The Age of Napoleon

[openbook booknumber=”0828104913″]


Since I had started to develop a new found interest in the regency period I decided I wanted to know a bit more about the political events of the period. These almost always surrounded the Napoleonic wars, of which I knew embarrassingly little. So I picked up a book called The Age of Napoleon.

This book is part biography, part history book as it tells the story of Napoleon in the context of the times he was in: political, cultural, military, economic and social.

Greatness has its beauties, but only in retrospect and in the imagination”: thus wrote General Bonaparte to General Moreau in 1800. His observation helps to explain why the world, only a few years after sighing with relief at its delivery from the ogre, began to worship him as the greatest man of modern times. Napoleon had barely left the scene when the fifteen years that he had carved out of world history to create his glory seemed scarcely believable. Only the scars of the war veterans and the empty places in the widows’ beds seemed to attest to the reality of those years, and time soon eliminated even these silent witnesses. What remained, in retrospect and in the imagination, was legend and symbol.

I will tell you this up front. Going into this book I knew little to nothing about Napoleon. Literally, aside from knowing that he was a dictator, that he was considered a bad guy, and that the Louisiana Purchase was due to him, I knew nothing else. That stood to be to my detriment in attempting to read this book. It assumed you knew the basics, that you had read the cliffnotes on his life, or that you had a basic historical background in all of Napoleon’s battles and activities during this period, which I did not. Following these chapters was almost impossible, and at times I was very lost and caught myself re-reading pages to see what I could have missed.

He also consistently talked down to the reader, which I thought was rich considering this was obviously not a book for beginners or meant to be an introduction to the period as the blurb on the back might lead you to think, but a book written for fellow history buffs like this guy was. He also was pretty denigrating to any theories that didn’t agree with what he thought about what happened during the period. The negativity at times was a bit of a turn off.

To his credit he did have a great sense of humor, and in a very droll way had you laughing once in a while as he relayed some anecdote about Napoleon or his battles. And, once he started going back and explaining in a little more detail stuff he said before, it got to be pretty interesting. And, I admit, I did walk away with a basic understanding of what had occurred during that time frame. In the regency era novels I read after reading this book I had a much better grasp of just what was being discussed about the men “serving abroad” and just what they must have went through serving in Egypt, in Russia, in Spain and at Waterloo.

That being said, that knowledge was hard won. I would recommend you keep looking for a book that gives a more “user friendly” approach to introducing the average reader to the age of napoleon. This book is not meant for light reading!

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