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A breakout biography of Louis-Napoleon III, whose controversial achievements have polarized historians. Considered one of the pre-eminent Napoleon Bonaparte experts, Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian Alan Strauss-Schom has turned his sights on another in that dynasty, Napoleon III (Louis-Napoleon) overshadowed for too long by his more romanticized forebear. In the first ful A breakout biography of Louis-Napoleon III, whose controversial achievements have polarized historians. Considered one of the pre-eminent Napoleon Bonaparte experts, Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian Alan Strauss-Schom has turned his sights on another in that dynasty, Napoleon III (Louis-Napoleon) overshadowed for too long by his more romanticized forebear. In the first full biography of Napoleon III by an American historian, Strauss-Schom uses his years of primary source research to explore the major cultural, sociological, economical, financial, international, and militaristic long-lasting effects of France's most polarizing emperor. Louis-Napoleon’s achievements have been mixed and confusing, even to historians. He completely revolutionized the infrastructure of the state and the economy, but at the price of financial scandals of imperial proportions. In an age when “colonialism” was expanding, Louis-Napoleon’s colonial designs were both praised by the emperor’s party and the French military and resisted by the socialists. He expanded the nation’s railways to match those of England; created major new transoceanic steamship lines and a new modern navy; introduced a whole new banking sector supported by seemingly unlimited venture capital, while also empowering powerful new state and private banks; and completely rebuilt the heart of Paris, street by street. Napoleon III wanted to surpass the legacy of his famous uncle, Napoleon I. In The Shadow Emperor, Alan Strauss-Schom sets the record straight on Napoleon III's legacy.


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A breakout biography of Louis-Napoleon III, whose controversial achievements have polarized historians. Considered one of the pre-eminent Napoleon Bonaparte experts, Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian Alan Strauss-Schom has turned his sights on another in that dynasty, Napoleon III (Louis-Napoleon) overshadowed for too long by his more romanticized forebear. In the first ful A breakout biography of Louis-Napoleon III, whose controversial achievements have polarized historians. Considered one of the pre-eminent Napoleon Bonaparte experts, Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian Alan Strauss-Schom has turned his sights on another in that dynasty, Napoleon III (Louis-Napoleon) overshadowed for too long by his more romanticized forebear. In the first full biography of Napoleon III by an American historian, Strauss-Schom uses his years of primary source research to explore the major cultural, sociological, economical, financial, international, and militaristic long-lasting effects of France's most polarizing emperor. Louis-Napoleon’s achievements have been mixed and confusing, even to historians. He completely revolutionized the infrastructure of the state and the economy, but at the price of financial scandals of imperial proportions. In an age when “colonialism” was expanding, Louis-Napoleon’s colonial designs were both praised by the emperor’s party and the French military and resisted by the socialists. He expanded the nation’s railways to match those of England; created major new transoceanic steamship lines and a new modern navy; introduced a whole new banking sector supported by seemingly unlimited venture capital, while also empowering powerful new state and private banks; and completely rebuilt the heart of Paris, street by street. Napoleon III wanted to surpass the legacy of his famous uncle, Napoleon I. In The Shadow Emperor, Alan Strauss-Schom sets the record straight on Napoleon III's legacy.

