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Napoleon Bonaparte's character and achievements have always divided critics and commentators. In this compelling biography, Frank McLynn draws on the most recent scholarship and throws a brilliant light on this most paradoxical of men--as military leader, lover, and emperor. Tracing Napoleon's extraordinary career, McLynn examines the Promethean legend from his Corsican ro Napoleon Bonaparte's character and achievements have always divided critics and commentators. In this compelling biography, Frank McLynn draws on the most recent scholarship and throws a brilliant light on this most paradoxical of men--as military leader, lover, and emperor. Tracing Napoleon's extraordinary career, McLynn examines the Promethean legend from his Corsican roots, through the years of the French Revolution and his military triumphs, to his coronation in 1804 and ultimate defeat and imprisonment. McLynn brilliantly reveals the extent to which Napoleon was both existential hero and plaything of Fate; mathematician and mystic; intellectual giant and moral pygmy; great man and deeply flawed human being. -This massive biography not only sets forth Napoleon's deeds and acts but explores the motivations behind them. Readers always want to understand what makes great historical figures tick. -Impeccably researched and clearly written for the general public. -Gives the reader an eagle's-eye view of European history during the 40-year period of Napoleon's reign. - Hardcover ISBN: 1559706317


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Napoleon Bonaparte's character and achievements have always divided critics and commentators. In this compelling biography, Frank McLynn draws on the most recent scholarship and throws a brilliant light on this most paradoxical of men--as military leader, lover, and emperor. Tracing Napoleon's extraordinary career, McLynn examines the Promethean legend from his Corsican ro Napoleon Bonaparte's character and achievements have always divided critics and commentators. In this compelling biography, Frank McLynn draws on the most recent scholarship and throws a brilliant light on this most paradoxical of men--as military leader, lover, and emperor. Tracing Napoleon's extraordinary career, McLynn examines the Promethean legend from his Corsican roots, through the years of the French Revolution and his military triumphs, to his coronation in 1804 and ultimate defeat and imprisonment. McLynn brilliantly reveals the extent to which Napoleon was both existential hero and plaything of Fate; mathematician and mystic; intellectual giant and moral pygmy; great man and deeply flawed human being. -This massive biography not only sets forth Napoleon's deeds and acts but explores the motivations behind them. Readers always want to understand what makes great historical figures tick. -Impeccably researched and clearly written for the general public. -Gives the reader an eagle's-eye view of European history during the 40-year period of Napoleon's reign. - Hardcover ISBN: 1559706317

30 review for Napoleon: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric Folley

    I could only get through the first four chapters before I had to put this aside. While I was very interested in learning more about Napoleon and his times, this book was not for me. First of all, it seems to assume that you already have a good understanding of the general history of France during Napoleon's life, which I don't; I was hoping this book would help with that as well, but many important bits, like, say, the French Revolution, are glossed over. Since McLynn argues that Napoleon was a v I could only get through the first four chapters before I had to put this aside. While I was very interested in learning more about Napoleon and his times, this book was not for me. First of all, it seems to assume that you already have a good understanding of the general history of France during Napoleon's life, which I don't; I was hoping this book would help with that as well, but many important bits, like, say, the French Revolution, are glossed over. Since McLynn argues that Napoleon was a very political person and had changing reactions to the Revolution, a better account of what was supposedly influencing him would have been useful. Had this been all, I would have kept reading. It is well written (if a bit formal), and I could have supplemented what I felt was missing with other sources. But what convinced me to put this down is the author's endless Freudian speculations on what made Napoleon who he was: his relationship with his mother; his struggles regarding his own sexuality and his hatred of homosexuals; his need to "kill the father to become the father", ad nauseam. Perhaps I'll return to this later, but for now, I'm off to find something else.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Greg Strandberg

    I liked this book when I read it over a week or two in 2009. It was surprising how poor Napoleon was and how much of an utter nobody he was when in boarding school and such. I'm not sure if this one had the story of him leading the snowball fight, but that is a good story nonetheless. If you want a good one-volume book, this is a good bit. I'd have liked a bit more on some of the weirdness and sexual proclivities, and I just don't remember them being here. I will add that there's a short book on I liked this book when I read it over a week or two in 2009. It was surprising how poor Napoleon was and how much of an utter nobody he was when in boarding school and such. I'm not sure if this one had the story of him leading the snowball fight, but that is a good story nonetheless. If you want a good one-volume book, this is a good bit. I'd have liked a bit more on some of the weirdness and sexual proclivities, and I just don't remember them being here. I will add that there's a short book on Napoleon's time on St. Helena that compliments this one well.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark Taylor

