The best books on Napoleon and his era

William Nester Author Of Napoleon and the Art of Leadership: How a Flawed Genius Changed the History of Europe and the World
By William Nester

Who am I?

Napoleon has fascinated William Nester since he was a boy. During a dozen years living in Europe, he visited most of Napoleon’s palaces and battlefields. For this biography, he carefully read all of Napoleon’s memoirs and 40,108 letters. His book captures Napoleon’s complexity, paradoxes, contradictions, accomplishments, catastrophes, and genius. William Nester, a Professor at the Department of Government and Politics, St. John’s University, New York, is the author of more than forty books. His book George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War won the Army Historical Foundation's best biography award, and Titan: The Art of British Power in the Age of Revolution and Napoleon, won the 2016 Arthur Goodzeit Book Award.


I wrote...

Napoleon and the Art of Leadership: How a Flawed Genius Changed the History of Europe and the World

By William Nester,

Book cover of Napoleon and the Art of Leadership: How a Flawed Genius Changed the History of Europe and the World

What is my book about?

No one in history has provoked more controversy than Napoleon Bonaparte. Two centuries after his death those who love or hate him still debate his legacy. Was he an enlightened ruler or brutal tyrant? Was he an insatiable warmonger or a defender of France against the aggression of the other great powers, especially Britain and Austria? He remains fascinating both because he so dramatically changed the course of history and had such a complex, paradoxical character.

If the art of power is about getting what one wants, then Napoleon was among history’s greatest masters. He understood and asserted the dynamic relationship among military, economic, diplomatic, technological, cultural, psychological, and thus political power. No previous book has explored deeper or broader into his seething labyrinth of a mind.  

The books I picked & why

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War and Peace

By Leo Tolstoy, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of War and Peace

Why this book?

War and Peace is not just the greatest novel of the Napoleonic Era, but among the greatest novels ever written. This vivid translation best captures the complexities of Tolstoy’s characters and their dilemmas amidst epic military campaigns that determine the fate of Europe and countless lives. The web of stories linking the characters are as much about friendship and love as they are about war and peace.

The Campaigns of Napoleon

By David G. Chandler,

Book cover of The Campaigns of Napoleon

Why this book?

David Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon remains the very best overview with its brilliant scholarship, analysis, and writing. For each campaign, Chandler analyzes the dynamic among logistics, strategy, and tactics while explaining rivalries, wars, and alliances elsewhere across Europe and beyond. Campaigns of Napoleon is as great an epic and classic read as Tolstoy’s War and Peace.


Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée

By John R. Elting,

Book cover of Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée

Why this book?

John Elting’s Swords Around a Throne is the best exploration of Napoleon’s army including organization, logistics, strategy, tactics, uniforms, training, weapons, equipment, discipline, and recreation, written with insight, sympathy, and humor. The book reveals the continuities and changes from the Revolution to Waterloo. Elting enlivens this work with numerous vivid excerpts from journals and letters by those who actually made the history, from generals to privates.


The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard

By Henri Lachouque, Anne S.K. Brown,

Book cover of The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard

Why this book?

The Anatomy of Glory tells the epic story of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard with keen prose that reads like a novel. It raises the key question of whether by creating an elite force of his best soldiers, he weakened his line infantry regiments, cavalry squadrons, and artillery batteries that he drew them from. He refused to commit his Old Guard at Borodino; had he done so he likely would have transformed a marginal victory into a decisive victory. He did send in his Old Guard at Waterloo only to see British regular regiments rout them. 


The Napoleonic Source Book

By Philip J. Haythornthwaite,

Book cover of The Napoleonic Source Book

Why this book?

Philip Haythornthwaite’s Napoleonic Source Book is a comprehensive overview of the army and navy commanders, campaigns, regiments, uniforms, and weapons of not just the great powers, but every state that fought in the Napoleonic Era. The 200 or so illustrations and maps, and the 700 entry glossary are first-rate.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon Bonaparte, and France?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon Bonaparte, and France.

The Napoleonic Wars Explore 44 books about the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleon Bonaparte Explore 54 books about Napoleon Bonaparte
France Explore 544 books about France

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Napoleon's Wars: An International History, Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny, and How Far From Austerlitz?: Napoleon 1805-1815 if you like this list.