Comprehensive but uneven, this book by an authority on European 18th and 19th century political and social history, author of many similar studies (Catherine the Great, Under Six Reigns, etc.), and known as ""an historians' historian,"" is termed ""neither a history of the Second Empire nor a biography of Louis Napoleon"". Rather it is an effort, largely successful, to bring to life the chief actors in the tinsel drama of the Second Empire: Louis Napoleon, Napoleon III, nephew of the great Napoleon, dull, voluptuous, dedicated to what he believed was the welfare of France; his mistresses; his lovely Empress, the bigotted Eugenie; his cousins, legitimate and otherwise, the Duc de Morny, Princess Mathilde, and others; his advisors; his critics; the men and women of letters who wrote of him. There are, however, gaps in the story: there is little of Napoleon's early life or of the Coup d'Etat by which he established himself; the Mexican debacle is merely sketched in; the ""Ems"" telegram used by Bismarck to lure the Emperor into a war that destroyed both himself and his Empire is barely mentioned. Well documented and readable but demanding of its readers a broad and basic historical knowledge of the era, this book will appeal mainly to students and historians of the Second Empire and should form a valuable addition to libraries of the period. Readers hoping for titillating revelations of an immoral court may be disappointed.