and convincingly likens Napoleon to later military people of note i.e. Hitler and Stalin, though it is always stated that militarily he was much higher than the latter despite a reliance on antiquated techniques which served him very well in the early campaigns. His skill as a statesman left much to be desired and his need to be a superman led to his ultimate downfall.

Concise and dispassionate I would recommend this to anyone
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Without propoganda, 23 Jun 2003
Josep Puig (BARCELONA, Catalonia Spain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Napoleon (Lives) (Hardcover)
Excellent biography. Without crushing with dates, names and numbers;
it gives the sufficient ones to justify his portrait of the personage.
It is not limited in describing the person but it relates,
with historical perspective, its incidence in the last two centuries.
The author has known to come off itself the political propaganda that
Napoleon surrounded its empire, and that France has continued
We are not before a freedom paladin but before the first
promoter of the totalitarianism of the modern times.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real gem!, 18 Mar 2010
This review is from: Napoleon (LIVES) (Paperback)
I am surprised by the negative reviews of other readers. True this book is short and not a Napoleonic chronicle but it makes no pretence at being anything other than a brief overview of Bonaparte's life.

There are too many great tomes out there on Bonaparte that bog the reader down with overwhelming and ubiquitous detail. The book provides the basics, explains the Emperor's rise and fall, while giving enough insight into his personal life.

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Napoleon (LIVES) by Paul Johnson (Paperback - 7 Aug 2003)
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