Napoleon – A Biography: This book does not purport to be a definitive biography of Napoleon. Indeed I wonder if such a thing is possible, short of a multi-volume life along the lines of Martin Gilbert’s lifetime work on Churchill, and even then there must be doubts whether any one individual could fully master all the sources dealing with the multitudinous aspects of such a complex life. As the great French scholar Frederic Masson found, after spending a lifetime studying the Emperor, Napoleon becomes more elusive and more enigmatic the more one knows about him. I have therefore set myself the modest task of attempting a clear synthesis of our existing knowledge of this extraordinary colossus who convulsed the world for two decades.
Regrettably, I have decided that I cannot afford the luxury (self-indulgence?) of detailed footnotes and citations. In the case of Napoleon, in order to sustain a single proposition, one would have to cite them
conflicting evidence available sometimes from more than a dozen sources.
Apart from the fact that this volume, which is already long enough, would have to double in size to accommodate the critical apparatus, I am not sure the reader is really interested in the agonizing that goes on before a historian makes his or her Thucydidean judgment on what is likely to have been the truth about a particular incident.
I have therefore contented myself with a summary of ‘indicative reading’. My debt to the work of the great French scholars, especially Masson and Jean Tulard, will be evident. Among English students of the Emperor I would single out for special mention the seminal work by David Chandler on Napoleon as a military commander.
My thanks are due to a number of individuals who played a part in this book. Will Sulkin, Euan Cameron and Tony Whittome at Cape gave particular support, while to the generosity of Patrick Garland and Alexandra Bastedo I am indebted for hospitality in Corsica, enabling me to visit all the Napoleonic places on the island. Others who gave me encouragement at vitai moments when my spirits were flagging were Melvyn Bragg, Nigella Lawson, Colette Bowe and Professor Murray Pittock of Strathclyde University. But my greatest debt is to the three significant women in my life: Pauline, Lucy, and Julie.
By FRANK McLYNN
Peace to all who follow guidance (20.47)
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Contents of Napoleon – A Biography:
1. Purpose and plan 5
Chapter One I
Chapter Two 15
Chapter Three 31
Chapter Four 49
Chapter Five 70
Chapter Six 83
Chapter Seven 107
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