Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Such a big life from such a little man.
Quick synopsis: A (very) in depth biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Napoleon was once set upon by hundreds of rabbits during a hunt and needed to flee in a carriage just to get away. Everything I just typed is true.
Fun Fact for History Nerds: Napoleon was way ahead of the curve when it came to religious tolerance. He is very much known as a brilliant, if warmongering, leader but he had some very positive traits. He generally let conquered peoples continue their lives and religion with little interference. Now was this due to it being his true feelings or politically expedient, we don’t know. However, it is worth pointing out that many tyrants never learned this lesson.
My Take: This book is very good. And at over 800 pages of actual writing, it is also very long.
Roberts takes on one of the most famous men in history and writes a very well rounded and all-encompassing biography. Nothing is left to the imagination. You learn about Napoleon’s family life and are taken through all of his campaigns.
Roberts does his best work when he focuses on these battles, actually. It is a fine line to take a casual reader through a battlefield. If you are too broad, then it’s hard to even understand how complex battle can be. If you are too detailed, people will be completely lost in the minutiae. Roberts gets the best of both worlds by explaining Napoleon’s genius without giving a blow by blow.
Roberts also doesn’t deify or vilify Napoleon. The good and bad of the man are on full display and it’s almost jarring to see how complex Napoleon was. He goes from attention loving tyrant to man madly in love with his wife on the same page. It’s a great book to understand a very famous man who is steeped in myth (he actually wasn’t short!).
Verdict: If you want to know as much as possible about Napoleon in one book then this is for you. It’s a great read but very dense.
If You Liked This Try:
- Ron Chernow, Hamilton and Washington
- Robert Massie, Catherine the Great
- Kristen Downey, Isabella