Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Napoleon: A Life

I finished reading Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts. In preparation for their trip to France, Sharon and Janie both read the book over the last several months. Sharon enjoyed the book, raved about Napoleon and recommend that I read the biography.

There is no question that Napoleon had some substantial accomplishments as a statesman. He implemented fundamental liberal policies in France and throughout Western Europe. Napoleon's lasting legal achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has been adopted in various forms by a quarter of the world's legal systems, from Japan to Quebec. His educational reforms laid the foundation of a modern system of education in France and throughout much of Europe. Napoleon emancipated Jews, as well as Protestants in Catholic countries and Catholics in Protestant countries. He directly overthrew feudal remains in much of western Europe. The list goes on...

There is also no question that Napoleon was also a genius military tactician and a skilled commander. He changed the nature of warfare. Nevertheless, I get hung up on the wanton loss of life. The daily description of every battle includes thousands or ten of thousands of soldiers killed. In Napoleon's advance on and subsequent retreat from Moscow, over 500,000 French soldiers died.

I also got a little bored by the descriptions of all the battles. While others may be, I am not interested in trying to track all of the descriptions of the moves and counter moves on a map.

The books paints a positive picture of Napoleon. Ever since I read the biography of DiMaaggio, I have started to wonder more and more about biographies and how authors can shape the readers view of the subject. I probably need to read another biography of Napoleon at some point...

In spite of my complaints, Napoleon is a fascinating subject. This is a solid biography of his life. I give it a "B" grade.

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