    While I was reading Andrew Roberts’ excellent 2014 biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon: A Life, I was also reading Frank McLynn’s 1997 book Napoleon: A Biography on my Kindle. So I’ve been a little immersed in the Napoleonic era as of late, and I might be suffering from Napoleon overload. McLynn’s book isn’t as good as Roberts’, but it’s still an excellent treatment of a fascinating figure. McLynn is a psychological biographer who published a biography of Carl Jung the same year Napoleon: A While I was reading Andrew Roberts’ excellent 2014 biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon: A Life, I was also reading Frank McLynn’s 1997 book Napoleon: A Biography on my Kindle. So I’ve been a little immersed in the Napoleonic era as of late, and I might be suffering from Napoleon overload. McLynn’s book isn’t as good as Roberts’, but it’s still an excellent treatment of a fascinating figure. McLynn is a psychological biographer who published a biography of Carl Jung the same year Napoleon: A Biography came out. McLynn’s constant psychoanalyzing of Napoleon became tiring as the book went on, and I could have used a little less psychoanalytic theory. The book starts slowly, as McLynn spends a lot of time on Napoleon’s childhood. But the pace picks up once Napoleon’s life becomes more interesting. McLynn is not as strong a military historian as Roberts, but McLynn focuses more on Spain and the Peninsular War, and those chapters are excellent. McLynn sees the “Spanish ulcer” as being the moment when things began to go wrong for Napoleon. I agree with McLynn, Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808 was a classic example of overreaching. Napoleon should have realized that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. Spain had a weak monarch, and it was easy for Napoleon to invade and claim Spain for his own, but it proved to be a foolish idea, as the Spanish began a fierce guerilla war that sapped money and soldiers from France at the same time that Russia was rearming and preparing to fight Napoleon again. The strongest part of the book might be the chapters about Napoleon’s slow downfall. McLynn writes of Napoleon in 1807, “Until Eylau Napoleon had rarely put a foot wrong on a battlefield. After it, with some rare and brilliant exceptions, his touch was much less sure.” The 1812 Russian campaign was a slow descent into hell, and it is clear that Napoleon did not adequately plan for anything going wrong. McLynn writes, “But the worst mistake was the failure to think through logistical problems, admittedly almost insurmountable in an army of 600,000. Everything was underestimated: the speed at which armies could march, the amount of food that could be obtained en route, the poor state of the roads.” Incredibly, the French lost more men on the way to Moscow than on the retreat. Napoleon’s time in exile on St. Helena is covered in detail, and those passages show us a man who still had his dignity, although everything else had been taken from him. Napoleon was peevish over the insistence of the British that he be addressed in exile as “General Bonaparte,” rather than “Emperor.” He once said, “They may as well call me Archbishop, for I was head of the Church as well as the army.” McLynn has some excellent quotes from Napoleon on St. Helena. Napoleon once said to one of his retinue, “Don’t you think that when I wake in the night I don’t have dark moments, when I remember what I was and what I am now?” When he was suffering from his final illness, showing his usual stoicism, he said, “I am quite happy not to have religion. I do not suffer from chimerical fears.” Although the official explanation for Napoleon’s death was stomach cancer, many historians have argued with this over the years. McLynn puts forward a theory that Napoleon was slowly poisoned by arsenic. McLynn ably defends Bonaparte from charges of being a dictator, as he writes, “His sensibility was light years away from that of a Hitler or a Stalin, and indeed he can be faulted for not being ruthless enough at times. His indulgence of his worthless family and his repeated pardoning of the treacherous Bernadotte, the duplicitous Talleyrand and the treasonable Fouché are only the most obvious examples. Napoleon had the temperament of an old-style autocrat but not that of a modern totalitarian dictator.” Napoleon: A Biography is full of insightful quotes and anecdotes. Three of my favorite quotes from the book are the following: (I don’t have page numbers because my Kindle only tells me what location I’m on in the book, and it seems somewhat silly to write, “Location 10245 of 15527.”) When Jean-Andoche Junot’s father asked him, “Who is this unknown General Bonaparte?” Junot had replied: “He is the sort of man of whom Nature is sparing and who only appears on earth at intervals of centuries.” “He was clearly the most extraordinary man I ever saw, and I believe the most extraordinary that has lived in our age, or for many ages.”-Charles Maurice Talleyrand, who ironically enough, was one of the most duplicitous members of Napoleon’s government. Describing Emperor Francis of Austria, Napoleon’s future father-in-law, McLynn writes, “The Emperor Francis was a pathetic figure who spent his time making toffee or endlessly stamping blank sheets of parchment with specimens from his huge collection of seals.” Reading this quote really makes me want to learn more about Francis. If you’re looking for a good one-volume cradle to grave study of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon: A Biography, is a very good place to start.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Milligan