30 review for The Shadow Emperor: A Biography of Napoleon III

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rob Schmults

    Did anyone edit this book? Many chapters feel like the author parked his notes and barely worked on them from there. The resulting text is often confusing , repetitive, and disjointed. The flow is a mess: for example people go within the space of a paragraph from being indispensable to needing to be sent off to a foreign posting. Then magically they reappear with no explanation later as the circumstances they rehabilitated them. In other cases the author makes a claim that something was a seriou Did anyone edit this book? Many chapters feel like the author parked his notes and barely worked on them from there. The resulting text is often confusing , repetitive, and disjointed. The flow is a mess: for example people go within the space of a paragraph from being indispensable to needing to be sent off to a foreign posting. Then magically they reappear with no explanation later as the circumstances they rehabilitated them. In other cases the author makes a claim that something was a serious issue and then seems to lack the focus to fully explain it. At the other extreme we get a whole chapter detailing Queen Victoria’s visit but more important details around the lead up to the Franco-Prussian War around breezed over. The list goes on, including factual errors. Very frustrating read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    This was well written and interesting. This is as much about this era and it's major players as it is about Napoleon III. The author acknowledges that colonization in Algiers was terrible for the citizens of Algiers. He mentions racial cleansing and other crimes against humanity. Yet when discussing France's forays into Asia the rhetoric isn't that this was devastating or crimes against humanity. So I didn't like that at all. I also felt his treatment of Empress Eugenie was a tad sexist. This was well written and interesting. This is as much about this era and it's major players as it is about Napoleon III. The author acknowledges that colonization in Algiers was terrible for the citizens of Algiers. He mentions racial cleansing and other crimes against humanity. Yet when discussing France's forays into Asia the rhetoric isn't that this was devastating or crimes against humanity. So I didn't like that at all. I also felt his treatment of Empress Eugenie was a tad sexist.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Oof. This book was quite the long read. I really didn't know much about Napoleon III before this book other than that he was responsible for modernizing Paris. There were a lot of points in the book where I went in search of additional information because the story was so fascinating. Looking up the locations, people, and events made my read of this book a little longer but added so much to the journey. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in 19th century politics, F Oof. This book was quite the long read. I really didn't know much about Napoleon III before this book other than that he was responsible for modernizing Paris. There were a lot of points in the book where I went in search of additional information because the story was so fascinating. Looking up the locations, people, and events made my read of this book a little longer but added so much to the journey. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in 19th century politics, France, or historical biographies. Just know that it's a bit of a hefty read. I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway in return for writing an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ricardo Caetano

    The not so famous Emperor Napoleon III, overshadowed by his military genius uncle, but who arguably has left a more lasting legacy as the founder of modern France. A man of vision who brought Paris and France to the forefront of Europe. Devoid of any kind of military aptitude, plagued by ill health towards the end of his tenure and surrounded by the wrong people, he lost his crown in the famous Franco-Prussian war of 1870, falling into the careful crafted trap of Bismark. The book is easy to read The not so famous Emperor Napoleon III, overshadowed by his military genius uncle, but who arguably has left a more lasting legacy as the founder of modern France. A man of vision who brought Paris and France to the forefront of Europe. Devoid of any kind of military aptitude, plagued by ill health towards the end of his tenure and surrounded by the wrong people, he lost his crown in the famous Franco-Prussian war of 1870, falling into the careful crafted trap of Bismark. The book is easy to read and very enjoyable. The only critique being that sometimes it focuses too much on the people around Louis Napoleon and not so much on Napoleon himself. Still, a very enjoyable read about a not very written part of history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Usually when I don't rate a book highly, it is in some way attributable to the author. Though I thought the author was a little drab, the real problem in this book is that I couldn't stand Napoleon III. So any critique of the book is overwhelmed by my dislike of a fatuous man who had no skills necessary to running a government, and yet managed to weasel his way into the Presidency of France. Usually when I don't rate a book highly, it is in some way attributable to the author. Though I thought the author was a little drab, the real problem in this book is that I couldn't stand Napoleon III. So any critique of the book is overwhelmed by my dislike of a fatuous man who had no skills necessary to running a government, and yet managed to weasel his way into the Presidency of France.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brian Bridgeforth

    I have been waiting for a new book about Louis Napoleon to come out for a few years now and was pleased when I learned this book was to be published. It was worth the wait. Schom's style is clear and he takes time to explain the events surrounding Napoleon III in a manner that is easy to follow instead of just dropping them on the reader and expecting them to be well-read on the subject. This is a great book about a man who had more impact on the modern world than he is commonly given credit for I have been waiting for a new book about Louis Napoleon to come out for a few years now and was pleased when I learned this book was to be published. It was worth the wait. Schom's style is clear and he takes time to explain the events surrounding Napoleon III in a manner that is easy to follow instead of just dropping them on the reader and expecting them to be well-read on the subject. This is a great book about a man who had more impact on the modern world than he is commonly given credit for. I was happy to give it 5 stars, which I do not do that often.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Umair Muhajir

