Saturday, March 12, 2016

Napoleon the Great

I took my time reading this book as it was such a pleasure.

I've read at least one other Andrew Roberts book (Masters and Commanders) which I'd enjoyed and when I saw this book in Dymocks I couldn't resist (I don't need more books on Napoleon).  It was put aside for a birthday present (one or two years ago - I forget or rather don't feel like calculating/researching when it actually was).

The coverage is comprehensive as much as it can be when writing about such a jam packed life as that Napoleon lead (at least until his decline on St Helena).  The broad events are placed in context and contrasted with the myriad of other things that Napoleon involved himself in, on a day to day basis.  I found this really fascinating.  It wasn't just all battles, as most people familiar with the life of Napoleon know, although there are many who if they know anything think of just that and equate him to a 20th century dictator.  This book does a good job of breaking down Napoleon's use of power, without hiding the abuses.  The other interesting thing is the reflections on how other countries/rulers behaved.

Napoleon's greatness and failings along with the support (and lack there of including out right betrayal) he received from others is objectively covered.  History of course is observed with hindsight and Andrew Roberts covers off a number of events where it is commonly thought Napoleon should have known better, to show that Napoleon's reasoning was actually sound given the context of the times.  He also identifies the events where there are no mitigating circumstances and Napoleon should have acted differently, perhaps with profound changes in outcomes.

The book makes clear it was Great Britain that was Napoleon's unrelenting opponent and that Napoleon was flawed in his naval and economic strategies that he employed against her.  The fatal invasion of Russia was an extension of that economic policy and undertaken at a time when Napoleon should perhaps have resolved the situation in Spain and Portugal personally (although as the book points out the Russians were massing on the border).  The army that Napoleon took into Russia was too big to manage in that he failed to detect errors in reports he was receiving about the state of his army and it was devastated by disease as much as any Russian action (something that was common throughout this period).  The book also details a few critical decisions/mistakes that Napoleon made while in Russia that could have made all the difference to the outcome.

This book provides a wonderfully inspiring background to Napoleon.

"Napoleon's life and career stand as a rebuke to determinist analyses of history which explain events in terms of vast impersonal forces and minimize the part played by individuals."  As the book concludes, I do find his life uplifting for what it shows one individual is capable of in so short a lifespan.  The ability to achieve is something we all carry in our backpacks.

"Napoleon the Great?  Yes, certainly."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that SoY, sounds like a cracking read, I'll have a look for it.