The Italian misadventures of Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon's youngest sister, and her husband Murat, the innkeeper's son who became the Emperor's most dashing general, have generally been treated derisively by historians. When Napoleon at the height of his power parceled out puppet states among his jealous siblings, Murat and his wife were grudgingly given Naples -- poor, unruly and experiencing the first pangs of nationalism. Cole treats Murat, whom many co temporaries called ""the greatest fool in Europe,"" with undisguised sympathy. Unwilling to reign as Napoleon's lackey he spent eight years trying to wrest some measure of autonomy from his tyrannical brother-in-law -- a losing proposition which eventually cost him his life. Via the carping, cajoling letters that passed between the Corsican fraternity, Cole manages to draw a vivid picture of the Emperor's noisy domestic squabbles and the Bonapartist bickerings over rank and protocol -- as passionate and vainglorious as the endless arguments over etiquette in the court of Louis XIV. Caroline, whom memoirists denounced as a scheming and perfidious vixen, is here the model of wifely devotion keeping her poise and dignity while caught between an overbearing husband and brother and the backdrop of war and crumbling Empire. Though Murat's dreams of kindling Italian independence were most certainly half-baked, the story of his meteoric rise and fall has a Byronic appeal which Cole exploits to the fullest.