    Schom's book should be interesting, and at the outset, he sets out his intention to redeem (from a historical memory that has regarded him as little more than a bumbler with the good fortune to inherit the Bonaparte legacy) the man who, more than anyone else, made modern France. Unfortunately, it isn't: the book recounts events, but does little to provide insight, giving it the feel of a breathless catalog (the one exception is in Schom's treatment of the Second Empire's colonialism in Algeria, Schom's book should be interesting, and at the outset, he sets out his intention to redeem (from a historical memory that has regarded him as little more than a bumbler with the good fortune to inherit the Bonaparte legacy) the man who, more than anyone else, made modern France. Unfortunately, it isn't: the book recounts events, but does little to provide insight, giving it the feel of a breathless catalog (the one exception is in Schom's treatment of the Second Empire's colonialism in Algeria, where the author attempts to link the appalling crimes of the nineteenth century with intra-Algerian and Franco-Algerian migration patterns down to our day). Through it all, the reader isn't left with a great sense of Napoleon III as a person (Schom does far better with figures like the Emperor's half-brother Auguste de Morny, or Hausmann) -- a cardinal sin in a biography on such a well-documented life.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Reza Amiri Praramadhan

    Louis Napoleon, better known as Napoleon III of French Second Empire, strikes me as a particularly tragic individual in history. Born from an overbearing tyrant of a father and mother who was overly protective but continuously prodded him to follow in the footstep of his illustrious uncle, Napoleon I, Louis Napoleon longed for an empire of his own. Nicknamed ‘Sphinx’ for his calm exterior and unpredictability, he once botched a coup attempt, only to be elected first as president of French Second Louis Napoleon, better known as Napoleon III of French Second Empire, strikes me as a particularly tragic individual in history. Born from an overbearing tyrant of a father and mother who was overly protective but continuously prodded him to follow in the footstep of his illustrious uncle, Napoleon I, Louis Napoleon longed for an empire of his own. Nicknamed ‘Sphinx’ for his calm exterior and unpredictability, he once botched a coup attempt, only to be elected first as president of French Second Republic after the Revolution of 1848, the state which Louis Napoleon himself toppled by doing a Coup to it, installing himself as Emperor of French Second Republic three years later in 1851, fulfilling his lifelong dream. As an emperor, I found his legacy mixed. On domestic front, he set France on the path of modernity, establishing modern banking system, building industries and railroads, and rebuilding Paris into one of greatest cities in the world we know today. However, his greatest failings were in foreign politics, where he fell from one failure into another. After needlessly shedding french blood (and burdening treasury) in Crimean War, he unwittingly lit up the time bomb in Algeria, where his (and his military governors) ineffective efforts in ‘pacifying’ Algeria, caused endless troubles for France’s successive governments. Although France succeeded in helping the Italians against Austrian Empire in their unification effort, it was achieved only after series of military blunders were done (and the Austrians were already as incompetent, if not more than the French anyway). The moment when he declared war against Prussia was the cause of his downfall. After a complex, and deliberate machination of Chancellor of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, Louis Napoleon bit the bait and declared war against Prussia, pitting France’s woefully unprepared army against Prussia’s well-oiled, one of the greatest armies ever marched in this earth. In this one spectacular blunder, He helped Bismarck uniting the Germans into single national entity under Prussia’s domination and destroyed his own empire. Although to be fair, the whole French leadership, both civilian and military was utterly incompetent and the whole blame cannot be put on Louis Napoleon’s shoulders. After he surrendered at Sedan, he spent some time in German’s imprisonment, only later to be allowed to go on exile to England, where he died while plotting his comeback to France. Regarding the content of this book, I have nothing but good words about it. The chapters, while numerous, was short enough to ensure that I cannot stop reading page after page. Many people who were important to Louis Napoleon’s life also described, from his father and mother, his hot-blooded spanish wife, his pestering and incompetent uncles and relatives, his competent, yet ultimately corrupt, illegitimate half-brother, to numerous lackeys and enemies. As statesmen, Napoleon III was overshadowed by his uncle, Napoleon I, especially when their military records compared. However, if their contributions to France were scrutinized more closely, Napoleon III was ultimately the winner. In the end, I recommend everyone to read this book on tragic, uncelebrated man whose contributions to France were mostly forgotten and ignored.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    This was a dream come true. I have been talking for years about wanting an English language biography about Napoleon III, even considering writing it myself. He's the most fascinating and significant 19th century head of state you've never heard of. Me too, quite frankly. I was learning a lot on every page about this tragic figure. Of course, many of his failures were his responsibility; due to his family name he felt entitled to political power and kept getting caught up in idiotic (sometimes d This was a dream come true. I have been talking for years about wanting an English language biography about Napoleon III, even considering writing it myself. He's the most fascinating and significant 19th century head of state you've never heard of. Me too, quite frankly. I was learning a lot on every page about this tragic figure. Of course, many of his failures were his responsibility; due to his family name he felt entitled to political power and kept getting caught up in idiotic (sometimes drunken) coups against the reinstated Bourbon/Orleans royal house. Louis Napoleon eventually gave up hope only to find himself as the only man seem capable of the job of President of the Second French Republic after King Louis Phillipe fled after a