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Napoleon [Format Kindle]

Alan Forrest

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Présentation de l'éditeur

On a cold December day in 1840 Parisians turned out in force to watch as Napoleon's coffin was solemnly borne down the Champs-Elysées on its final journey to the Invalides. The return of the Emperor's body from the island of St Helena, nearly twenty years after his death, was a moment they had eagerly awaited, though there were many who feared that the memories stirred would only further destabilize a country that had struggled for order and direction since 'the little corporal' was sent into exile after Waterloo.

Alan Forrest tells the remarkable story of how the son of a Corsican attorney became the most powerful man in Europe, a man whose political legacy endured long after his lonely death many thousands of miles from France. Along the way, he cuts away the layers of myth and counter-myth that have grown up around Napoleon, a man who mixed history and legend promiscuously, and shows how he was as much a product of his times as he was their creator.

The convulsive effect of the Revolution on French society, and the new meritocracy it ushered in, afforded men of this generation opportunities that were unimaginable under the Ancien Régime. Napoleon seized every chance that was offered him, making full use of his undoubted abilities and charismatic presence. But the Empire he created, stretching across most of the European continent, was not the work of one man. It was a collective enterprise that depended on the work and vision of thousands of administrators, army officers, jurists and educators, and The Age of Napoleon is as much their story as his.

In a book that takes in everything from Napoleon's ill-fated expedition to Egypt to the festivals that punctuated the Imperial calendar, Alan Forrest draws on original research and recent scholarship to draw a fresh and compelling picture of one of the most dramatic periods in the history of Europe.

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  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 3648 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 417 pages
  • Editeur : Quercus (27 octobre 2011)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0073BHD90
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 the pocket napoleon 30 juillet 2013
Par Brenda Teese - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
With only 331 pages of text, a generous font, uncrowded page layout, quality color prints and quality binding, I almost passed on this one. Surely such a beautiful small book is intended only as a coffee table ornament, not a serious history of a complex life and times. But no, the first paragraph of the Introduction elegantly lays out for the reader the problems inherent in biography generally and Napoleon specifically: "Few have mixed history and legend more promiscuously. For that reason it may be wise to pause and begin this book with something approaching a health warning."

This writer is nothing if not elegant; not only in his use of language but also, as I was to discover as I read further into the book, elegant in deploying his considerable knowledge of the era -- the French Revolution, the life of Napoleon, the Napoleonic Wars and Empire. The first chapter is taken from "Le Retour des Cendres"; the return of the ashes, the mortal remains of the Emperor are repatriated from the British prison island in the South Atlantic Ocean. This chapter could have been an engaging stand-alone essay in some upscale literary magazine. You have to admire a writer who has such control of his material that he is perfectly comfortable starting the story at the end.

Alan Forrest turns out to be a writer of considerable reserve: an Emeritus Professor of History with a solid professional collaborative and publishing career behind him, author of 4 books on French Revolution and Empire, co-editor of 4 anthologies one of them a French language publication. 'Napoleon' represents his first foray into writing for the general reader rather than the academy. For a small book it has an impressive bibliography: 12 pages, 295 references, over half of them French. There are 30 pages of referenced footnotes; the footnotes contain no text written by Forrest, they simply direct the reader to the appropriate bibliography publication. The book is heavily footnoted but the clever font renders them unobtrusive and does not impede the flow of the reading. Forrest leaves it to the reader to follow up, or not, on items of particular interest.

What I hoped to find in a biography of Napoleon was, first of all, a continuation of the French Revolution story starting from where Hilary Mantel (A Place of Greater Safety) and Simon Schama (Citizens) left off. What happened after Robespierre et al were delivered to the guillotine? "The revolution of the Ninth of Thermidor did not immediately abolish the 1793 constitution," writes Forrest, "nor did it undermine the republican character of the regime. What it did do was to purge the Convention of those deputies most closely identified with the politics of the Terror and to rid France of the exceptional laws and jurisdictions that had defined it. In fact, the regime remained strongly republican, intolerant of the aristocracy and the clergy, and profoundly committed to the ideal of a secular state. Over sixty of Maximilien Robespierre's closest allies were purged, yet some of the men who had served under the Jacobins were called back to office... On the other hand, the new regime remained suspicious of those whom it adjudged to be tainted with terrorism. Their aim was to end the spiral of revolution, to draw up a new and lasting constitution, end the state of emergency, and create a republican stability which so far had eluded French lawmakers."

The end of this paragraph was footnoted, and this was an item of interest for me. Schama wrote a useful history but his persistent, strident pro-English bias and palpable contempt for the French revolutionaries was a continuous irritant. I wanted to know the foundation of Forrest's more respectful analysis. Not surprisingly, it was a French publication that he referenced. This is exactly the balance I was hoping for. Forrest displays none of the national bias and personal animus which mars the offerings of many British popular history writers; at the same time he is careful to separate "what really happened" from "the legend". He makes clear that the legend of Napoleon is more than the part constructed by Napoleon and his supporters; the other side of that coin is the war propaganda circulated in Britain at the time. It is possible the Anglo world continues to react to the latter, as the French world does to the former.

I very much liked the way Forrest embedded Napoleon into the events and the politics of the Revolution, satisfying my curiosity about the Revolution. I also liked the way he relocated familiar bits of British history into the more coherent story of the Napoleonic Wars and Empire. Forrest doesn't get side-tracked by the glory of Trafalgar, for example, treating it briefly within a paragraph about the five partners in the Third Coalition brought to bear against the Empire: "The battle, it should be noted, did not destroy French sea power or end the threat to Britain's maritime supply routes... " The Battle of Waterloo seen from the European perspective is fascinating: "It was not in any sense a rout; indeed, Wellington would famously describe it as 'the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life'. The French emerged with honor. But for all Napoleon's tactical skill, the battle was lost, and with it his imperial ambitions."

Forrest then goes on to describe the poignant reaction to the lost battle and the lost empire, a reaction not confined to the French. Napoleon was more than simply a military commander; part of his persona was an able administrator as loyal son of the Revolution. His dashed aspirations for a truly civil society caused mourning in some European elements of the empire itself. Forrest provides the general reader with a concise but complete account of Napoleon and the Empire, everything political, military, personal and international. Sometimes it is a bit of a slog. He does what he can to make the convoluted history palatable but it requires some energy on the part of the reader to stay with him, especially in the middle third of the book. But the investment of energy is rewarded; drama and intensity ramps up and the last third of the book is a page-turner. The last few pages of "The Hundred Days" -- I have rarely read anything more eloquently written, in either fiction or non-fiction.

This small book is probably the distilled essence of everything Forrest knows and has reflected on over the course of a long career of reading, teaching, publishing and collaboration with other academics. It is a rare treat for the general reader and, I would think, for the amateur or professional Napoleon scholar as well. But for the general reader, who is unlikely to linger because there is so much more general reading to be done, it is a good story, an amazing story, and it reads as smooth as silk.
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