Friday, October 30, 2009


As my longtime readers know, I am not fond of Napoleon. Paul Johnson is likewise not fond of Napoleon. But as I read his brief 2002 biography (Napoleon: A Life), I found myself wanting to defend the emperor. Johnson sees Napoleonic France as the prototype of the modern totalitarian state, and therefore Napoleon as the progenitor of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the like. Possibly it's because I've seen far too many sloppy comparisons to Hitler and Nazism over the past few years, but that left me rolling my eyes. He might have a point if he didn't insist on exaggerating it, tossing around the "evils" and the Hitler references, and blaming ideas whose time had come on one person.

Despite my annoyance with the author, I'm not sorry I read the book. When you're researching someone intensively for your own writing, it never hurts to get another perspective, even if you disagree with it. But if you read one Napoleon biography, this shouldn't be your choice. I'm not sure what should be--I like Evangeline Bruce's Napoleon and Josephine and Christopher Hibbert's Napoleon: His Wives and Women, but those focus too heavily on his personal life to be comprehensive. If I find one that leaves me nodding and saying, "Yes, that's him," I'll be sure to let my five loyal readers know. :-)

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