lethargic economy and foreign relations lead to the final fall of the monarchy. Louis Phillipe was never seen as legitimate as he took the throne in a coup himself, and after re-interring Napoleon I, his popularity was at an all time low, with the remaining Bonapartes again ascendant. Louis Napoleon then found the inefficiencies of the republic too much to bear in order to accomplish his desires, so he convinced the people to give him full control, in which the surprisingly peace loving new emperor changed France singlehandedly in ways no French leader has done since, including a friendship with Britain and a cleaner, safer Paris full of art, architecture, and parks. Many of his closest advisors were more sycophantic than anything else, some were just plain foolish in their ways to convince the reluctant emperor to commit to ridiculous affairs of state, such as the Crimean War, the Mexican succession crisis, and most notably the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of revenge masterminded by Otto von Bismarck, who unified Germany into the fiercest enemy of the west for the next 85 years. Paris as a cultural center would not be itself without Napoleon III, no matter his many complexities. This experience was exactly what I was looking for in this long awaited history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    The Shadow Emperor is a vivid portrait of a period in French history of which I knew nothing beforehand. Unfortunately, as a biography of the man himself, there are some major glaring weaknesses in the choice of material that keep it from greatness. The author spends an entire chapter delineating the gaudy and sumptuous parties of the French elite, another chapter on the cultural impact of the composer Jacques Offenbach. Both are fascinating topics. But in one of many unusual choices, this mater The Shadow Emperor is a vivid portrait of a period in French history of which I knew nothing beforehand. Unfortunately, as a biography of the man himself, there are some major glaring weaknesses in the choice of material that keep it from greatness. The author spends an entire chapter delineating the gaudy and sumptuous parties of the French elite, another chapter on the cultural impact of the composer Jacques Offenbach. Both are fascinating topics. But in one of many unusual choices, this material seems to supersede other more important topics such as Napoleon's election to the presidency of which he says almost nothing. Indochina also receives scant attention. While Strauss-Schom is very good on certain topics (the transformation of Paris into a major center of architecture, technology, and culture is a major theme of the book), the lack of true historical analysis poses a major problem overall. He attempts to cover so much material that I think the solution was to either scale back the ambition of the book (not my preferred choice) or expand it further. The author also has the tendency to name-drop everyone even tangentially related to an event, even when it adds nothing to the material. Unfortunately, I have no prior experience in French history to comment on the veracity of the information here. I do plan to reread the Franco-Prussian war section of Christopher Clark's Iron Kingdom to get a better sense of the events from the other side.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    A disappointingly shallow piece of work. The author describes himself as a biographer-historian. On the evidence of this book, he fails at both. The book is not perceptive enough to catch the essence of Napoleon III as a man, and it is well short of the academic standard to qualify as a good piece of history. The book skates over many key aspects of the period - such as the Mexican adventure - and lays the blame for the 1870 war squarely on the scheming shoulders of Bismarck, Roon and Moltke. Thi A disappointingly shallow piece of work. The author describes himself as a biographer-historian. On the evidence of this book, he fails at both. The book is not perceptive enough to catch the essence of Napoleon III as a man, and it is well short of the academic standard to qualify as a good piece of history. The book skates over many key aspects of the period - such as the Mexican adventure - and lays the blame for the 1870 war squarely on the scheming shoulders of Bismarck, Roon and Moltke. This is poor stuff. The book also suffers from several glaring inaccuracies, such as Friedrich, husband of Princess Victoria, being "the son of the Prussian king of the same name" (p.273 - Fritz's father was Wilhelm I); Benito Juarez was not a General but the civilian President of Mexico (p.329); and the French victory at Saarbrucken at the start of the Franco-Prussian War was not the only French triumph of the war (p.393 -Orleans was briefly recaptured after the fall of the Empire). What is positive is the account of the reconstruction of Paris under Haussmann and the 1867 Exhibition. These are well narrated. But overall, there are many better biographies and general historical accounts of the life of Napoleon III which analyse better his strengths, weaknesses and legacy.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    This provided quite a lot of information on an otherwise obscured portion of French and European history-the Second Empire and Napoleon III. Louis Napoleon and his Empress Eugenie oversaw the recreation of a modern Paris, the creation of the Suez Canal, the expansion of the French education system and the flourishing French artistic movements. This is a period in European history that has always remained in the shadows for me so I appreciated the detail in which it was presented. However, some o This provided quite a lot of information on an otherwise obscured portion of French and European history-the Second Empire and Napoleon III. Louis Napoleon and his Empress Eugenie oversaw the recreation of a modern Paris, the creation of the Suez Canal, the expansion of the French education system and the flourishing French artistic movements. This is a period in European history that has always remained in the shadows for me so I appreciated the detail in which it was presented. However, some of the grammar (especially the comma placement with run-on sentences) added some confusion and made this biography harder to get through. Still, I felt I learned an immense amount of information about the Second Empire and the state of the world in the mid to late 1800s and would recommend this to anyone with an interest in history.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Shelton

