More than a biography of Hortense de Beauharnais, stepdaughter of Napoleon and wife of the controversial Louis Napoleon, this is a gigantic panorama of the Bonaparte era and its clansmen. The author shuffles around and assembles the parts of this jigsaw puzzle as the follows the long and stormy rule of the dictator from his coup to his death, concentrating on family loyalties and treacheries and above all, family politics -- world politics essentially -- which decided the fate of Europe. Napoleon emerges as a moody mixture of heroism and megalomania. His effect on everyone in his orbit, on Louis, the thrashing but impotent rebel, on Josephine, the devoted martyr to his glory, on Lucien, Caroline and Hortense, is the ever present force to which all events and personalities react. The story of Hortense is strongly threaded among the others, but she never emerges clearly as the central focus. The author's extensive research into the marriages and births, wars and deaths of this strange and powerful family ironically obscures the characterization of the heroine, but makes for a substantial supplement to the history of the times. The book is long and informed -- but it lacks shading and emphasis.