The best books on the global history of the French Revolution and Empire

Alan Forrest Author Of The Death of the French Atlantic: Trade, War, and Slavery in the Age of Revolution
By Alan Forrest

The Books I Picked & Why

The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History

By Alexander Mikaberidze

The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History

Why this book?

Although the Napoleonic Wars are most commonly discussed from a French perspective, with their roots in ideology and the Wars of the French Revolution, they are increasingly being understood as the climax of conflicts over power and colonial possessions that had raged between the major European powers across the long eighteenth century. In this hugely ambitious and highly readable book, Alex Mikaberidze considers the Napoleonic Wars as part of a wider global conflict in which France and Britain struggled for dominance, a conflict that extended to the Americas, Egypt, Iran, the Indian Ocean, even to China and Japan, and assesses their role in defining the post-war world.


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

By Dominic Lieven

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

Why this book?

Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia and extend the war beyond the European continent was a colossal error of judgment, a strategic blunder that condemned his army to defeat and arguably changed the course of European history. In this masterly study, Dominic Lieven analyses the history of the Moscow campaign from a Russian standpoint, charting Napoleon’s defeat from the moment the Grande Armée crossed on to Russian soil and showing how Alexander’s armies outmaneuvered Napoleon, allowing Russia to emerge in 1815 as the new liberator of Europe, with consequences that would endure across the nineteenth century and beyond.


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Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

By Ian Coller

Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831

Why this book?

Ian Coller’s study shows how, even in the Napoleonic era, the empire was a two-way process that left a lasting legacy for modern France. He discusses the community of Arabs - several hundred Egyptians, Syrians, and others - who followed the French army back home after the Egyptian Campaign to settle in France, mainly in Marseille and Paris. They faced critical issues of identity and cultural isolation, forging few links with the native French, and their story leads Coller to reflect on the history of France more generally, with due emphasis on the processes of memory formation and forgetting.


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Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835

By Rafe Blaufarb

Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835

Why this book?

Napoleon’s defeat led to the demobilization of thousands of soldiers and their officers, and a sudden surplus of weapons and ammunition that would be exported to feed other wars across the world, especially in the Americas. Some of these men remained adventurers, unable to settle into civilian life, and serving the cause of independence in revolutions across Central and Latin America. Others tried to establish a French way of life in the New World, among them the colonies of settlers in the American South studied by Rafe Blaufarb in this pioneering study of the Vine and Olive communities in Alabama.


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Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire

By Sujit Sivasundaram

Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire

Why this book?

Waves Across the South offers a stunningly original contribution to our knowledge of the age of revolutions, stretching its geographical range from the Atlantic world, and from India, China, and the Ottoman Empire (regions studied by historians from Barrington Moore to Chris Bayly) to the peoples of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. His approach is groundbreaking as he discusses repeated outbreaks of revolutionary violence across the Southern hemisphere, interpreting them through the eyes of native peoples rather than of European colonizers, and emphasizing the importance of local culture and physical environment.


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