A densely factual, uninterpretive biography of the great Napoleon's unpromising nephew, who reigned as Napoleon III (1852-70), and the strong-willed Spanish beauty whom he married because he could have her no other way. Ridley is a delver, and especially tenacious in examining disputed points: the suspicion that Louis Napoleon (b. 1808) was not actually the son of Louis Bonaparte (probably his mother should be believed); the rumor that his older brother was murdered by the Carabinieri, not felled by measles (probably Louis Napoleon was telling the truth). And once Louis Napoleon has survived an ignominious exile and--to everyone's surprise--emerged from the turmoil of 1848 as the elected President of France, executed a brilliant coup, become Emperor, and married the not-quite-proper, much-too-Catholic Eugenie, Ridley is assiduous in disputing the ""slanders"" of their enemies. In particular, he would not have us believe that she influenced his conduct of foreign affairs or, despite her own conservatism, opposed his liberalizing policies at home. Ridley (Lord Palmerston, Garibaldi) is steeped in the international intrigue of the era, and gives an exceptionally detailed accounting of Napoleon III's interventions in Italy and of his on-again, off-again relations with England. He has little apparent interest, however, in political institutions, and so we learn more about the dominant French personalities--and Napoleon's and Eugenie's relations with them--than we do about the governance of France. And the dazzling social life of the Second Empire--to say nothing of the economic upsurge or the cultural efflorescence--hardly figures in these pages at all. But if, while Napoleon reigns, we hear only about his political successes and failures, we do, after his death in 1873, have an intimate view of Eugenie's many remaining years. As biography, it's the book's most involving section; but historians will have to consult Ridley for many personal and political particulars not flushed out before.