NAPOLEON III by Albert Guerard


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Another good addition to Great Lives in Brief, this is a concise, informative study of the man who for 22 years ruled France, and for 15 was arbiter of Europe. This nephew of Bonaparte had greatness thrust upon him. But he had also, unusual for his times, the virtue of human kindness. An exile during the reign of Louis-Philippe, he grew up in Germany, Italy, England, America, and incognito in France, and took something from each country. Unaffected by public doubts of his legitimacy, he felt himself a thorough Bonaparte, sure of his destiny. And with the fall of the monarchy he was elected sight unseen as Prince-President. When, before the expiration of his term he demanded a plebiscite, he won an overwhelming vote for restoration of the Empire. From here on, his life reads like that of a modern Captain of Industry with a conscience. His rule was significant for the reconstruction of Paris and other cities into their modern pattern; reorganization of water supplies, sewage and drainage systems (insurance against unemployment). Having seen other lands he was not content with picturesque squalor. The success of the Great Exposition and the opening of the Suez Canal seemed the pinnacle of his glory. In his private life he was an inveterate amorist; he kept love apart from politics and his marriage to Eugenie was a model of propriety. But the people of Paris never really liked him. He was always more a European than a Frenchman. His people criticized him for being a Man of Peace, and responsible for the Crimean blunder, the failure of the grab at Mexico, the menace of Bismarck. But Napoleon III understood his century and with defeat escaped to England and lived out his last days as a quiet gentleman. A factual, unbiassed study, that should whet the appetite for more.

Pub Date: April 11th, 1955
Publisher: Knopf