by Alan Schom ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1997
A biography so negative, it even casts doubt on Napoleon's military genius. Historian Schom (Trafalgar, 1990, etc.) breaks no new ground in portraying the man who rose from the impoverished Corsican aristocracy to become emperor of France as a brutal, selfish manipulator who dreamed only of glory and cared little for other people. But even previous biographers who didn't think much of Bonaparte as a human being or a ruler usually conceded that he had no equal on the battlefield. Schom is at pains to refute this notion, beginning with a blistering account of the Egyptian campaign of 1798--99, during which the French army was decimated due to its general's failure to inform himself about the land he was invading or to properly plan for provisioning his troops, flaws that would have even more tragic consequences in Russia in 1812. The evaluation is so hostile, it's a little hard to understand how Egypt made Napoleon popular enough to sweep into power in November 1799--let alone how he managed to lead the French army triumphantly across most of Europe over the next 13 years. Despite his assertion that he covers ""every aspect of ['Napoleon's] life and character,"" Schom severely scants the monarch's sweeping political and social initiatives within France; not even the enduring Napoleonic Code gets much attention. This is old-fashioned narrative history, primarily concerned with personal intrigue among the elite and detailed accounts of battles, and lacking consideration of their broader context. On that limited basis, it's entertaining: vivaciously and rather sloppily written, effectively if not definitively researched (notes refer mostly to published sources rather than archives), with vivid character sketches of all the Bonapartes, the agreeable and promiscuous Josephine, cynical foreign minister Talleyrand, and other key figures. More suitable for those looking for the proverbial ""good read"" than anyone seeking deeper insights into a crucial transitional moment--and man--in French history.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997
Page Count: 912
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997
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