Napoleon Bonaparte lived one of the most extraordinary of all human lives. In the space of just 20 years, from October 1795, when as a young artillery captain he cleared the streets of Paris of insurrectionists, to his final defeat at the (horribly mismanaged) battle of Waterloo in June 1815, Napoleon transformed France and Europe.
After seizing power in a coup d'état, he ended the corruption and incompetence into which the revolution had descended. In a series of dazzling battles, he reinvented the art of warfare; in peace he completely remade the laws of France, modernised her systems of education and administration, and presided over a flourishing of the beautiful Empire style in the arts.
The impossibility of defeating his most persistent enemy, Great Britain, led him to make draining and ultimately fatal expeditions into Spain and Russia, where half a million Frenchmen died, and his empire began to unravel.
More than any other modern biographer, Andrew Roberts conveys Napoleon's tremendous energy, both physical and intellectual, and the attractiveness of his personality even to his enemies. He has walked 53 of Napoleon's 60 battlefields and has absorbed the gigantic new French edition of Napoleon's letters, which allows a complete reevaluation of this exceptional man.
He overturns many received opinions, including the myth of a great romance with Josephine: She took a lover immediately after their marriage, and, as Roberts shows, he had three times as many mistresses as he acknowledged.
Of the climactic Battle of Leipzig in 1813, as the fighting closed around them, a French sergeant major wrote, "No-one who has not experienced it can have any idea of the enthusiasm that burst forth among the half-starved, exhausted soldiers when the Emperor was there in person. If all were demoralised and he appeared, his presence was like an electric shock. All shouted 'Vive l'Empereur!' and everyone charged blindly into the fire."
Andrew Roberts is a biographer and historian of international renown whose books include Salisbury: Victorian Titan (winner, the Wolfson Prize for History); Masters and Commanders; and The Storm of War, which reached number two on the Sunday Times best seller list. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Societies of Literature and Arts. He appears regularly on British television and radio and writes for the Sunday Telegraph, Spectator, Literary Review, Mail on Sunday and Daily Telegraph.
©2014 Andrew Roberts (P)2015 Audible, Ltd
"Roberts...writes with great vigour, style and fluency." (Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times)
"Magisterial and beautifully written.... A richly detailed and sure-footed reappraisal of the man, his achievements--and failures--and the extraordinary times in which he lived." (Jeremy Jennings, Standpoint)
"Roberts tells his story with vigour and aplomb. And even critics of the emperor will recognize that there is much new information in Roberts's 814 pages, while the frequent complaint that is made of a tendency among authors to foreshorten the military narrative is not suitable here." (Charles Esdaile, Literary Review)
Kildonan by the sea
I start with that quote because Napoleon has become a victim of of this agreement, many still see him as caricature of the man he really was. We must remember that history especially immediate history is written by the victors and in the end he was defeated. But two hundred years plus allows Andrew Roberts a perspective and a freedom to reevaluate this great figure of history if not with redemption for his errors at list with a modicum of respect and admiration for his many accomplishments as person, a politician, an intellectual, an explorer, a general, an emperor, and a leader of men.
A voluminous book that would have suffice to describe the life of most accomplished persons is render miniscule by the incredible amount of events and history created by this truly singular man.
It has opened my appetite for more information on the exploration of Egypt, the Spanish campaign, and his blunder in Russia just to name a few. It seems incredible that a person could encompass so much in a time when communications and transport were minimal by our standard. Making this biography all the more fascinating.
This book is a must if you are interested in modern or ancient European history Napoleon is the centerpiece that looks back at classical european history and the renascence and ebodies it to push the entire continent into what has become our modern world with his laws, implementation of meritocracies, reducing aristocracy, and the clipping of the wings of the most rapacious of birds of prey religion.
If I have a complaint it is that I am not really that interested in his or any persons sexual predilections unless they affect his or her judgement on a matter of historical importance, specially in books about historical figures, so for me this book was a bit too concerned with picadillos that were as important as other biological needs that do not need mentioning unless they affect the course of history, but perhaps this is a necessity for our celebrity obsessed society.
I just wish that this book should have expanded more, into several volumes to truly encapture Napoleon's legacy.
This is a very long listen worthy of an academic thesis, but fortunately is also a pacy and lively account an extraordinary life. I hadn’t realized that Napoleon was not just a war-monger but also a scholar and political reformer whose influence is still felt in Europe to this day. The author is obviously an admirer and I felt he glossed over the damage to people and countries, including France, caused by Napoleon’s desire to dominate Europe. Napoleon was obviously an outstanding military tactician, at least until 1812, driven by a sense of destiny to be one of the great men of history like his heroes Caesar and Alexander the Great.
Napoleon waged many battles and the book describes them all: the strategy, ordinance, types and numbers of combatants, fatalities, wounded and prisoners are all logged in meticulous detail that will please those interested in military history. I let much of this wash over me, however, I absorbed enough to get a real feel of what war is like and am left saddened by the hundreds of thousands of young men’s lives sacrificed by Napoleon’s self-confident hubris. Woven into the narrative of continuous military action there are many fascinating details of Napoleon’s personal and political life much of which was gleaned from his prodigious output of letters.