    Men lined on a wet grassy field, fighting ferociously for a farmhouse waiting desperately for the arrival of Grouchy and his thirty thousand reinforcements. As thousands of dark colored uniforms line up on the eastern edge of the battle field a call goes out. The French are here, but this is not to be the case as the arriving Prussians turn Napoleon's flank sealing the deal for one of the most well known battles in history, Waterloo. This is all that I have known of the unbelievable life of this Men lined on a wet grassy field, fighting ferociously for a farmhouse waiting desperately for the arrival of Grouchy and his thirty thousand reinforcements. As thousands of dark colored uniforms line up on the eastern edge of the battle field a call goes out. The French are here, but this is not to be the case as the arriving Prussians turn Napoleon's flank sealing the deal for one of the most well known battles in history, Waterloo. This is all that I have known of the unbelievable life of this man. That changed quickly as I struggled to push through this mammoth undertaking. With a love for history compounded by a love for fiction I bounce back and forth between the two subjects tearing through the faster easier reads. Frank McLynn's work here is superb every page is filled with details that I digested at a slow and methodical pace. Consuming the pages I am in awe that this man was able to do what he did. A believer in fate, Napoleon goes on a path to prove that nothing is written. Dreaming the impossible dream, he attempted to fulfill it, and for a decade the impossible was granted to him. In the end I am left feeling a bit of sympathy for this man, who like most men destroy themselves. I will leave my review where McLynn leaves his biography. Napoleon Bonaparte R.I.P.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matt Bennett

    Think you need 752 pages on Napolean? You are probably wrong. I was. McLynn writes well, and this is surely a complete life of a world-historic figure. But there's way too much assumed knowledge, and not nearly enough maps. The battle sequences are great for folks with detailed geographical information about late 18th C Italy, France, Egypt, Syria, Austria-Hungary, German, Russia, Spain and Portugal. For everyone else, it's a slog through the battle scenes. McLynn is also weirdly obsessed with the Think you need 752 pages on Napolean? You are probably wrong. I was. McLynn writes well, and this is surely a complete life of a world-historic figure. But there's way too much assumed knowledge, and not nearly enough maps. The battle sequences are great for folks with detailed geographical information about late 18th C Italy, France, Egypt, Syria, Austria-Hungary, German, Russia, Spain and Portugal. For everyone else, it's a slog through the battle scenes. McLynn is also weirdly obsessed with the sex lives of Napolean and his family. His sister comes in for some odd treatment, with the author refering to her alleged nymphomania at least a dozen times. But I did come away knowing a lot about a very interesting guy. And I'm pretty convinced that life in the Grand Armee when they made their way through Russia was not too pleasant.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    A behemoth of a book is needed to discuss a behemoth of historical figure, and Frank McLynn's biography of Napoleon met that need (my paperback copy weighed in at 663 pages). McLynn sought to write a fair and balanced biography of the infamous emperor, whose colorful personality and propaganda-flavored memoirs often obscure the truth of his life and his rise to power. McLynn strives to be objective, and his meticulously researched and detailed biography does its utmost to solve the many historic A behemoth of a book is needed to discuss a behemoth of historical figure, and Frank McLynn's biography of Napoleon met that need (my paperback copy weighed in at 663 pages). McLynn sought to write a fair and balanced biography of the infamous emperor, whose colorful personality and propaganda-flavored memoirs often obscure the truth of his life and his rise to power. McLynn strives to be objective, and his meticulously researched and detailed biography does its utmost to solve the many historical riddles left behind by Napoleon Bonaparte. From his unpromising childhood as a member of the financially-strapped Corsican nobility, to meteoric rise to power as General, First Consul, and finally Emperor of France, to his ignoble death on the dreadful island of St. Helena's, there is little about Napoleon's life that is unexceptional--and most of it is contradictory. Napoleon is most famously known as an Emperor of France but spoke French in a thick Corsican/Italian accent that he never bothered to improve. He was a Machiavellian whose talent as a politician and a general was largely based in his understanding and manipulation of human nature, yet he would blindly and inconceivably forgive wrongs and betrayals done to him by traitorous court members and military marshals time and time again. He was deeply misogynistic and verbally (and occasionally physically) cruel towards women yet adored his obviously unfaithful wife Josephine. He valued talent and ability but also rewarded countless honors and kingdoms to his useless and conniving brothers and sisters. England was clearly Napoleon's most powerful enemy, yet he often turned his attention away from English shores and toward the east, to Egypt and (in a move that would prove fatal) to Russia. McLynn doesn't shy away from these contradictions and does his best to explain Napoleon's motivations and psychological hang ups, by using letters and documents from the time period, as well as an array of historians' takes on this famous figure. McLynn does not seek to forgive Napoleon for his errors nor attribute greater wrong to him than is deserved. Overall, he manages to be a fair biographer. But he definitely does pick favorites among Napoleon's entourage, though. Josephine is portrayed as an emotional, thoughtless flirt, Talleyrand practically oozes slime and insincerity, Napoleon's mother Madame Mere is described as a money-grubbing, hateful creature. I'm also not sure what Czar Alexander of Russia ever did to McLynn, but the author actively seems to hate him. So while McLynn took a great deal of effort to be objective concerning Napoleon, he did not do the same with all the other historical figures he researched. I do admit, though, that I found his off hand descriptions/insults amusing. There are some other problems as well. McLynn relies far too much on psychoanalysis in understanding Napoleon's relationship with women (because it all apparently comes down to his mother, surprise surprise), which always makes me leery (blame it on being an English major in college). Some of the sections are painfully detailed and slow, such as the extended battlefield descriptions and the breakdown of Napoleon's ultimately unsuccessful economic embargo. This isn't always a page turner, and it shows in just how long it took me to read this book. But the strength in McLynn's biography is its completeness. You don't have a sense of information being skimmed over or left out--you may occasionally wish McLynn had left info out, because it's so detailed! But if you want a one-stop shop on everything Napoleon, this is the book to do that. While not always effortlessly enjoyable, I can't deny that I know far more about Napoleon now than I did before. Napoleon was a figure of extreme interest in his time, and it is a testament to his historical impact and force of personality that he remains so 200 years later. McLynn did an excellent job in portraying this fascinating but contradictory figure.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rama

