Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

Napoleon: A LifeDon’t ask me why, but the British seem to love Napoleon even after he spent most of his career trying to bring them down. Maybe because Napoleon’s reforms resemble modern Britain, even if he was bit prone to war. The French Emperor does suffer from a bit of bad press thanks to Adolf Hitler’s desire to be identified with him. However, Napoleon was not genocidal in the least. He also was forgiving to a fault of those who betrayed him. His brother Joseph, Foreign Minister Talleyrand, and several of his marshals all earned Napoleon’s wrath and found themselves removed. But many of them found themselves summoned back to Napoleon’s inner circle.

Andrew Roberts paints a portrait of Napoleon, warts and all, that is surprisingly sympathetic. It is true he had a tendency to go to war over matters of honor when France was not really well served. However, much of this stemmed from the entrenched royal houses of Europe mistrusting a man who tried to unify Italy, managed to dissolve the Holy Roman Empire, and placed relatives on several European thrones. That a monarch could have arisen from a minor noble family from Corsica likely did not sit well with them, either.

Roberts, while something of an apologist for Napoleon, he does not spare the Emperor from his warts. While Napoleon could be genuinely humble, his ego drove many of his decisions. He had a propensity for maneuvering his siblings into really bad marriages. And, like most powerful men of his day, he cheated on both his wives.

But Napoleon, while building an empire, invented the French Republic. The Second Republic would have a Bonaparte for president before morphing into the Second Empire, both a repudiation of the Bourbon Restoration. The subsequent republics look to the Napoleonic Code to model its laws.

The reason this book gives a more accurate depiction of Napoleon is that Roberts used a more complete collection of Napoleon’s writings and more credible eyewitness testimony.

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