A study that gives due recognition to Napoleon Bonaparte’s influential but now-forgotten aides.
More books have been written on Napoleon, it is said, than on anyone else except Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ. Woloch (History/Columbia Univ.) acknowledges that there are scores of worthy full-scale biographies of the Corsican revolutionary-turned-tyrant, and he suggests that his readers turn to his only after reading any one of them. His study is a departure from the mainstream; apart from being uncommonly well-written, it urges us to consider that “Napoleon’s saga is not simply the story of a single man” and that his spectacular rise to supreme power came about through the efforts of many hands—from former servants of the monarchy to heroes and villains of the Revolution, from common soldiers and generals to bureaucrats and, of course, ordinary citizens. We know little about those participants in Napoleon’s career, Woloch suggests; apart from the diplomat Talleyrand and the secret policeman Fouché, few of Napoleon’s lieutenants have been given more than passing mention. The author attempts to remedy this by considering the work of various figures (including Boulay de la Meurthe and Théophile Berlier) who held widely divergent political views as republican members of the 1799 legislature but who served Napoleon with equal fervor following the Brumaire coup, as well as those (such as Regnaud de St. Jean d’Angély and Jean-Jacques-Régis Cambacérès) who collaborated with highly placed military officers to assure Napoleon’s transformation from general to consul to emperor, and others (like Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès) who helped Napoleon purge the government of former Jacobins. Unlike the revolutionaries of Robespierre and Danton’s time, Woloch observes, these men were moderate and centrist in inclination, dedicated to the “trappings of legality” and to the supremacy of the state, and shrewd enough to distance themselves from the emperor when his “gilded authoritarianism” became too much for the citizens of France to bear. Able administrators, the author observes that they even served as “a final, residual barrier to unchecked tyranny”—a despotism they helped bring about.
A solid contribution to early modern French history, this will prove of great interest to readers well versed in Napoleonic politics.