    By any measure, Napoleon Bonaparte was a colossus among men. I remember the legend of Napoleon haunting me right from the time I read the abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo when I was 8 or 9 till the year or so of obsession with Friedrich Nietzsche. I'd heard of Napoleon's having had a small penis and Napoleon having been extremely ruthless, and I'd read how Napoleon was employed as a shadow by George Orwell for Joseph Stalin in Animal Farm. An obsession with anarchism (and even the F By any measure, Napoleon Bonaparte was a colossus among men. I remember the legend of Napoleon haunting me right from the time I read the abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo when I was 8 or 9 till the year or so of obsession with Friedrich Nietzsche. I'd heard of Napoleon's having had a small penis and Napoleon having been extremely ruthless, and I'd read how Napoleon was employed as a shadow by George Orwell for Joseph Stalin in Animal Farm. An obsession with anarchism (and even the French Revolution) made things black-and-white, but its enrapturement didn't put me out of affection for the Corsican ogre. Frank McLynn's biography was the first detailed work that I read about Napoleon during graduate school. Frank busted all of the above myths and much more. Unlike most readers, I wasn't put off by the lack of detailed maps in this book. The few ones (Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstadt, Borodino, Waterloo et al.) that found their way in did enough without interfering with the biographical aspects. The Jungian obsession of the author is not accentuated with a prejudice toward British perspectives. This work is a towering embodiment of objectivity; often Frank berates Prussian, Russian and Austrian adversaries of Napoleon for their mediocrity and does not spare the British either. William Pitt is criticized for not being a sane European voice in an era of competition for dominance. The British handling of Napoleon at St. Helena is also scoffed at. Blame is apportioned to the nincompoops that decided the fate of Bonaparte and the cynicism of the island administration. The over-skepticism of the British with regard to conspiracy theories is hinted at as one of the reasons why the stomach cancer theory of Napoleon's death had dominantly survived at the time of writing the book. Some of the fascinating portions of the book involve Frank McLynn being self-contradictory across a mere two or three paragraphs. Napoleon's military decline is thoroughly discussed in one paragraph, immediately followed by another where he is his old brilliant self. One of his overrated traits stands exposed in one portion, which is soon succeeded by another where this trait shines brightest. Frank McLynn's efforts at busting the myth of Napoleon clearly seem to reveal his underlying admiration for the "Emperor." The writing, although pompous in its use of Latin, French and Italian phrases and terms when plain English would've sufficed, adds to the retrograde European times discussed quite well and ends in complete subscription to the enigma of Napoleon -- Napoleon as the consummate gambler in modern history. PS: If I'd been younger, I would've argued about the appropriateness of the comparison of Napoleon's battles to Alexander's, Hannibal's or even Subutai the Valiant's. This argument would've dealt with the reliability of the battle sources and Frank McLynn's thorough awareness of the extent of propaganda involved in the aforementioned. But I guess that the "greatness" of Napoleon was not about winning all his battles. It was in his endless resourcefulness and impishness -- something that is acknowledged copiously throughout this work.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    McLynn's Napoleon is, indeed, a compelling 'warts-and-all' biography. I found his opinions of Napoleon's motives fascinating, and I learnt a lot more than I'd known before about his family relationships and the role they played in his decision-making. The only thing that makes me give this work four stars instead of five is the fact that some of the battle discussions became a little long and dry at times. One or two pages was fine, but when they dragged on longer than that, I did find myself sk McLynn's Napoleon is, indeed, a compelling 'warts-and-all' biography. I found his opinions of Napoleon's motives fascinating, and I learnt a lot more than I'd known before about his family relationships and the role they played in his decision-making. The only thing that makes me give this work four stars instead of five is the fact that some of the battle discussions became a little long and dry at times. One or two pages was fine, but when they dragged on longer than that, I did find myself skimming a little, but then I am no keen military historian and am more interested in people than battle tactics. Despite that, it was still a wonderful read and a book I am happy to add to my biography collection. It's well worth a read for military history buffs and for those interested in Napoleon and France under his rule.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Klages

