The best books on Napoleon and an era that shook Europe to its core

Who am I?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in Napoleon, although in what ways have shifted back and forth over time. His reforms shaped the Europe we live in today, as few other rulers have managed. To go to law, to buy and sell, to marry, be born, or divorce, all these actions belong to his Civil Code. That is why I took up the study of his regime and its work as a professional historian. His myth, his exploits, gripped me as a boy, and still do. So spectacular a rise and fall do not happen by chance. There was no one like him.


I wrote...

Book cover of Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821

What is my book about?

This will be the third and final volume of my three-volume life of Napoleon, which will be published in summer, 2022. It covers the years 1811-1821, delving into the weaknesses of Napoleon’s hegemony at its height, in 1811, and explores the complex reasons behind his fateful decision to invade Russia in 1812, particularly Napoleon’s failure to understand the character of his opponent and nemesis, Tsar Alexander I. Russia was not the end, however, and I spend a great deal of time examining the last years of the wars, and what they reveal about the man and his empire in their last crisis, drawing extensively on the new edition of his correspondence and the rich modern historiography spawned by the drama of these years.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Metternich: Strategist and Visionary

Michael Broers Why did I love this book?

‘Game changer’ is a much-overused term for new academic books, but not in this case. Wolfram Siemann’s seminal biography of Metternich sheds a blinding array of new light on one of the most important figures of the age, and recasts forever our understanding of the politics and diplomacy of the Napoleonic period. At last, a great scholar has systematically exploited the private archives of the Metternich family, bringing new facts to bear on the key moments of the Napoleonic wars. It is simply indispensable, and HUP are to be saluted for making it available in English.

By Wolfram Siemann, Daniel Steuer (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Metternich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A compelling new biography that recasts the most important European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century, famous for his alleged archconservatism, as a friend of realpolitik and reform, pursuing international peace.

Metternich has a reputation as the epitome of reactionary conservatism. Historians treat him as the archenemy of progress, a ruthless aristocrat who used his power as the dominant European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century to stifle liberalism, suppress national independence, and oppose the dreams of social change that inspired the revolutionaries of 1848. Wolfram Siemann paints a fundamentally new image of the…


Book cover of Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814

Michael Broers Why did I love this book?

Perhaps the single greatest study to emerge from a formidable list of fine books on the Russian contribution to the defeat of Napoleon. Beautifully written, interlaced with vivid pen portraits of some of the most colourful characters of the age, Lieven writes with sympathy and insight of a country assailed and battered by Napoleon, and gives his readers a sensitive account of how the Tsar and his people rose to the challenge, and also of how they often came close to disaster. He follows their advance across Europe from the depths of their heartland to the Champs Elysées with the perfect blend of scholarship and humanity.

By Dominic Lieven,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Russia Against Napoleon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A compulsive page-turner ... a triumph of brilliant storytelling ... an instant classic that is an awesome, remarkable and exuberant achievement' Simon Sebag Montefiore

Winner of the Wolfson History Prize and shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize

In the summer of 1812 Napoleon, the master of Europe, marched into Russia with the largest army ever assembled, confident that he would sweep everything before him. Yet less than two years later his empire lay in ruins, and Russia had triumphed. This is the first history to explore in depth Russia's crucial role in the Napoleonic Wars, re-creating the epic battle between…


Book cover of To Kidnap a Pope: Napoleon and Pius VII

Michael Broers Why did I love this book?

A book that can be read almost as a thriller. Caiani takes us through a tale of bullying, bungling, and petty spite by Napoleon, who meets more than his match in the mediated determination of Pius, a man so long dismissed even by his collaborators, as a second-rate leader. Caiani’s deft character analysis, born of meticulous research in a plethora of archives in Rome, Paris, Lyon, and beyond, yield the story of a tense, complex battle of wills between two men who, despite their own best efforts, came to symbolise one of the most profound, protracted culture wars of the nineteenth century. To Kidnap a Pope wears its learning lightly; a true page-turner, but that learning is fresh and invaluable.

By Ambrogio A. Caiani,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked To Kidnap a Pope as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking account of Napoleon Bonaparte, Pope Pius VII, and the kidnapping that would forever divide church and state

"In gripping, vivid prose, Caiani brings to life the struggle for power that would shape modern Europe. It all makes for a historical read which is both original and enjoyable."-Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette

"The story of the struggle, fought with cunning, not force, between the forgotten Roman nobleman Barnaba Chiaramonti, who became Pope Pius VII, and the all-too-well-remembered Napoleon."-Jonathan Sumption, The Spectator, "Books of the Year"

In the wake of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France,…


Book cover of Napoleon: The End of Glory

Michael Broers Why did I love this book?

The accomplished historian of France across the years of Revolution, Empire and Restoration, Munro Price brings all his arsenal of erudition, archival acumen, and intellectual insight to bear on the last crisis of the empire. His attention to detail, his sensitivity to character and motivation make for one of the most penetrating, illuminating accounts of the implosion of support for Napoleon among the French elites ever written. No non-French scholar had picked through the complex politics of late Napoleonic France with as much skill or precision. Price delivers all this in elegant prose, the sign of a subtle historian.

By Munro Price,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Napoleon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On April 20, 1814, after a dizzying series of battles, campaigns, and diplomatic intrigues, a defeated Napoleon Bonaparte made his farewell speech to the Old Guard in the courtyard of the Chateau de Fontainebleau and set off for exile on the island of Elba. Napoleonic legend asserts that the Emperor was brought down by foreign powers determined to destroy him and discredit his achievements, with the aid of highly placed domestic traitors. Others argue that once Napoleon's military defeats began in 1812, his fall became inevitable. But in fact, as Munro Price shows in this brilliant new book, Napoleon's fall…


Book cover of Napoleon's Men: The Soldiers of the Revolution and Empire

Michael Broers Why did I love this book?

Not since the monumental work of Jacques Morvan in his Le Soldat Imperial, almost a century ago, has a scholar brought so much learning and insight to the experience of the soldiery of the longest wars in modern European history. Forrest brings his hallmark skills as an archival scholar to the daunting task of reassembling the lives of the men who did the fighting, endured the horrors and the hardships behind the glittering uniforms, and heroic paintings of the battles. He brings the ordinary to life and puts the extraordinary in its proper context of the hardscrabble, but adventurous, lives of the rankers. One for the ages. 

By Alan Forrest,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Napoleon's Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Napoleon's soldiers marched across Europe from Lisbon to Moscow, and from Germany to Dalmatia. Many of the men, mostly conscripted by ballot, had never before been beyond their native village. What did they make of the extraordinary experiences, fighting battles thousands of miles from home, foraging for provisions or garrisoning towns in hostile countries? What was it like to be a soldier in the revolutionary and imperial armies? We know more about these men and their reactions to war than about the soldiers of any previous army in history, not just from offical sources but also from the large number…


You might also like...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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