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Mark

Chevy Chase, MD, USA | Member Since 2003

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  • Napoleon

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By Paul Johnson
    • Narrated By John Lee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (90)
    Performance
    (20)
    Story
    (21)

    Paul Johnson's book is a refreshing return to a concept whose time has come once again: the Great Man theory of biography. It serves as "the greatest possible refutation of those who hold that events are governed by forces, classes, economics, and geography rather than the powerful wills of men and women". Napoleon truly was the Great Man of his age, a towering and terrible genius who managed to conquer the Continent.

    Mark Grannis says: "Not your standard biography"
    "Not your standard biography"
    Overall

    This book breezes through an extremely eventful life with much less detail than one commonly finds in a biography. Presumably, this is because there are so many biographies of Napoleon that it is difficult to break any new ground. The result is a very short "biography" that seemed to me more an extended reflection on Napoleon's life than a narration. If, like me, you are looking for basic information about the man, I think you will find yourself wanting more than this book delivers.

    I suspect that British readers will fare better than Americans, not only because some of the shorter French quotations are untranslated, but also because the author assumes great familiarity with events of continental European history. Thus, things like the Terror and the events of 18 Brumiere are mentioned, but not explained. At one point the author states that one of Napoleon's ministers played much the same role that so-and-so played in the government of Charles de Gaulle. That may be the greatest analogy ever for all I know, but the amount of information it communicated to me was approximately zero. I'm quite willing to concede that this is my fault, but I think I know more European history than the average American so I'm warning everyone: If you can't say off the top of your head what happened on 18 Brumiere and why it mattered, I think you'll find this book as unsatisfying as I did. If you can't say off the top of your head who Robespierre was (there's a hint in the phrase "off the top of your head"), you'll fare even worse, and probably shouldn't even bother with this selection until you've read some other history of the era.

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