I enjoyed the book and am left with the impression of a complex man full of contradictions in his attitudes and behaviour. I didn't give it 5 stars as for many listeners, including me, there is just too much detail about every battle he fought.
I think the narrator is very good.. My ‘O’ level French from decades ago isn’t good enough to criticise his pronunciation as some have been able to do.
Nic - husband, daddy, author, pain specialist, clinical manager, and general book enthusiast.
Napoleon led a fascinating life and, fortunately for us, some 33,000 of his letters were preserved. They form the basis of this epic piece of work, which Roberts has used to reassemble and revive this illustrious leader in the most vivid way. Thorne provides just enough 'performance' without distracting from the text, yet allows you to almost feel like you are with the great man himself at times (Napoleon, that is).
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
The man who crowned himself as Emperor of the French and his consistently adulterous wife Josephine as Empress clearly possessed no shortage of self-pride in his prowess and grandeur. In his 'royal' household a 'pousse fauteuil' was employed to push in the Emperor's chair for him. Not bad for one who rose from an undistinguished Corsican family who was mocked for his rough Corsican accent when he learned to speak French.
Andrew Roberts's 37-hour biography explores the phenomenon that was Napoleon, presenting a balanced and fair assessment. What keeps your attention throughout is the mass of illustrative detail and quotations from the thousands of his letters which Roberts has studied. Britain and France were at war for 20 of the 22 years between 1793 and 1815. Napoleon's main campaigns were triumphs for France - but at horrific cost for all who took part. Whilst he travelled with his library and 'savants', 200 men were blinded by sun-scalded eyes in the Egyptian campaign, 10,000 horses were killed in the first week of the Russian campaign and 200 soldiers had legs amputated in one day; in the disastrous (for France) retreat from Moscow, men were found barely clinging to life inside the stripped-bare carcasses of horses.
At the end of the 37 hours you are left with a persuasively argued Bonapartist assessment which presents Napoleon with all his indisputable greatness, his positive legacy, and his weaknesses and eventual downfall.
Narrating a long non-fiction work like this one is no easy job: as a listener you do not want the narrator to intrude with his own interpretations. Stephen Thorne is highly competent although sometimes I found his tone rather patronising, but perhaps he was trying to vary the book's seriousness for audio listeners.
Notwithstanding other criticisms of the narratorI enjoyed his reading, this is a long book, get ready for dull bits! And I forgive his mis pronunciation. if any body should be criticised its the editor. A great listen authoritative informative. You wont even think of buying this unless you like history and want to know Napoleons role in shaping the world, which emerges as the book unfolds. If you fit this its worth it.
informed, well researched
I loved the pace, subtle humour and attention to detail. Writing a book on one of the greatest leaders in world history was an ambitious undertaking. Heartily recommend.
The story of humble beginnings and the notion of someone with profound ability meeting opportunity. Also, while the greatness of Napoleon shines through, so does his humanity.
He has managed to condense so much about the life of Napoleon, yet, brings a large degree of context which helps give perspective to why he is rightly called "Great".
No, it is a meaty book.
Great book, thoroughly enjoyed listening to it being read.
I was held in thrall from beginning to end. I love this sort of thing anyway but it was particularly well written and well read. Enough detail is given to get a well rounded picture of Napoleon, his life and times. It is not an exhaustive look at his battles and campaigns but a reasonable ballance of the military, political and social.
Say something about yourself!
I would consider the audio version to be a great improvement. The print version is a masterpiece in and of itself but having a Lord of Audiobooks in Stephen Thorne narrate the life and battles of Napoleon to you makes even the most...excessive of speeches leap out at you and feel like auditory honey. Buy this book!
As previously mentioned Thorne allows you to feel as though Napoleon, the author and his associates are talking to you directly as the listener making the experience easier. The book might seem long when you see the length but it flies by for me. I can't wait to get the rest of Andrew Roberts' books!
This book is highly recommended!
Very happy with this audiobook. Interesting story, and good narration. I thought it may be a bit of a slog, but its not at all
No complaints at all. A good narration of a very interesting period of history.
I am surprised that I have finished it so quickly, but 37 hours.... that would have been a long sitting!
"An In-Depth Account that Humanizes Bonaparte"
This book makes no claim to be anything but a defence of Napoleon Bonaparte as someone deserving the title "Great." While never failing to highlight Napoleon's mistakes or weaknesses, the author certainly does make the case for his greatness. He does so with loads of factual information, including many telling and surprising comments from Bonaparte himself taken from some of his thousands of letters.
Roberts' biography serves to dispel the various, often inane historical caricatures of Bonaparte and draws the listener into appreciating the compelling, enigmatic nature of a brilliant man with unsurpassable charm, energy, leadership skills, strategic vision, a ridiculous attention to details, a manic desire for knowledge, and of course a longing to rule and mould society.
My main criticism of the book is that the author continually introduces new characters of which there are many, often with only a fleeting description, and then refers to said characters over and over again without ever referencing his original description; this left me almost continually uncertain of the identity of many individuals whom the author referred to, particularly pertaining to those in the military and government. More frustratingly, I often didn't even know which countries these men represented. Perhaps this is one "flaw" that is made less evident by reading the book instead of listening to it.
Still very much worth the read. I learned a great deal about the main character, and about French and European history that I was previously unaware of.
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