At last, a book that questions the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte. Historians have been too kind to the commander who presided over the worst military disaster in history — the relentless string of defeats from Moscow to Waterloo. In this authoritative and robust biography Adam Zamoyski shows how Napoleon’s genius was the creation of his own propaganda machine. He had some impressive victories at the start of his career, but then he started to believe his own hype.
...Zamoyski uses many new first-hand sources to flesh out the detail of Napoleon’s largely happy childhood in Ajaccio, where his boldness, aggression and quarrelsome nature set him apart from his brothers... The real value of this wonderful biography – elegantly written, exhaustively researched and compellingly argued – is the insight it gives us into Napoleon the Man. He was, concludes Zamoyski, neither a monster nor a saint. Instead, his motives “were on the whole praiseworthy” and his ambition “no greater than his contemporaries”. What made that ambition “so exceptional was the scope it was accorded by circumstance”.
The refreshing distinction of Zamoyski as a biographer is that he humanises Bonaparte — in contrast to others who either hero-worship ‘Napoleon the Great’ (the title of Roberts’s recent adoring life of the emperor) or damn the Corsican usurper as a war-mongering mountebank who devastated Europe and slaughtered millions for the sake of his ego. In portraying the person behind the many myths that have accrued around his name, Zamoyski acts as a skilful picture-restorer, scraping away layers of lies, exaggerations and misconceptions to reveal the man in his true, unvarnished colours.