    I was searching for a solid, substantive biography of Napoleon, but I'm not sure that I was successful. I gave 4 stars simply out of respect for the extensive effort that McLynn must have put in to producing this tome. McLynn offers a comprehensive overview of the key moments of Napoleon's career and personal life. He provides surprisingly light coverage of some elements (e.g., the time on St. Helena, and the Battle of Waterloo) while delving deeply into others (e.g., Napoleon's relationship with I was searching for a solid, substantive biography of Napoleon, but I'm not sure that I was successful. I gave 4 stars simply out of respect for the extensive effort that McLynn must have put in to producing this tome. McLynn offers a comprehensive overview of the key moments of Napoleon's career and personal life. He provides surprisingly light coverage of some elements (e.g., the time on St. Helena, and the Battle of Waterloo) while delving deeply into others (e.g., Napoleon's relationship with his mother). I also found McLynn's use of psychoanalytic theory an unfortunate choice; it's simply too difficult to apply these ideas with any sort of consistency or dependability. As other reviewers have noted, discussion of battles and travels might have benefitted from more maps.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Twana Ismael

    good book although i wish it was longer , a 650-page book will do no justice to life of NP , writing was fine objectivity was good conceding he was brilliant although could be egomaniac that could cost him much . writer was knowledgeable especially pychoanalysis ( not suprising considering he wrote another book a biograpghy of carl jung ) and finding motives of his actions chapters about NP's childhood and his teenage years chapters about russian campaign and peninsular war was a bit short . کتێب good book although i wish it was longer , a 650-page book will do no justice to life of NP , writing was fine objectivity was good conceding he was brilliant although could be egomaniac that could cost him much . writer was knowledgeable especially pychoanalysis ( not suprising considering he wrote another book a biograpghy of carl jung ) and finding motives of his actions chapters about NP's childhood and his teenage years chapters about russian campaign and peninsular war was a bit short . کتێبێکی باشە ، بەڵام خۆزگە درێژتر با ژیانی ناپۆلیۆن دەکرا بە ٥ کتێبی لەو شێوەیە پڕبکاتەوە بەشەکانی کامپەینی رووسیا و شەڕی نیمچەدوورگەیی کورت بوون بەشەکانی (منداڵی و گەنجێتی ناپۆلیۆن ) زۆر باش بوون . نوسەر هاوسەنگی پاراستووە ..

  11. 4 out of 5

    James Titterton

    A serviceable overview of Napoleon's life and career but with two major flaws. First, the repeated, laughable attempts to psychoanalyze Napoleon. For example, the author suggests that the young Napoleon's decision to abandon the cause of Corsican independence for French Jacobinism was motivated by his Oedipus complex and a subconscious desire to 'kill' his father figure and leader of the independence movement, Paoli. It is bad history, bad biography and totally unconvincing. Second, there is a p A serviceable overview of Napoleon's life and career but with two major flaws. First, the repeated, laughable attempts to psychoanalyze Napoleon. For example, the author suggests that the young Napoleon's decision to abandon the cause of Corsican independence for French Jacobinism was motivated by his Oedipus complex and a subconscious desire to 'kill' his father figure and leader of the independence movement, Paoli. It is bad history, bad biography and totally unconvincing. Second, there is a puerile fixation on Napoleon's sex life and a nasty, misogynist undertone in the descriptions of his various female relatives and mistresses.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    A very interesting and detailed history of Napoleon. Includes everything from early life to the Napoleonic Wars. 14+

  13. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    Brilliant. I thought that all the psychoanalytical stuff was particularly fascinating, but I imagine it probably wouldn't be to everyone's tastes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    bob

    Very informative book . However maps are greatly missing.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The upside of reading a full-length biography is that the author has space to describe and incorporate more of the primary documentary record. For example, McLynn devotes portions of his narrative to descriptions of essays and pamphlets Napoleon wrote as a youth or young adult. The downside is that, if you don't have previous knowledge of the subject, it can feel like all trees and no forest. I recommend starting with Paul Johnson's recent short biography because, while it omits much, it does ac The upside of reading a full-length biography is that the author has space to describe and incorporate more of the primary documentary record. For example, McLynn devotes portions of his narrative to descriptions of essays and pamphlets Napoleon wrote as a youth or young adult. The downside is that, if you don't have previous knowledge of the subject, it can feel like all trees and no forest. I recommend starting with Paul Johnson's recent short biography because, while it omits much, it does accurately sketch the arc of Napoleon's career. Felix Markham's "Napoleon" makes a good next stop, because it fills in the gaps and balances Johnson's account. Having worked up to McLynn's book this way, I was able to feel like I knew what part of the forest I was in. A feature of McLynn's account is his attempt to penetrate Napoleon's psyche. In proper Freudian form, this includes examining evidence about his sexuality. While much of this seems too conjectural - his supposed feelings about his mother sometimes loom larger than scant documentation can justify - it is at the same time an improvement on the approaches taken in more compact biographies. Back in 1963, Markham dropped hints - possibly the best one could do then - about Napoleon's possible sexual anxieties. Having asserted that "sex seems to have occupied little of his thoughts," Markham mentions (and Johnson omits) that in his early teens, at the military school in Brienne, Napoleon "had tried to reform one of his friends who had fallen prey to homosexual temptations." (p. 20) McLynn reports that homosexuality was rampant at the Brienne school, which suggests that sex must have occupied Napoleon's thoughts even if it occupied little of his time. That sex occupied Napoleon's thoughts is given abundant support by all three biographers. That it occupied little of his time is famously summed up in the story about Napoleon's wedding night with his second wife, where she asked him to "do it again" because it went so fast the first time. McLynn consistently puts such anecdotes in context, so that even his more curious conjectures can be weighed. Where Markham describes Napoleon's generalship with two "representative cases," McLynn considers each battlefield in turn, and in its larger context, and gradually builds his case that Napoleon was a brilliant commander of small forces but not the military genius he has been made out to be. When he takes a stand - as for instance in judging that Napoleon did not die of cancer, but was poisoned by a Bourbon agent - he is careful to point out the questions that he feels must be answered to make a persuasive alternative case. However one judges his conclusions, one feels he has explored the forest and knows its subtle tracks. In the closing chapter, McLynn makes mention of salient elements of the pro-Bonaparte propaganda created during Napoleon's exile on St. Helena, but does not make as much of this and the subsequent "cult of Napoleon" as does Johnson. Perhaps for McLynn that is "another story," whereas for Johnson debunking the Napoleon myth is the reason he wrote. But for me, knowing something about the myth completes the rounded portrait. The myth-making drew upon, but did not begin with, the propaganda campaigns. Not until the 1840s, a generation after his death, did Napoleon become an icon of an era. Rather than probing Napoleon's sex life in search of generalizations (so to speak), the myth-making should be put in context. No one life, however extraordinary, defines an age. Who said what about him, and what did they mean by it? What motivated them to create an icon for the era which had just passed? What were they trying to come to terms with? I think that Johnson names it, obliquely, when he remarks that the Congress of Vienna "refounded legitimism." In deep ways, Napoleon challenged the legitimacy of the accepted social order. His casual treatment of the religious foundation of social cohesion and political legitimacy in Europe was more threatening than the revolutionaries' hostility. He adopted the traditional forms as means without believing in them as ends. In his day, therefore, to believers he was "the monster," and to a later generation seeking to make sense of its inheritance he was an icon.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gerry Germond

