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NAPOLEON by Andre Castelot



Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1971
Publisher: Harper & Row

Having dealt with the ill-starred heir (King of Rome, '60) and the discarded Creole temptress (Josephine '66), Castelot now brings his Bonapartist sympathies to the Emperor himself. The results are energetic, action-packed, but disappointing to those who would understand either the man or the Empire. Failing to see Napoleon as the culmination of the French Revolution, Castelot bypasses the Napoleonic consolidation of egalite and fraternite from the revolutionary trinity (army reforms, the career open to talent, the Code Napoleon) and off-handedly dismisses the First Consulate -- and all domestic policy -- as ""a leftist government without narrow views"". The Italian campaign is described as ""one of plunder and pillage"" with nary a word on the creation of the Cisalpine Republic or Napoleon's deft exploitation of Italian (also German and Polish) nationalism or the later ideological spur of a United States of Europe. Napoleon's phoenix-like rise is, by default, grounded solely in self-seeking glory; with ""the impetuosity of a cyclone"" he pursues European dominance as -- seemingly -- a means of self-expression. On the other hand, Castelot is lavish with the details of how the Corsican wooed his many mistresses and long excerpts from his florid letters abound; so too do gold-braid and natty uniforms, diamond-studded swords, chiffon dresses -- punctuated, every so often with epigrams or harangues to the troops from Marengo to Austerlitz, Bordino and Waterloo. A dizzy array of ministers, plenipotentaries, generals, princes, and disputatious relatives contribute to the tumultuous drama but, with the dubious exception of Napoleon himself, they are so many foils for the Corsican's hubris. Napoleonic literature is vast: there are better biographies available by Felix Markham, Andre Maurois, and George Lefevre. Castelot will appeal to those who want to soak up domestic intrigue, international gossip, and the unabashed details of imperial seductions -- probably a lair sized audience.