Napoleon: A Concise Biography
David A. Bell
This is a short biography about Napoleon that was a delight to read. What's great about this book is the fact that the reader does not get bogged down in battle after battle or some other obscure facts. It paints a broad picture of Napoleon's life, his achievements and his disasters and follies.
The author states clearly at the beginning of the book that Napoleon was a product of two great changes that came about during his time. The French Revolution which led to new power structures and authority forms. It changed the lives of those not born int aristocratic families, who could now exploit new avenues of social mobility. There were new methods of warfare and military technology that could be exploited by revolutionary armies.
This book highlights, both his major successes such as the introduction of the Napoleonic code which still exists in France, most parts of Europe and Latin America as well as his ability to successfully wage war across vast areas. It becomes clear in the book that while he was able to accomplish more than most mortals, his very success may have been part of his downfall. He wanted to be known as a son of the revolution. But he sensed that in order to create a stable situation in France, he had to extend his revolutionary zeal outwards to "keep the ball rolling" so to speak. He seemed aware that in order to be loved and respected he had to keep wining. Paradoxically, to keep winning meant severe hardship for his own men and for those who lost against him, thus provoking further conflict.
This work shows Napoleon's complex nature and the political and economic currents of the time and how and why it was that some either loved or hated him. No matter how one feels about his successes or failures it is hard to imagine a less fascinating figure in European or World history. It's also hard to imagine a man who had more impact on European and World history during and well beyond this period.
David Bell gives readers a framework with which to delve deeper into the life and history of both Napoleon and Europe during this time. In my opinion, that alone makes this book worth reading. Just to complete the package, Mr. Bell provides the reader with interesting footnotes and other bibliographic sources that makes further reading on the subject tempting.
Thanks to Netgalley and Oxford University Press for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.