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Would you consider the audio edition of Napoleon the Great to be better than the print version?
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.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
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.