Top Ten Books on Napoleon Bonaparte

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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 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.

  • Napoleon: The Path to Power by Philip Dwyer

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.

  • Napoleon by Adam Zamoyski

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 Campaigns of Napoleon by David G Chandler
  • With Eagles to Glory: Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign by John H Gill
  • Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts
  • The Invisible Emperor: Napoleon on Elba From Exile to Escape by Mark Braude

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.

  • Waterloo (Oxford University Press) by Alan Forrest

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.


  • The End of the Old Order by Frederick Kagan
  • The Great Retreat: Napoleon's Grand Armée in Russia by Alexander Korolev

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.

  • The Fatal Knot: The Guerrilla War in Navarre and the Defeat of Napoleon in Spain by John Lawrence Tone

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.

Bonus Book:

  • Talleyrand by Duff Cooper
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