NAPOLEON III by Fenton Bresler


A Life
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A fresh and lively look at the other Napoleon, by London journalist Bresler (Who Killed John Lennon?, 1989, etc.) For all those who know nothing of the Second Empire beyond furniture, Bresler offers a thoroughly enjoyable look at Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Napoleon, who became first President and then Emperor of France from 1848 to 1870. Bresler begins by elucidating the facts of Napoleon’s birth and pre-birth (Napoleon III’s spawning was orchestrated by his Emperor-uncle, who needed a male heir to the throne, but was unable to conceive one at the time, through an arranged marriage between his stepdaughter and his brother), then covers his childhood and exile in England. The account picks up steam upon Napoleon’s return to France during the tumultuous 1848 revolutions, when he was championed by the monarchists. He was first elected to the Assembly, then to the Presidency, and crowned Emperor when the Constitution was invalidated. Under his reign, France’s economy expanded, Paris was modernized—although he also managed to embroil France in a variety of conflicts including the Crimean War, the annexation of Savoy and Nice, and the thoroughly ill-conceived expedition to Mexico. The perverse masterstroke for which he will forever be remembered was his declaration of war on Prussia, which caused his swift downfall when he showed little of his uncle’s military prowess. Bresler, through his use of both published and unpublished sources, shows Napoleon III to be a brave and compelling leader, a canny politician, and an unselfish sovereign—as one modern critic described him, “a nineteenth-century De Gaulle, dedicated only to fulfilling his country’s greatness.” A fascinating look at Second Empire France and the little-studied “petit-Napoleon.”

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-7867-0660-0
Page count: 432pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999


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