Napoleon: A Life

Basic. Oct. 2018. 784p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780465055937. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781541644557. BIOG
OrangeReviewStarHistorian Zamoyski's (Poland: A History) has previously covered Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), but here he also assesses the emperor's regime as a whole. The work is a success in all respects, rivaling Andrew Roberts's Napoleon: A Life in astuteness and thoroughness. Like Roberts, Zamoyski bases his study on voluminous archival evidence but has not supplemented it, as did Roberts, with on-site study of the battle settings. Zamoyski's study thus conveys a different and less complimentary picture of its subject. While admiring of Napoleon's efforts to reform French institutions, Zamoyski expresses reservations about his military genius. The author argues that the emperor was an exceptionally able tactician but less adept at strategy (long-range planning), often to his own detriment. In later years, he began to believe his own myth, affecting his skills at negotiating his way through a growing number of obstacles. The picture that emerges is of an extraordinarily gifted leader who increasingly sought short-term gain at the expense of long-term stability.
VERDICT Exhaustively researched and engagingly written, this book will appeal to history lovers of all kinds. It complements but does not replace Roberts's study.

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