The best books about Napoleon, his rise to power, and his downfall

Ambrogio A. Caiani Author Of To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII
By Ambrogio A. Caiani

The Books I Picked & Why

Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny

By Michael Broers

Book cover of Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny

Why this book?

Hailed by most reviewers as the definitive biography on Napoleon. It is written by the doyen of Napoleonic studies at Oxford. Based on the meticulous research and the recently completed new & expanded edition of Napoleon’s letters. Despite this Broers wears his erudition lightly and has written a gripping and page-turning life story of the man who changed Europe beyond recognition. It is by far the most European biography ever written on the French Emperor. We all await volume 3 with great anticipation!

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By Alan Forrest

Book cover of Napoleon

Why this book?

This is by far the best single-volume history on Napoleon. Forrest is one of the foremost experts on the French Revolution and its military in the world. He has written a readable and unromanticised account of the French Emperor’s life. Particularly strong on the background, ideology, and wider forces impelling that man forward. A thoroughly enjoyable and captivating read.

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Napoleon: The End of Glory

By Munro Price

Book cover of Napoleon: The End of Glory

Why this book?

A brilliant analysis of the downfall of Napoleon. It is based on unexploited archival materials from Paris and Prague. It shows definitively that through the years 1812 to 1815 the allies on multiple occasions offered the French Empire generous peace terms. Napoleon for complex psychological and political reasons turned down repeatedly these overtures that would have allowed him to retain his crown. Research and narrative at their finest, and it has the readability of a thriller.

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Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection 1815-1840

By Philip Dwyer

Book cover of Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection 1815-1840

Why this book?

Bizarrely not many quality works on Napoleon’s exile and afterlife exist in English. It is much to Dwyer’s credit to have written a superb account of the stricken eagle’s exile on Saint Helena. It depicts well how the reality of confinement contrasted markedly with the myth that was fostered by exiles. This is an excellent analysis of these humid days on the South Atlantic followed in the second half by a masterful analysis of how Napoleon became the new Prometheus and Christ for liberals who opposed the Restoration. A riveting read.

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Metternich: Strategist and Visionary

By Wolfram Siemann, Daniel Steuer

Book cover of Metternich: Strategist and Visionary

Why this book?

Admittedly this is not a book about Napoleon but about the architect of his defeat. Siemann spent decades in European archives producing a biography that would finally supersede that written by the Nazi von Srbik in the 1920s. He accomplishes this task brilliantly by presenting a Metternich who is much more human, complex, uncertain, and more of a ‘dove’ in terms of geopolitics than anybody had imagined. It also does a fine job in rescuing the post-1815 Metternich from the condescension of posterity showing him not to have been the vicious reactionary of Cardonaro lore. It weighs in at seven hundred pages but repays the effort bountifully.

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