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Napoleon | [Paul Johnson]

Napoleon

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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.

In Napoleon's insatiable hunger for power, Johnson sees a pragmatist constrained neither by patriotism nor by ideology, a brilliant opportunist who fulfilled his ambition in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Johnson puts Napoleon in the context of his times, but his effort seems to underline even more profoundly how Napoleon stood out above them.

©2002 Paul Johnson; (P)2002 Books on Tape, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Fresh, readable, provocative...wise." (Los Angeles Times)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (88 )
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  •  
    Mark Grannis Washington, DC 04-24-05
    Mark Grannis Washington, DC 04-24-05 Member Since 2003
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    "Not your standard biography"

    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.

    21 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Todd Albert 03-31-05
    Todd Albert 03-31-05 Member Since 2003
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    "Start with this Napoleon Book"

    I dowloaded and lsitened to this Napoleon book, and the one by Fischer also available on Audible. I am new to Napoleon, and if you are too, I recommend starting with this book by Johnson first, and the one by Fischer afterwards. Johnson's short book sets the stage for the modern reader and is read is a gripping manner by John Lee. Fischer's book provides sought after detail but loses the novice Napoleon reader because it assumes some familiarity with the outlines of his career.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Franz Cambridge, MA, USA 02-20-05
    Franz Cambridge, MA, USA 02-20-05 Member Since 2004
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    "Highly recommended"

    A book full of fresh insights on a well-covered topic.
    Johnson gives us a critical yet balanced biography of Bonaparte, which avoids the pitfall of getting bogged down with individual battles. Despite the great breadth and thoroughness of this book, the pacing is swift, the style lively and captivating. To top it all off, "Napoleon" is read by John Lee, one of the best narrators on audible.com.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lector Curiosus New York 03-23-09
    Lector Curiosus New York 03-23-09 Member Since 2008
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    "Interesting, insightful, well-read. but....."

    Paul Johnson does a good job in this relatively short book in objectively examining, and demolishing, the shallow cult of Bonaparte. He reinforces what Churchill observed: that Napoleon was as great as a man could be, without being good.
    Johnson does make one elementary error that surprised me however: he conflated Napoleon's brothers Lucien and Louis as if they were the same person. One would think such a basic error would have been picked up in the editing.
    The narrator was superb.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne Franklin, TN, USA 11-09-09
    Anne Franklin, TN, USA 11-09-09 Member Since 2007
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    "Snide and one-sided."

    I found Paul Johnson's work extremely unpleasant, both in content and in tone. His sole purpose seemed to be to prove that Napoleon was nothing but a lucky upstart, a man whose only real skill was map-reading. And to top it off, Johnson gives Napoleon complete responsibility for every dictatorship of the 20th century. He suggests that Hitler, Mussolini, and even Saddam Hussein all modeled themselves on Napoleon, though he does mention in passing that perhaps the example of the Roman emperors might have had some small influence on these despots. The reader, John Lee, did an admirable job of conveying the sneering tone of the author, making the whole experience of listening to this so-called definitive biography a completely unpleasant affair. I stuck it out to the very end, but I must say that I learned more history about this period from the Classic Comics series of my childhood than from this book. The only redeeming moments were the quotes from Wellington, including his comment after Napoleon's death, "Now I can call myself the greatest general alive." At least Wellington appreciated Napoleon.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margaret Florida 01-03-13
    Margaret Florida 01-03-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Learned new things about history"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    We enjoyed this book because of the great history lesson. Things we never knew about Napoleon. The last half of the book seemed to drag a little.


    Which character – as performed by John Lee – was your favorite?

    John Lee is always awesome as usual.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim North Providence, RI, United States 08-13-12
    Tim North Providence, RI, United States 08-13-12 Member Since 2010
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    "A whirlwind tour lacking in detail"

    Simply OK. There is little depth given on any caveat in Bonaparte's long and nuanced life. Much of the historical gravitas is lost on what seems to be a cook's tour of this highly influential era in history. However, since Audible is severely lacking in any quality books on the Napoleonic era, this is as good as any available here, and anyone inclined to this period in history can't really do much better than this offering.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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