An undistinguished entry in the vast library devoted to the French leader.
In this, the first of a projected two-volume biography, Asprey (Hindenburg and Ludendorff, 1991, etc.) charts the transformation of Nabolione Buonaparte from the bratty scion (his childhood nickname was Rabulione, “the disturber”) of a middle-class Corsican family to revolutionary firebrand and renowned general. That transformation, the author notes, was accomplished by dint of selfless labor and extremely hard work, though it did not hurt that from childhood Napoleon nursed a vision of himself as a great leader worthy of some future Plutarch. A former Marine officer, Asprey is strong on Napoleon’s military accomplishments and leadership qualities; he notes that the general “treated his crude, often illiterate troops, often dregs of society, like a patient father” and was not averse to getting mud and blood on his tunic. Asprey also proves a knowledgeable guide to the general’s often brilliant (but occasionally misguided) tactics. On matters of diplomacy and sociology, the author is less successful; he does not adequately explain, for instance, why Napoleon was so readily able to win the affections of the people he conquered and thus to export many of the French Revolution’s ideals far afield. Asprey’s prose suffers from floridity (Napoleon had “an independent spirit as wild and free as the wind that pounded waves onto 300 miles of coast”) and metaphorical tone-deafness (“the bubbling pot of political, social, and economic discontent was about to explode into what history knows as the French Revolution”). Such narrative ailments notwithstanding, students of military history—the apparent target audience—will find much to admire in this account, while armchair historians will enjoy the vivid battlefield depictions.
Look elsewhere, though, if you want a broader understanding of Napoleon’s life and career.