    Napoleon, A Biography is big. Without the source notes and index, it is 668 pages. Napoleon was emperor, commanding general, First Consul, lawgiver, son, brother, lover, and exile; his life was large and it is hard to write a comprehensive and detail biography of the man. McLynn gives it his best shot. So it’s a historical biography. Like most such, it begins with a birth and continues through various events until Our Hero dies. Here’re the main things I’m going to retain from my reading. Napoleon Napoleon, A Biography is big. Without the source notes and index, it is 668 pages. Napoleon was emperor, commanding general, First Consul, lawgiver, son, brother, lover, and exile; his life was large and it is hard to write a comprehensive and detail biography of the man. McLynn gives it his best shot. So it’s a historical biography. Like most such, it begins with a birth and continues through various events until Our Hero dies. Here’re the main things I’m going to retain from my reading. Napoleon seemed to be misogynist. His boyhood relations with (or versus) his mother affected how he treated other women, often quite crudely. McLynn frequently psychoanalyzes his subject. If I had his mother, I’d be a misogynist too. His best generalship came as a general commanding troops in Italy, the battle of Austerlitz, and the 1814 campaign in France. There were a good many other efforts that were, well, just plain bad, especially the Egyptian, Spanish, and Russian campaigns. I have scaled back my opinion of him as a commander considerably as a result of this. He had four brothers and three sisters. They were more hindrance than help. I did enjoy reading of Pauline’s tryst with General MacDonald. The best marshals were Davout, Massena, and Suchet. Ney was an idiot, but brave. Most of the others had little to recommend them, but McLynn does capture some of their good moments. Murat and Bernadotte were treacherous enemies, along with the minister Talleyrand and the police chief Fouche. Napoleon was a pathological liar (McLynn’s words). Marie-Louis was loyal to him, after all. A good deal of the Napoleonic Code is humbug, and anti-feminist. McLynn is not writing from an Anglo-patriotic point of view. England does not come off too nobly and Waterloo was indeed a "close-run thing." McLynn writes of how Napoleon died, but revealing that would be a spoiler. The book provides a good discussion of his “life and times” in the Revolution, Consulate, and Empire, the better to understand his actions. It is detailed in some portions and a bit of a slog. The military actions move along crisply, but suffer from a paucity of maps. The chapters could have used titles and not just be numbered. The author provides a discussion of the sources used for each chapter, but nothing is footnoted. There a simpler bios out there; this is for those who want more meat on the whole man. There are likely many other books covering his career in affairs of state, his personal life, and his campaigns (Chandler’s The Campaigns of Napoleon being the English Ur-work on that last).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Cooper

