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.
One of the most influential leaders in history who reshaped France and Europe into what they are today, Napoleon Bonaparte’s life and times are explored in Napoleon the Great written by award-winning and best-selling writer, modern historian and biographer, Andrew Roberts. This enlightening historical audiobook edition is narrated by British actor Stephen Thorne. Listeners hear of Napoleons incredible rise to power in France - his battles both in war and in love as well as his fall at the hands of his greatest enemy, the British Empire. Available now from Audible.
"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)
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A brilliant history
Napoleon: Hero or Monster?
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.
- Rachel Redford