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In 1797, eight years after the French Revolution, an obscure general, Napoleon Bonaparte, became a national hero after a brilliant campaign in Italy. Equally impressed with his own genius, he formed the idea of conquering Egypt and, like his idol, Alexander, marching on to India. Nonfiction author and award-winning novelist Strathern (Big Idea: Scientists Who Changed the World) turns up plenty of surprises in an enthralling history of the first of Napoleon's world-class debacles. With extraordinary logistical skill and luck, Napoleon led 40,000 men and hundreds of ships across the Mediterranean to Alexandria in 1798. Defeating local armies and occupying the capital, Cairo, proved easy, but difficulties arose despite genuine efforts to replace a corrupt government with French ideals of freedom and justice. A nasty insurgency developed; Admiral Nelson destroyed Napoleon's fleet; and the British also frustrated his invasion of Palestine. Abandoning his tattered army after a year under brutal desert conditions, Napoleon returned to France, pronouncing the invasion an unqualified success. Stories of powerful men making disastrous decisions have an endless fascination, and Strathern makes the most of it in this entertaining account. Illus., maps. (Oct. 21)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.