    This book started a bit slow for me, but it really came on strong in the middle and end. Napoleon's childhood and rise in the military was obviously necessary to include, but was a bit dull for me. However, once he starts on the path toward becoming Emperor, this books picks up the pace. In particular, the telling of his campaign in Russia (the beginning of the end for Napoleon) is fantastic. His descriptions of the conditions of war and the threats faced by the French soldiers from the Russia p This book started a bit slow for me, but it really came on strong in the middle and end. Napoleon's childhood and rise in the military was obviously necessary to include, but was a bit dull for me. However, once he starts on the path toward becoming Emperor, this books picks up the pace. In particular, the telling of his campaign in Russia (the beginning of the end for Napoleon) is fantastic. His descriptions of the conditions of war and the threats faced by the French soldiers from the Russia peasants are captivating (many of the methods of execution/torture used by the Russian peasantry are unbelievable.). Also, the final couple chapters that deal with the fall of Napoleon and his life in exile wrap up the story in a very satisfying way. McLynn does a great job of examining both sides of all the issues. He looks at things from both pro and anti-Napoleon views and isn't afraid to question and disprove previous conclusions put forth by historians of the past. This book doesn't come across as either favorable or unfavorable towards Napoleon; rather, the objective simply seems to be to lay out the facts and expose the myths surrounding the legend of Napoleon. Overall, a great read. My biggest criticism would be that if you don't have any background knowledge of the French revolution, the first half of the book might be a bit tough to follow at times. There are many names and events referenced that could be explained a bit more. However, this isn't something that makes the book unreadable for a reader who is light on knowledge of the French Revolution. Besides that, the story flows well and the characters (including the main one, obviously) are intriguing. Four stars.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steve. g

    page664 "He claimed that but for his own (admitted) mistakes in Poland, Italy and above all Spain, he would have solved the problem of nationalities and cultural differences: 'Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between States would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility....I wish to found a European system, a European Code of Laws, a European Judiciary; there would be but one people in Europe' This is cunningly devi page664 "He claimed that but for his own (admitted) mistakes in Poland, Italy and above all Spain, he would have solved the problem of nationalities and cultural differences: 'Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between States would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility....I wish to found a European system, a European Code of Laws, a European Judiciary; there would be but one people in Europe' This is cunningly devised ex post facto rationalisation. There is nothing here about the rape of Europe by the Grand Army, the thrones illicitly grabbed for the useless Bonaparte siblings, the huge handouts and benefices given to the venal marshals, the exploitation (no other word will do) of the satellite states for the sole benefit of France." After having read about Nelson and Trafalgar and the whole OBrian series it was time to get to the man himself and this is an amazing biog. Tyrant? sure. Great Commander? yup, often. But so much more too, and answers that question ;How did the French manage to go from having a revolutionry uprising one year to an Emperor for life 10 years later. Dow! Didnt we only just behead a king? oui. I dont know what 'appened!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Josh Liller

    My first thought on finishing this book? "It's over at last!" If you've never read a biograph of Napoleon, I don't recommend starting here. Lumbering, almost totally devoid of section breaks, and with an author that seems to have a fetish for the thesaurus. The author paints Napoleon as a bright but deeply flawed individual, surrounded by a sea of relatives, subordinates, and peers that were even more reprehensible (the word "incompetent" is throw around alot). Almost nobody mentioned seems lika My first thought on finishing this book? "It's over at last!" If you've never read a biograph of Napoleon, I don't recommend starting here. Lumbering, almost totally devoid of section breaks, and with an author that seems to have a fetish for the thesaurus. The author paints Napoleon as a bright but deeply flawed individual, surrounded by a sea of relatives, subordinates, and peers that were even more reprehensible (the word "incompetent" is throw around alot). Almost nobody mentioned seems likable or even vaguely sympathetic. The book also tries to get inside Napoleon's head psychologically, often trying to write off decisions by him as being due to his issues; ironically, it does this while NOT advocating that Napoleon had a Napoleon Complex. There is also a shortage of maps. That all said, it's not completely worthless. There is a great deal of information and a number of myths about Napoleon are shot down. And I've read dryer writing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John Wilson

    Good balanced view of Napoleon. As Elvis once said, you have to take the good with the bad, the bad with the good - and that is truer of no one who's ever lived than it is of Monsieur Bonaparte. The book shows, though, that he had his own morality, and showed remarkable flashes of humanity interspersed with wreaking carnage. France, along with Russia, seems to have the most tortured history of the modern industrial states. Was it their fortuitous location or something about the people that cause Good balanced view of Napoleon. As Elvis once said, you have to take the good with the bad, the bad with the good - and that is truer of no one who's ever lived than it is of Monsieur Bonaparte. The book shows, though, that he had his own morality, and showed remarkable flashes of humanity interspersed with wreaking carnage. France, along with Russia, seems to have the most tortured history of the modern industrial states. Was it their fortuitous location or something about the people that caused them to arrive at such different forms of government? This book doesn't answer it, but it suggested to me that the French, including perhaps Napoleon himself, simply satiated themselves on war and adventure and - while retaining their pride as a nation, were able to exile Napoleon and begin to mature.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Juan

