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Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny Hardcover – 6 Mar 2014
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This is a masterly biography, both critical and empathetic. (Financial Times)
Stimulating and genuinely innovative. (Times Literary Supplement)
Judicious and magisterial ... Broers' grasp of 'violently changing times' is unimpeachable. (Daily Mail)
The first volume of a majestic new biography of the great ruler told with energy, style and brand new research.See all Product description
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The book itself charts the unfolding life of Napoleon from his birth, examining his somewhat humble origins in Corsica to his grandiose coronation as Emperor of the French in 1804. While the rise of Napoleon to power may be well known to some Broers has managed to shed new light on events drawing on the uncensored thoughts of Napoleon himself, thus offering the reader a greater insight into the man than has been previously available. Both Napoleon’s professional and personal life are explored, including his military career, from the siege of Toulon through to the War of the Third Coalition, and his complicated romance with Joséphine de Beauharnais. The author also goes into some depth exploring Napoleon’s relationship with other key players in French history at this time, including politicians, military leaders and fellow family members.
There are a large number of books already on the market regarding Napoleon Bonaparte, and one often wonders what any new title can bring to the subject. However, Broers work certainly sheds much new light on the life of this huge historical figure. Excellently researched and written, no Napoleonic enthusiast should be without a copy. The only minor criticism would be the fact the book is perhaps not for those who are very new to the subject but rather someone who already has a basic understanding of Napoleon and his life. On the flip side those who are familiar with Napoleon will find this a strength since it will greatly add to their existing knowledge. This title deserves a strong five out of five star rating!
In my opinion there is nothing majestic about the book. I stopped reading at page 209 and I assure you I rarely ever stop in the middle of a book. So, what is wrong?
1. The book is very badly edited. A few examples: page 193 “On 21 October, Cairo rose in mass revolt.” Four lines below: “Disturbances broke out in Cairo on 21 October.” On page 197: “where Murat’s cavalry began to learn Bedouin tactics.” Two pages further: “Murat learned much from Mameluke cavalry tactics.”
2. The index does not work. Example: Carnot is mentioned on pages 109-110, 111 (sic!) and on 117, 121, 128, 165 and more. On page 156, when there have been quite a few mentions of Carnot already I read: “ ’this is a very good man who wants his country to be free and happy’, he told Carnot, a skeptical French Director.” Is this not the same Carnot that was mentioned before? Why is he not in the index? If it is the same Carnot why reintroduce him as a skeptical French Director?
3. Worse I find that Broers continuously adds subjective, unfounded qualifications. This, in my view, should not happen in a majestic biography. Here is what he writes about Napoleon’s exit from Egypt: “However ignominious, even cowardly, Napoleon’s sordid departure from Egypt, it at least served as a coming down to earth.” Cowardly? Sordid? Says who? Did Napoleon have reasons to leave in this way? Was he really a coward that day? How do we know? Explain why his exit deserves these qualifications, please.
4. That leads to the next problem: apparently mister Broers has written the first half biography based on the new material that has become available. But he never tells us what new insights his research into this new material has generated. I probably need to read all the other thousands of Napoleon books in order to learn how Mr. Broers has rewritten history. What a wasted opportunity.
5. Style. Yes the book is “written with energy and style”. Without the energy there would be no book and every book has style. But what style? The sentence that made me stop reading was (page 209): “Sieyès’ visions and systems were as flimsy and thin as Joséphine’s evening dresses.” There you go. Really. Mistrust your metaphors.
Conclusion: The 209 pages of the biography that I read I found far from ‘majestic’. For many reasons.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Like most students of history including my French friends, I find the French Revolution is hard to understand. We can't come to grips as to what it was and how it put France on a path of success. Napoleon was a military man but more than that, as an administrator he created institutions and a Napoleonic code that shaped the country for the better in a time of political chaos the likes of which we can't begin to understand.
The author does a good job and spends a great deal of time discussing the politics following the revolution and Napoleon's assent to power. Napoleon experimented with governing in the occupation of Italy after his first campaign. He wanted to be seen by the people as a military leader rather than a politician to enable his meteoric rise in 1799. The author does a good job of presenting events in chronological order. He minimizes the reader's exposure to an array of forgettable characters. This work helps the reader put Napoleon in the context of late 18th an early 19th century Europe without exposing them to unnecessary details. The reader should be aware that this work ends in 1805 and the Russian campaign and Waterloo are yet to come. This work is very readable and informative.