    I thought this book was fantastic. I didn’t know much about Napoleon III and decided to just read a few pages to see if it was worth going deeper. I was hooked after the first couple of chapters and read all the way to the end. There are some editing/grammar problems, but otherwise the author does a great job of telling the story in a compelling fashion. The chapters are short and important points are emphasized. I also liked how there were a few chapters that focused on other characters like Mo I thought this book was fantastic. I didn’t know much about Napoleon III and decided to just read a few pages to see if it was worth going deeper. I was hooked after the first couple of chapters and read all the way to the end. There are some editing/grammar problems, but otherwise the author does a great job of telling the story in a compelling fashion. The chapters are short and important points are emphasized. I also liked how there were a few chapters that focused on other characters like Morny and Bismarck. The story of Napoleon III is fascinating. In the first half of the book you are left wondering, how in the world is this guy going to become Emperor? At the end, it’s so blatantly obvious what’s coming but it’s still so tragic to see his entire life’s work and country fall apart. I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in French or European history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Nelson

    I'd probably call this a 3.5 as it has some aspects that are quite frustrating, like skipping around in time and occasionally skipping the beginning of important events, as well as a number of significant typos on dates, but the vivid portraits of Louis Napoleon and his family, as well as the gripping portrayal of his final campaign, pull it through. I'd probably call this a 3.5 as it has some aspects that are quite frustrating, like skipping around in time and occasionally skipping the beginning of important events, as well as a number of significant typos on dates, but the vivid portraits of Louis Napoleon and his family, as well as the gripping portrayal of his final campaign, pull it through.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Darren

    I've been on a French obsession and was looking forward to figuring out how Napoleon III fit into the big picture. A very interesting history I would have to say. I had no idea how consequential he was and all the major events in world history he was involved in. I feel much more educated after reading this. I've been on a French obsession and was looking forward to figuring out how Napoleon III fit into the big picture. A very interesting history I would have to say. I had no idea how consequential he was and all the major events in world history he was involved in. I feel much more educated after reading this.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    This guy desperately needs a fact checker and an editor. Many parts are hard to follow and several obvious errors make it hard to take him seriously as an authority on the subject (to name one, he gets the year of the Treaty of Westphalia wrong).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Elsey

    The author is more interested in other subjects within the book the the biography titled subject. It’s also too old fashioned a bio with no general historiography of the time period to create context.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Piotr Grebski

    Thank you for this book - maybe something was missing. But this is very important book to understand what happen later.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    The Shadow Emperor: A Biography of Napoleon III is an interesting and fascinating read. I give it 4 stars.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mitchell Kaufman

    Interesting read on the life of an oft-forgotten Bonaparte, Emperor Napoleon III of France.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Zemeckis

    A lot of Napoleon! Wow a bit confusing as to who is who but other than that goes into great deal tail about Napoleon III accomplishments

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carla Richards

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stanley

  25. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Gill

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bri

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chet Adams

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alfonso Gomez

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Zabinski

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nadiru Radena

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