Napoleon: Life, Legacy, and Image: A Biography

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Overview

From Alan Forrest, a preeminent British scholar, comes an exceedingly readable account of the man and his legend

 

 

On a cold December day in 1840 Parisians turned out in force to watch as the body of Napoleon was solemnly carried on a riverboat from Courbevoie on its final journey to the Invalides. The return of their long-dead emperor’s corpse from the island of St. Helena was a moment that Paris had eagerly awaited, though many feared that the memories stirred ...

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Napoleon: Life, Legacy, and Image: A Biography

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Overview

From Alan Forrest, a preeminent British scholar, comes an exceedingly readable account of the man and his legend

 

 

On a cold December day in 1840 Parisians turned out in force to watch as the body of Napoleon was solemnly carried on a riverboat from Courbevoie on its final journey to the Invalides. The return of their long-dead emperor’s corpse from the island of St. Helena was a moment that Paris had eagerly awaited, though many feared that the memories stirred would serve to further destabilize a country that had struggled for order and direction since he had been sent into exile.

In this book Alan Forrest tells the remarkable story of how the son of a Corsican attorney became the most powerful man in Europe, a man whose charisma and legacy endured after his lonely death many thousands of miles from the country whose fate had become so entwined with his own.

Along the way, Forrest also cuts away the many layers of myth and counter myth that have grown up around Napoleon, a man who mixed history and legend promiscuously. Drawing on original research and his own distinguished background in French history, Forrest demonstrates that Napoleon was as much a product of his times as their creator.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“With his emphasis on the construction of the Napoleonic myth, Forrest offers an introduction to a fascinating figure that should whet readers’ appetites for more.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Forrest] seeks not only to show us Napoleon the man, but also Napoleon the player in a vast drama. . . . An open-minded, cleareyed view of a man who manifested the best and the worst of his species.” —Kirkus Reviews

"A comprehensive, yet always thoroughly accessible account . . . Forrest sets out to write for a broad audience and succeeds admirably . . . this book helps us understand why, 200 years on, Napoleon still matters." —BBC History Magazine

Publishers Weekly
As an exemplary military leader and self-crowned emperor, Napoleon capitalized on his mastery of manipulating traditional media, says Forrest, director of the Centre for 18th Century Studies in England: “He surrounded himself with journalists and spin-doctors long before it became a tradition of politics....” His savvy in trying to establish his image among all sectors of the population is illustrated by the fact that, during his Italian campaign, he simultaneously published both a revolutionary-minded newspaper and one appealing to worried royalists. Forrest glosses over Napoleon’s military exploits and legendary romances to highlight the strategically brilliant Corsican’s attention to image and legacy. Napoleon attempted to create a political dynasty, rewarding loyalty from three of his four brothers with kingdoms (the fourth received nothing). Surprisingly, Forrest devotes few words to trusted followers or even the influential women in Napoleon’s life; he quickly portrays Josephine as a decadent Creole Eva Peron, primarily enchanted by Napoleon’s potential for success and wealth, and his sisters and Marie Louise receive scant attention in spite of their contributions to his empire. With his emphasis on the construction of the Napoleonic myth, Forrest offers an introduction to a fascinating figure that should whet readers’ appetites for more on this mesmerizing and complex figure—but won’t satisfy them. 8 pages of color illus. (Dec.)
Library Journal
A preeminent historian, particularly of modern French history—he's director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York and serves on the editorial boards of French History and War in History—Forrest seems like the right man to write a biography of Napoleon.
Library Journal
There seems to be a never-ending supply of books about Napoleon and his era, tens of thousands of titles having been published over the years. Here, Forrest (Napoleon and His Empire: Europe, 1804–1814) attempts to cover all aspects of Napoleon's life in just over 300 pages, which is a challenging task, as the author will necessarily be hard pressed to decide what to omit. He covers a good number of significant Napoleonic events, e.g., the 1812 invasion of Russia, in just a few pages each, likewise for the Napoleonic Code and the Battle of Waterloo. These will be good introductions for readers new to the subject, but the book adds to the popular studies of the Little Corporal in its sections on his legacy. Forrest starts with a chapter describing the return of Napoleon's remains to Paris in 1840 and the impact of that on the French people. He returns to this discussion in the last chapter, noting that the restored Bourbon monarchy hoped that the return of the emperor's remains from Saint Helena would restore the monarchy to popularity and strengthen both it and French society generally. VERDICT The narrative never bogs down or seems hurried, and is thus for lay readers a good introduction to Napoleon and his impact on French history. Libraries with other popular studies of Napoleon may consider it an optional purchase.—David Lee Poremba, formerly with the Detroit P.L., Windermere, FL
Kirkus Reviews
Forrest (Modern History/Univ. of York; Paris, the Provinces and the French Revolution, 2004, etc.) offers a balanced view of one of history's most complex and controversial characters. The author seeks not only to show us Napoleon the man, but also Napoleon the player in a vast drama in which he was a principal but not the only player. Forrest begins with the hoopla attending the return of Napoleon's remains to Paris in 1840 (he'd been interred on St. Helena when he died in 1821). Then, the author backtracks to Corsica and Napoleon's boyhood, education and military training, the revolution and his emergence as a gifted military strategist and officer. Forrest shows us Napoleon's voracious reading habits, his patronage of artists and writers, and his ability to identify gifted administrators and marshals. But we also see his congenital inability to delegate, a fault caused by "his arrogance and his complete faith in his own abilities." The author traces Napoleon's political rise from consul to emperor and tries to communicate concisely the intricate political alliances in Europe--alliances that at first propelled him into power but eventually led to Waterloo. The author argues that Napoleon's "Continental System" (imposing French ways everywhere) was "a strategic error" that alienated potential and actual allies. Forrest praises Napoleon for some things--the legal codes, the emphasis on education, the support of scholarly research, especially in Egypt--but as the story advances, all is overwhelmed by the cascades of blood flowing from the battlefields he loved. An open-minded, cleareyed view of a man who manifested the best and the worst of his species.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250038357
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/3/2013
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 299,602
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

ALAN FORREST is a professor of modern history and director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies. He works on modern French history, especially the period of the French Revolution and Empire, and on the history of modern warfare. He serves on the editorial boards of French History and War in History, and is a member of the advisory committee for Annales Historiques de la Revolution Francaise. He lives in York, UK.

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Table of Contents

Introduction vii

1 Paris, 1840 1

2 Corsican Beginnings 17

3 Son of the Revolution 41

4 Bonaparte in Italy 69

5 Lure of the Orient 93

6 First Consul 115

7 From Consulate to Empire 145

8 Quest for Glory 173

9 A Vision of Civil Society 195

10 The Reinvention of Monarchy 217

11 From the Peninsula to Leipzig 241

12 The Hundred Days 269

13 Years of Exile 295

14 Life after Death 313

Notes 333

Bibliography 371

Acknowledgements 386

Index 389

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014

    An excellent explanation of Napoleon's motivations, genius, conq

    An excellent explanation of Napoleon's motivations, genius, conquest. and demise. An important part of world history that everyone should be familiar with.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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