Monday, August 18, 2008

Napoleon's Privates (Book #77)

Napoleon's Privates: 2500 Years of History Unzipped (Tony Perrottet, 2008) is a perfect book to keep in a magazine rack or on a bedside or coffee table--and just to be clear, I mean that as a compliment. Each chapter is only a few pages long, witty and concise, so it's the perfect book to dip into for a few minutes of historical snacking.

Perrottet flits back and forth through history, exploring such topics as Cleopatra's looks, greatest papal sex scandals, and how the French Revolution caused the restaurant industry to take off (behead or drive into exile your aristocrats, and suddenly you have a lot of unemployed cooks who, you guessed it, open restaurants). As far as I can tell the book is well-researched. At least, I never caught the author in errors on topics I know well, which inspires me to trust him in other areas and eras.

Napoleon shows up quite a bit, as the title suggests. Perrottet's research was inspired by learning that Napoleon's corpse might have been, um, emasculated by an unscrupulous surgeon at his autopsy. The part in question (housed in a handsome case bearing the imperial crest!) now resides under a bed in New Jersey, since the woman who inherited it from her collector father hasn't made up her mind what to do with it. The French government, incidentally, firmly and understandably refuses to exhume Napoleon's body to check for missing parts or run DNA tests. Good for France. Let the dead have their dignity...

...OK, if you completely allow the dead their dignity, you'd spoil the fun of this book. Wellington partisan that I am, I had to grin when Perrottet included the story of how as ambassador to France after Napoleon's abdication, Wellington slept with at least two of Napoleon's mistresses. One of them was questioned at a dinner party as to which man was the better lover, and she said that "the Duke was by far the more vigorous." It's hard to say how much of a accomplishment that really was, however. Given that the incident is reported in a chapter titled "Three Minutes With the Emperor," I think it's fair to say Napoleon was easier to vanquish in the bedroom than on the battlefield.

(Susan blinks innocently.) I wonder if my pastor or any of my relatives read this blog?

2 comments:

jmnlman said...

I had a European history professor that told a joke about the Grande Armée being a penis extension. As I recall I was the only one in the seminar that laughed.

Susan Wilbanks said...

Ha! I would've laughed...