Praise for Napoleon by Paul Johnson:
“Paul Johnson . . . is a historian at the top his game. His judgments are sure. His historical range is sweeping. His storytelling is crisp and his writing elegant.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“The selection of the venerable British historian . . . Paul Johnson to write on Napoleon . . . has turned out to be a wise one: Johnson is succinct, critical, and deeply skeptical of the Napoleonic legend.”
—The Atlantic Monthly
“This is a jewel of a book; comprehensive, brief, and passionate.”
“Johnson provides an excellent overview . . . [He] presents a concise appraisal of Napoleon’s career and a precise understanding of his enigmatic character.”
“[A] succinct yet lively biography . . . very readable and entertaining.”
—The Washington Post
Historian Paul Johnson thinks that Napoleon makes an ideal candidate to be a subject in the Penguin Lives series: "Most people certainly regard Napoleon as a major historical figure, but otherwise know very little about the details of his life." Such ignorance will lift with this concise yet thoroughly opinionated biography. Johnson's status as one of the world's most renowned and controversial historians, however, will remain secure.
...a near-perfect model of what a brief book can and should be: crisp, clear and strongly personal.
The career of a different kind of celebrity hound is examined in historian Paul Johnson's Napoleon. Johnson (A History of the American People) contends that Bonaparte sowed the seeds of the devastating warfare and totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. Stressing that the Corsican general was motivated by opportunism alone, Johnson traces his rise to power and expansionist bids, arguing that the most important legacies of his rule were the eclipse of France as the leading European power and the introduction of such enduring institutions as the secret police and government propaganda operations. ( on sale May 13) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Succinct, incisive portrait of the most written-about figure in history, except for Christ. With an unerring scalpel, Johnson cuts to the quick of Napoleon's character. Though a genius of extraordinary dimension, Bonaparte was a ruthless opportunist. No Lincolnesque ideals or vision motivated him in his endless wars, only conquest and personal power. He was the prototype of the 20th-century totalitarian dictator: He wielded absolute power; created widespread networks of secret police and spies; controlled a massive government propaganda machine, aided by collaborating intellectuals, artists and authors; held phony elections and plebiscites; and engendered those never-ending conflicts. Bonaparte was no ideologue à la Hitler, Mao or Lenin. Although quite capable of wanton cruelty, he did not have the lust for killing for the sake of killing that drove Hitler and Stalin. However, his example of unrestrained power helped make their type possible. (2 Sep 2002)
In this newest addition to the "Penguin Life" series, Johnson (The Birth of the Modern) produces an "unromantic," "skeptical," and "searching" study of a person who exercised power "only for a decade and a half" but whose "impact on the future lasted until nearly the end of the twentieth century." Characterizing Bonaparte primarily as an opportunist "trained by his own ambitions and experiences to take the fullest advantage of the power the Revolution had created," Johnson suggests that, by 1813, the emperor "did not understand that all had changed ... and events were about to deposit him on history's smoldering rubbish dump." Why another biography of Napoleon now? Johnson's answer is that the great evils of "Bonapartism" "the deification of force and war, the all-powerful centralized state, the use of cultural propaganda..., the marshaling of entire peoples in the pursuit of personal and ideological power came to hateful maturity only in the twentieth century." Thus, Napoleon's is a grandly cautionary life. Readers might wish to counterbalance Johnson's deliberately sparse outline of Bonaparte's amazing career by examining James M. Thompson's Napoleon Bonaparte: His Rise and Fall. But Johnson's antiromantic treatment brings into sharp focus the ills he identifies with "Bonapartism," and that focus certainly justifies this new look at the much-studied old general. Recommended for larger public libraries. Robert C. Jones, Warrensburg, MO Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Historian and lecturer Paul Johnson provides a crisp personal biography of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), addressing his life and career, taking into account the context in which he lived, and discussing how his complex and violent legacy spawned totalitarian regimes long after his death. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The glory of France and the erstwhile Whig hero comes up short in this biography by a historian of decidedly Tory bent. It seems a rarity these days to find a biography of Napoleon that does not glorify the Corsican revolutionary. Johnson (The Renaissance, 2000, etc.) surely does not. Instead, he writes, the defeat of Napoleon and the subsequent Congress of Vienna are to be counted among the great accomplishments of modern history, ushering in an era of peace that would not end for nearly a century with the outbreak of WWI-when, he asserts, the modern cult of Napoleon began. Had Napoleon committed his campaigns of conquest today, Johnson further asserts, he "would have been obliged to face a war crimes tribunal, with an inevitable verdict of ‘guilty' and a sentence of death or life imprisonment." Reckoning that Napoleon's dream of empire cost four or five million lives and incalculable destruction of property, Johnson lays at his door blame for a number of sins, including the "deification of force and war, the all-powerful centralized state, the use of cultural propaganda to apotheosize the autocrat, the marshaling of entire peoples in the pursuit of personal and ideological power." In brief, Johnson charges, Napoleon was less a liberator of Europe than a dictator of the sort that would follow in the century afterward-a Hitler or Mussolini for his day. The author recognizes Napoleon's talents as a commander and bravery-throughout his career, he reckons, Napoleon had 19 horses shot out from under him in battle-but still has little use for the fellow, unlike more enthusiastic recent biographers such as Frank McLynn (see below) and Robert Asprey. Despite an evident distaste for his subject,Johnson's sharp-edged view of Napoleon is well supported, and well worth considering.