Top Ten Books on Napoleon Bonaparte

David Bell emphasizes the astonishing sense of human possibility--for both good and ill--that Napoleon represented. By his late twenties, Napoleon was already one of the greatest generals in European history. At thirty, he had become an absolute master of Europe's most powerful country. In his early forties, he ruled a European empire more powerful than any since Rome, fighting wars that changed the shape of the continent and brought death to millions. Then everything collapsed, leading him to spend his last years in miserable exile in the South Atlantic.

Bell emphasizes the importance of the French Revolution in understanding Napoleon's career. The revolution made possible the unprecedented concentration of political authority that Napoleon accrued, and his success in mobilizing human and material resources. Without the political changes brought about by the revolution, Napoleon could not have fought his wars. Without the wars, he could not have seized and held onto power. Though his virtual dictatorship betrayed the ideals of liberty and equality, his life and career were revolutionary.

Philip Dwyer sheds new light on Napoleon’s inner life—especially his darker side and his passions—to reveal a ruthless, manipulative, driven man whose character has been disguised by the public image he carefully fashioned to suit the purposes of his ambition. Dwyer focuses acutely on Napoleon’s formative years, from his Corsican origins to his French education, from his melancholy youth to his flirtation with radicals of the French Revolution, from his first military campaigns in Italy and Egypt to the political-military coup that brought him to power in 1799. One of the first truly modern politicians, Napoleon was a master of “spin,” using the media to project an idealized image of himself. Dwyer’s biography of the young Napoleon provides a fascinating new perspective on one of the great figures of modern history.

The story of Napoleon has been written many times. In some versions, he is a military genius, in others a war-obsessed tyrant. Here, historian Adam Zamoyski cuts through the mythology and explains Napoleon against the background of the European Enlightenment, and what he was himself seeking to achieve. This most famous of men is also the most hidden of men, and Zamoyski dives deeper than any previous biographer to find him. Beautifully written, Napoleon brilliantly sets the man in his European context.

The Napoleonic wars were nothing if not complex—an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of moves and intentions, which by themselves went a long way towards baffling and dazing his conventionally-minded opponents into that state of disconcerting moral disequilibrium which so often resulted in their catastrophic defeat.

The Campaigns of Napoleon is an exhaustive analysis and critique of Napoleon's art of war as he himself developed and perfected it in the major military campaigns of his career. Napoleon disavowed any suggestion that he worked from formula (“Je n'ai jamais eu un plan d'opérations”), but military historian David Chandler demonstrates this was at best only a half-truth. To be sure, every operation Napoleon conducted contained unique improvisatory features. But there were from the first to the last certain basic principles of strategic maneuver and battlefield planning that he almost invariably put into practice. To clarify these underlying methods, as well as the style of Napoleon's fabulous intellect, Mr. Chandler examines in detail each campaign mounted and personally conducted by Napoleon, analyzing the strategies employed, revealing wherever possible the probable sources of his subject's military ideas.

Unfortunately, this is an older book and it only comes in hardcover. Due to its high price, we recommend that you check it out from a library.

When Napoleon’s Grand Armee went to war against the might of the Habsburg empire in 1809, its forces included more than 100,000 allied German troops. From his earliest imperial campaigns, these troops provided played a key role as Napoleon swept from victory to victory and in 1809 their fighting abilities were crucial to the campaign. With Napoleon’s French troops depleted and debilitated after the long struggle in the Spanish War, the German troops for the first time played a major combat role in the center of the battle line.

In this epic work, John Gill presents an unprecedented and comprehensive study of this year of glory for the German soldiers fighting for Napoleon, When combat opened they were in the thick of the action, fighting within French divisions and often without any French support at all. They demonstrated tremendous skill, courage and loyalty.