    If I wanted to read a pop psychology analysis of Napoleon I would have picked up Napoleon: A Pop Psychoanalysis By A Non Expert, not Napoleon: A Biography. The book, in parts, is well written and really immerses you in the story... but then come the last pages of the chapter where the author shows his knowledge of pop psychology in all of its glory. What a way to ruin a book. I couldn't get past 10% of the book. Also, if you're going to describe a battle in detail, it's a good idea to throw in a If I wanted to read a pop psychology analysis of Napoleon I would have picked up Napoleon: A Pop Psychoanalysis By A Non Expert, not Napoleon: A Biography. The book, in parts, is well written and really immerses you in the story... but then come the last pages of the chapter where the author shows his knowledge of pop psychology in all of its glory. What a way to ruin a book. I couldn't get past 10% of the book. Also, if you're going to describe a battle in detail, it's a good idea to throw in a map or two. The reader might have a general understanding of France's geography, but please don't assume we'll know specific topography that is crucial to the outcome of a battle. So, well written but exasperating analysis that ruins the book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aurora Valentina Zenkl

    I think it's a great history book for people who want to know more about this great conqueror. It has everything, details about Napoleon's life, his war statedgies, his love and moral obstacles and much fantasy. I loved it, as most books of this type get boring over time, this one didn't at all. It's wonderful. What disgusted me a bit were too many details about the wars, which don't araise much interest in me, but I understand why the author did, because a lot of people are concerned with this I think it's a great history book for people who want to know more about this great conqueror. It has everything, details about Napoleon's life, his war statedgies, his love and moral obstacles and much fantasy. I loved it, as most books of this type get boring over time, this one didn't at all. It's wonderful. What disgusted me a bit were too many details about the wars, which don't araise much interest in me, but I understand why the author did, because a lot of people are concerned with this subject. I reccomend it fully for someone who has always been curious about Napoleon.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Oxbox

    I finished this monster last night and I have learned a lot about this very busy man. What an incredible life he led. The book had me reaching for my dictionary more often than I'd care to reveal, but in the process I was exposed to a lot of new concepts that don't appear in modern day life. I feel richer about history having read this book. It never got boring, but some parts (especially the detailed battle descriptions) were a bit too dense. I would read another book by this author, but not rig I finished this monster last night and I have learned a lot about this very busy man. What an incredible life he led. The book had me reaching for my dictionary more often than I'd care to reveal, but in the process I was exposed to a lot of new concepts that don't appear in modern day life. I feel richer about history having read this book. It never got boring, but some parts (especially the detailed battle descriptions) were a bit too dense. I would read another book by this author, but not right away. Something lighter like The Lord of the Rings, perhaps!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    A fairly useful biography of Napoleon and his campaigns, but ruined by a lot of specious psychobabble, a lot of unevidenced opinion, some rather sexist attitudes and some terrible howling errors. The two howlers that jumped out at me were that 1. Napoleon wasn't particularly short, actually, so attempts to give him a 'complex' about his height are nonsense, and 2. the persistent mis-titling of Friedrich Wilhelm, King of Prussia, as 'Kaiser' or 'Emperor'. If you can't get something as simple as t A fairly useful biography of Napoleon and his campaigns, but ruined by a lot of specious psychobabble, a lot of unevidenced opinion, some rather sexist attitudes and some terrible howling errors. The two howlers that jumped out at me were that 1. Napoleon wasn't particularly short, actually, so attempts to give him a 'complex' about his height are nonsense, and 2. the persistent mis-titling of Friedrich Wilhelm, King of Prussia, as 'Kaiser' or 'Emperor'. If you can't get something as simple as that right, it lends no confidence to the rest of your research.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    For anyone who wishes to bring themselves up to speed on the life of Napoleon, I highly recommend this book. Frank McLynn visits every aspect of Napoleon's life, from his often troubled relationships with his immediate family and many mistresses to his military genius. The attention to detail is truly amazing, although it does make for a rather slow read. A well written and methodically researched book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pewterbreath

    I love Napoleon! I find him to be one of the most fascinating characters in history. This book is incredibly detailed--to the point of overwhelming proportions--so I can't really recommend it unless you are REALLY into Napoleon. Fortunately I am, and I had a wonderful summer dipping into this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    tom

    before i read this i knew next to nothing about napoleon but now i have a napoleon anecdote that fits almost any situation. the sad part is that i actually tell them. the only thing left desired with this book is that mclynn leaves out the story of napoleon spending a night alone in the great pyramid with the comte de st germain. it's not as gay as it sounds...well, actually, maybe it is.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kristyn

    Great Biography! While no one can rival David McCullough's historical works, this is probably my favorite non-McCullough biography. It is military-intensive, and historically and psychologically speculative . . .but it has to be, because it's Napoleon. I learned a lot and it was well written, and occassionally VERY entertaining.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Josh Boardman

    I'm torn on how to rate this book. It was incredibly rigorous, and overall, very rewarding, but it definitely slogged along at certain points. McLynn has a knack for language not often found in nonfiction, and to the people complaining above about his thesaurus usage, I say: how does one fond fissiparous in the thesaurus? I think he's just that eloquent.

  30. 4 out of 5

    F.R.

    I read this book because I knew bloody nothing about Napoleon. As a character, his moodiness, his dithering, the fact he makes the same mistakes again and again, makes him difficult to warm to (and bizarrely reminded me of Gordon Brown.) But it was incredibly well written nonetheless.

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