The Age of Napoleon
© 2004 Alistair Horne
Napoleon Bonaparte cast a long shadow over history, considering the relative slightness of his origins. Who would expect a boy from a conquered island to rise to the height of power and command one of the greatest empires in history, and leave a legacy even grander? Alistair Horne’s contribution to the Modern Library Chronicles series discusses that legacy in part, although it is a mere sample of what one might say about the Emperor. Horne himself has written larger, more exhaustive works on the same subject, but this series consists of compact introductions. Horne’s account focuses on life in the empire away from the war, treating military affairs in general as background material only to be referenced occasionally. A story told in eleven short chapters (including an epilogue), Horne discusses Napoleon’s rise to power, his ambitious vision for both France and Europe (unified and modern), how society responded to him both at home and abroad, the corrupting effects of hubris as his influence grew, and eventually his downfall. Other books on the Modern Library Chronicles series have succeeded in meaningful summaries of broad subjects by focusing on a few key points, like Karen Armstrong’s treatment of ummah (political-spiritual community) in Islam. Horne’s reach is more broad, and not quite as potent. Even so, I don’t know if the emphasis on society and culture in the Napoleon era is one covered by many other books, which would tend to focus more on politics and military games. On the whole, The Age of Napoleon is a short but enjoyable read, its ideal audience being lay persons who are faintly curious about Napoleon but who have little interest in reading about military maneuvers.
“Paris”, from The City in Mind by James Howard Kunstler, in which Napoleon’s architectural legacy is discussed more thoroughly.