In the spring of 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated. Having overseen an empire spanning half the European continent and governed the lives of some eighty million people, he suddenly found himself exiled to Elba, less than a hundred square miles of territory. Braude dramatizes this strange exile and improbable escape in granular detail and with novelistic relish, offering sharp new insights into a largely overlooked moment. He details a terrific cast of secondary characters, including Napoleon’s tragically-noble official British minder on Elba, Neil Campbell, forever disgraced for having let “Boney” slip away; and his young second wife, Marie Louise who was twenty-two to Napoleon’s forty-four, at the time of his abdication. What emerges is a surprising new perspective on one of history’s most consequential figures, which both subverts and celebrates his legendary persona.

The Battle of Waterloo has cast a long shadow over Europe. It ended the French Empire and Napoleon's aspirations and it significantly altered the direction of Europe. Unsurprisingly, the meaning and significance of Waterloo are different for all of the countries that participated in the battle. Alan Forrest walks through the reader through the battle but explores the consequences and the interpretations of Waterloo. Forrest answers how we remember Waterloo. Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands all view Waterloo through different a lens.

Perhaps no person in history has dominated his or her own era as much as Napoleon. Despite his small physical stature, the shadow of Napoleon is cast like a colossus, compelling all who would look at that epoch to chart their course by reference to him. For this reason, most historical accounts of the Napoleonic era-and there are many-tell the same Napoleon-dominated story over and over again or focus narrowly on special aspects of it.

Frederick Kagan, a distinguished historian and military policy expert, has tapped hitherto unused archival materials from Austria, Prussia, France, and Russia, to present the history of these years from the balanced perspective of all of the major players of Europe. In The End of the Old Order readers encounter the rulers, ministers, citizens, and subjects of Europe in all of their political and military activity-from the desk of the prime minister to the pen of the ambassador, from the map of the general to the rifle of the soldier.

The Great Retreat is an unprecedented, visually rich account of Napoleon’s march back from Moscow, built on a remarkable discovery of newly unearthed artifacts and archival sources. It tells the story of how Napoleon lost nearly 400,000 men to the brutal cold, poor planning, and effectively destructive harrying of the Russian army at his heels. Featuring more than 1,600 illustrations and detailed biographies of all 289 regiments and units involved in the retreat, supplemented by unforgettable eyewitness accounts, this book brings Napoleon’s retreat, and its unfathomable human cost, to life in a wholly new way. No student of Napoleon or fan of military or Russian history will want to miss it.

John Tone recounts the dramatic story of how, between 1808 and 1814, Spanish peasants created and sustained the world's first guerrilla insurgency movement, thereby playing a major role in Napoleon's defeat in the Peninsula War. Focusing on the army of Francisco Mina, Tone offers new insights into the origins, motives, and successes of these first guerrilla forces by interpreting the conflict from the long-ignored perspective of the guerrillas themselves.

Only months after Napoleon's invasion in 1807, Spain seemed ready to fall: its rulers were in prison or in exile, its armies were in complete disarray, and Madrid had been occupied. However, the Spanish people themselves, particularly the peasants of Navarre, proved unexpectedly resilient. In response to impending defeat, they formed makeshift governing juntas, raised new armies, and initiated a new kind of people's war of national liberation that came to be known as guerrilla warfare. Key to the peasants' success, says Tone, was the fact that they possessed both the material means and the motives to resist. The guerrillas were neither bandits nor selfless patriots but landowning peasants who fought to protect the old regime in Navarre and their established position within it.

While this book is not specifically about Napoleon, it examines the early 19th century through Tallyrand. Tallyrand was the French Foreign Minister for multiple French regimes and one of the most interesting and remarkable diplomats of the 19th century. Unique in his own age and a phenomenon in any, Charles-Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand, was a statesman of outstanding ability and extraordinary contradictions. He was a world-class rogue who held high office in five successive regimes. A well-known opportunist and a notorious bribe taker, Talleyrand’s gifts to France arguably outvalued the vast personal fortune he amassed in her service.

Once a supporter of the Revolution, after the fall of the monarchy, he fled to England and then to the United States. Talleyrand returned to France two years later and served under Napoleon, and represented France at the Congress of Vienna. Duff Cooper’s classic biography contains all the vigor, elegance, and intellect of its remarkable subject.