Sunday, September 10, 2006

Book of books - Napoleon

Before the link with Napoleon, which featured in last week's reading with Scarlet and Black, gets too weak here are bite sized reviews of a few books examining the man's career and downfall.

The Rise and Fall of Napoleon, Part I - the rise by Robert Asprey
Having before this book having ever specifically set out to read anything about Napoleon this seemed to be agoodd starting point. It takes the story of his life up to around 1805, when the invasion of Austria was a huge success. The problem with a rise and fall is that of course there is always amixturee of both happening and you do wonder if failures are understated to underline how badly things went after 1805. It is easy to get through and even if it cannot match other more weighty tomes it gives you the bones to go off and put the meat onto.

The Rise and Fall of Napoleon, Part II - the fall by Robert Asprey
It sticks to exactly what happened with the various campaigns in Spain and Russia and the eventual defeat at Waterloo and his exile and death. In this respect it is a bit too simplistic and fails to appreciate that in the long-term some of the things he did for France and his vision of Europe were to last and as such it was not a complete fall. It is a good book if you want the basics but it was always going to be difficult splitting Napoleon's life into two halves because it was ups and downs.

Napoleon and Wellington by Andrew Roberts
An interesting attempt to look at two great generals without retreading old ground so that they are compared via their impact on each other. There is a feeling that Napoleon never really rated Wellington until the midway point of the Spanish campaign and then came across him at Waterloo. Both men were different with Wellington being a very defensive general and Napoleon one that loved to attack. Andisappointmentnt with the book is as a result of feeling that there could have been more said about the two men.

Napoleon by Paul Johnson
Quick to read and to the point. A different style from some of the other books, notably Asprey, because this is a mixture of thematic and episodic. Johnson seems to come down against Napoleon claiming his skills were forgotten and in modern times he would have been tried for war crimes because he killed so many people. There is then a suggestion that Napoleon inspired Hitler and Stalin. Not all of the commentary on Napoleon is agreeable or seems to be fair but at least this is an author with strong opinions and once you know where he is coming from it makes the book easier to put into context.

Billy Ruffian by David Cordingly
A book looking at the ship Bellerophon, that fought at the Nile with Nelson as well as at Trafalgar but went down in history because it was the ship that Napoleon surrended to. The cover shows a famous picture of Napoleon walking the deck with the rest of the ship's company staring at the great figure. A good read in terms of offering a different slant on those momentous events and apart from the Nile and Trafalgar the main commentary is about Nelson. That is a shame because for parts the Billy Ruffiadisappearsrs from the narrative and as a result it is not the best place to get either a history of Trafalgar or the last stages of Napoleon's life.

personal opinion - is that for all of his personal foibles (women and his obsession with respect) Napoleon was a genius on the battlefield able to take advantage of the large blocks of troops and canons in a way no one else could. His time however was ending as he struggled in vain to cope with guerilla war tactics in Spain and because of his character his alliances across Europe started to crumble. Nonetheless a military genius all the same.

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