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Napoleon: The Man Behind the Myth

Narrated by: Leighton Pugh
Length: 27 hrs and 10 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A landmark new biography that presents the man behind the many myths. The first writer in English to go back to the original European sources, Adam Zamoyski’s portrait of Napoleon is historical biography at its finest.

Napoleon inspires passionately held and often conflicting visions. Was he a godlike genius, a romantic avatar, a megalomaniac monster, a compulsive warmonger or just a nasty little dictator?

Whilst he displayed elements of these traits at certain times, Napoleon was none of these things. He was a man and, as Adam Zamoyski presents him in this landmark biography, a rather ordinary one at that. He exhibited some extraordinary qualities during some phases of his life, but it is hard to credit genius to a general who presided over the worst (and self-inflicted) disaster in military history and who single-handedly destroyed the great enterprise he and others had toiled so hard to construct. A brilliant tactician, he was no strategist.

But nor was Napoleon an evil monster. He could be selfish and violent, but there is no evidence of him wishing to inflict suffering gratuitously. His motives were mostly praiseworthy and his ambition no greater than that of contemporaries such as Alexander I of Russia, Wellington, Nelson, Metternich, Blucher, Bernadotte and many more. What made his ambition exceptional was the scope it was accorded by circumstance.

Adam Zamoyski strips away the lacquer of prejudice and places Napoleon the man within the context of his times. In the 1790s, a young Napoleon entered a world at war, a bitter struggle for supremacy and survival with leaders motivated by a quest for power and by self-interest. He did not start this war but dominated his life and continued, with one brief interruption, until his final defeat in 1815.

Based on primary sources in many European languages, this magnificent audiobook examines how Napoleone Buonaparte, the boy from Corsica, became ‘Napoleon’, how he achieved what he did and how it came about that he undid it. It does not justify or condemn but seeks instead to understand Napoleon’s extraordinary trajectory.

©2018 Adam Zamoyski (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Always elegant in style and original in analysis. Zamoyski, a master of the sources and of the culture and politics that created his subject, produces a fresh, nuanced, beautifully written, gripping, and outstanding biography of Napoleon that reveals him to be a triumph of luck and accident as much as the invincible genius of the legend." (Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of The Romanovs and Jerusalem: the Biography)

"Napoleon is an out and out masterpiece and a joy to read." (Sir Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad)

"A lifetime’s diligent research and profound thinking about Napoleon and his times has gone into this hugely readable, highly enjoyable and well-balanced biography. Zamoyski is at the top of his game as a biographer." (Andrew Roberts, Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, King’s College, London) 

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Profile Image for Ms. S. J. McReynolds
  • Ms. S. J. McReynolds
  • 12-12-18

Iconoclasm gone too far

Zamoyski's stated intention is to expose the man behind the myth - but he merely does a demolition job on both. Dwelling in great detail on Napoleon's weaknesses and failures - but skating over his triumphs (Marengo, Austerlitz, Champaubert) and the code Napoleon - Zamoyski demeans his profession. This is a hatchet job - thinly disguised as history. To be avoided.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Grumpy Jack
  • 05-22-19

Detailed, well researched and thought provoking...

This was not always as easy a listen as some books that I’ve heard of late; and I’m not sure why. If you do enter into the journey of this account of Napoleon’s life, stick with it, it is remarkably detailed and well researched and ultimately rewarding. Unless you’re an aficionado of Napoleon, there will be much to learn, much to surprise and much to contemplate. You will be a better historian, better student, better politician and perhaps a better citizen for understanding the life of quite such a remarkable man and just how and why he rose and fell.

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  • Tommy
  • 04-29-19

Impressive biography

I really enjoyed this most impressive biography, but would have enjoyed further detail on the ill-fated 1812 Russian campaign and Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.

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  • Peter Wiltshire
  • 02-28-19

A More Critical Biography

If you want a idolatry biography of Napoleon do not come here. This is a book that gives you new critical balanced information about Napoleons life, politics and military ambitions, without detracting from Napoleons colossal achievements.

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Profile Image for Evan H
  • Evan H
  • 12-28-18

A straight forward & detailed biography.

A roughly chronological account of Napoleons life from late adolesence, rise to power and career as emperor to it's conclusion.
As the subtitle suggests, it is a surprisingly humanising account of such a huge figure. Plenty of character detail based on accounts of his contemporaries and the man's own writing. A good addition to any collection of histories concerning European history.

As with his other readings Leighton Pugh's naration is clear & generally excellent, if a little soporific in tone at times.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful