War and Peace
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.
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.
Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
From Lisa's list on the best hidden histories on The Napoleonic Wars.
History is most often written by the victors, and real life is never so one-sided. Esdaile writes as though he lived Napoleon’s life, and shows that many times his decisions were made (or changed) because of acts, or provocation, by British diplomats or agents. The quote by Napoleon’s stepdaughter Hortense says it all: “Any man who becomes the sole head of a great country by means other than heredity can only maintain himself in power if he gives the nation either liberty or military glory – if he makes himself, in short, either a Washington or a conqueror...it was impossible for him to establish...an absolute power except by bemusing reason [and] by every three months presenting the French people with some new spectacle.” Esdaile brings this unspoken part of brilliant military triumphs to light, the insecurity and the bombastic, the truth and hypocrisy that was Napoleon Bonaparte, and the demands of the country he ruled as Consul and Emperor.
From Ambrogio's list on the best books about Napoleon, his rise to power, and his downfall.
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!
From Gareth's list on the best books for getting inside Napoleon Bonaparte’s head.
As a St Helena Lullaby puts it, quoted by Horne at the start of his scholarly but eminently readable book, "How far is St Helena from the field of Austerlitz?" Horne is a brilliant historian and he crafts a compelling book tracing Napoleon’s career from its apogee on the field of his greatest victory to its nadir with his exile to St Helena, far out in the south Atlantic. But we don’t just get the events, we get to experience the slippery nature of success, as Spain swallows troops and Russia decimates the Grande Armée. We see this through Napoleon’s own words, and Horne’s relentless research, as he struggles to maintain his dominance. I loved the balanced assessment of this final decade in power. I marvelled at Bonaparte’s brilliance and achievements whilst learning to appreciate how much the odds were stacked against him.