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Publisher's Summary

The definitive biography of the great soldier-statesman by the New York Times best-selling author of The Storm of War.

Austerlitz, Borodino, Waterloo: His battles are among the greatest in history, but Napoleon Bonaparte was far more than a military genius and astute leader of men. Like George Washington and his own hero Julius Caesar, he was one of the greatest soldier-statesmen of all times.

Andrew Roberts's Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon's thirty-three thousand letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation. At last we see him as he was: protean multitasker, decisive, surprisingly willing to forgive his enemies and his errant wife Josephine. Like Churchill, he understood the strategic importance of telling his own story, and his memoirs, dictated from exile on St. Helena, became the single best-selling book of the 19th century.

An award-winning historian, Roberts traveled to 53 of Napoleon's 60 battle sites, discovered crucial new documents in archives, and even made the long trip by boat to St. Helena. He is as acute in his understanding of politics as he is of military history. Here at last is a biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.

©2014 Andrew Roberts (P)2014 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"The pleasures of Roberts's big, richly detailed biography of the great French conqueror are enhanced in this outstanding audiobook production. John Lee is a steady and agreeable narrator, and a good choice for a work this long. Based on the recent full publication of the 33,000 letters Napoleon wrote in his lifetime, the narrative offers a close-up and largely sympathetic view of one of history's most interesting, accomplished, and - yes - likable personalities. Lee maintains the fine balance between intimacy and perspective, as well as between Napoleon's current and former reputation, to make this one of the stellar histories and audiobook adaptations of this year." ( AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Steve
  • Ventura, CA, United States
  • 12-21-14

Excellent Book

Any additional comments?

This is the first book I have read on Napoleon and I have since watched a number of documentaries about him, including one with the author debating another Napoleon expert as to whether Napoleon should be called great - the author argued he should. With all this accumulated knowledge, I recommend this book. I thought the author did an excellent job of detailing, and in some cases I do mean detailing, the events of Napoleon's life. What I liked most is that the author gave different points of view on certain events, explained his conclusion and why he came to that conclusion. It showed he thought about the issues.

29 of 29 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

What a dynamo!

My interest in Napoleon was sparked a few years ago by the adventures of Richard Sharpe and the Aubrey/Maturin series. After re-reading War and Peace, I decided I had to learn more about the background. Since then, I've listened to a number of audiobooks about Napoleon (a surprising number of them narrated by John Lee).

I had also previously read Andrew Roberts' history of the Second World War, The Storm of War, and was impressed by his writing and the organization of the narrative. The same qualities are in evidence here. We follow Napoleon from his early days on Corsica to military school in France, to Italy, to Egypt, to Spain, and to Russia. The whole of Europe became his battlefield.

As in The Storm of War, Roberts includes a generous helping of political history too. Napoleon scattered constitutions around Europe like travel brochures. He codified and exported laws that embodied at least some of the ideals of the French Revolution. (Roberts, however, notes that the liberal tendencies of the famed Napoleonic code were blunted by its persistent sexism: all men might be equal under the law, but women need not apply.)

The man himself was an interesting combination of engaging and repellent traits. He was a bully, certainly - and a butcher - but he also had an insatiable thirst for knowledge: if a dinner guest had specialized knowledge, he would pepper him with questions and take notes. He was never afraid to say "I don't know" in response to a particular question; but he would always try to find out. He was always in motion. He consumed his meals in 10 minutes, and his lovemaking was likely to be equally hurried.

Napoleon's spectacular rise is matched by his equally spectacular fall. His story has an inherently dramatic shape, and that comes through in this mostly chronological account.

John Lee is, as always, a rapid and enthusiastic narrator. And also as always with this type of material on audio, I found myself reaching for supplementary maps and diagrams in Wikipedia. I do wish PDF supplements were standard for this type of book on Audible, and that they were easily accessible through the mobile app.

52 of 54 people found this review helpful

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Learning the drawbacks of an excellent audiobook

What did you like best about Napoleon? What did you like least?

The way in which Roberts 'freshens', by balancing, Napoleon's character and placing him in historical context.
Battle sequences were quite detailed, probably unnecessarily so.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Napoleon obviously, but I was fascinated by supporting characters such as Talleyrand and, less so, Josephine.

Do you think Napoleon needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

It successfully presents the narrative of a singular genius and is quite complete. If any follow-up then to trace the career of his nephew Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III.

Any additional comments?

For the broader geopolitical references, I needed maps, which obvious lack is a major drawback of an audiobook!

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Rollin
  • Cholula, Mexico
  • 11-22-14

Fascinating history of an extraordinary leader

What made the experience of listening to Napoleon the most enjoyable?

The author's extensive use of Napoleon's letters -- to his generals, wife and mistresses, friends and antagonists -- provides a close up view of an extremely complex and contradictory but formidable leader in a crucial period of change in European history.

What other book might you compare Napoleon to and why?

The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard Evans is similar in scope and the wide ranging use of materials.

What about John Lee’s performance did you like?

I've gotten to like John Lee but he is an acquired taste. His pauses are sometimes disconcerting, but they are probably necessary in narrating Andrew Roberts' complex but interesting prose. I must say, though, that I never grew tired of listening to him over more than thirty hours!

Any additional comments?

Anyone interested in the period of the French Revolution would enjoy this book. Roberts pulls off a difficult feat: providing a close up view of Napoleon, the man, as well as a fascinating survey of the complex transitions affecting French society and European politics, from Britain to Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia.

38 of 40 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Great history

Found book very interesting but hard to follow geographically due to my lack of French geography. Needed a map of France. Some French words or phrases were used with no translation. On the whole, the book gave a great view and history of Napoleon's life.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • J.
  • Moorhead, MN, United States
  • 12-07-14

Napolean, more than just a military genious

If you're looking just for a military history of Napoleon's campaigns, you might be disappointed. Roberts does a fine job recounting campaigns and battles, but there's little new military history here. The audio book is not a great vehicle for battle narratives since one needs a map to make any sense of troop distribution and movements. Though all of Napoleon's battles are covered, they take up relatively little of this book. Roberts is at his best when covering Napoleon's political and diplomatic schemes as well as the anecdotal accounts of his relations with his men. lovers and marshals. Robert's appraisal of Napoleon is balanced pointing out his military innovations, but admitting that Napoleon enjoyed more than his share of good luck. Napoleon often exhibited genius on the battlefield, but Roberts shows us that he was perhaps more a master of political spin. There are many controversies surrounding Napoleon, perhaps the greatest being whether his death was the result of natural means or poison. Roberts offers compelling reasons to believe the former. I sometimes find John Lee's narration to be plodding, but in this recording, he is flawless.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic book on Napoleon.

I didn't want it to end. I' m getting ready to listen to it again.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • T K
  • SoCal
  • 08-31-15

Very thorough, narrator trailed off a bit

New appreciation for Napoleon, and frustrated with the choices he made. An interesting character.

The narrator trailed off at the end of his sentences so I couldn't understand the last word. It was annoying.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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The best story I've ever heard

Incredibly well-researched and engaging throughout. Excellent narration. I will highly recommend to my friends. I have a newfound appreciation for the entire era covered, and specifically for the main character.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Heavy on Detail

An exceptional book that gave me a good feel for what this extraordinary man was about. Very heavy on detail about the battles he waged - what regiment did what - slowed the narrative. The info on his romantic life was written in a romantic fashion and was highly interesting.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful