The book presents no reinterpretation of Napoleon’s motives or any aspect of his rulership. Komroff writes clearly and directly, and the narrative moves quickly and dramatically, with few dates to slow down the tale. Napoleon is portrayed as a tragic hero, destined to fall because of his pride and ambition. Komroff makes Napoleon out to be a tyrant who brutalized France, and indeed most of Europe, simply because he wanted to impose his will on the maximum number of people.
Napoleon revolves around a series of military campaigns: Egypt, northern Italy, Austria and Prussia, Spain, and Russia. Priority is given to the French quagmire in Spain and Napoleon’s relationship with Czar Alexander. Napoleon eventually turned against the czar because of the latter’s ambitions in Poland and the Ottoman Empire. Because the book contains no maps or battle diagrams, the unfolding of the major military encounters is not always clear. Even Napoleon’s administrative, educational, judicial, and economic reforms are interpreted as cynical ploys to gain popularity.
Strangely, Komroff gives little attention to England and the Continental System. The important place England had after 1805 is unknowledged, except for the military assistance that England gave to Spain following Napoleon’s intervention in 1808. The Continental System of 18061812 would help to explain many of Napoleon’s diffi-culties with Spain, Prussia, and Russia. Indeed,...
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Any book on Napoleon is welcome, as there are so few studies of him aimed at young adults. Komroff’s work is certainly lively enough to keep the attention of any teenage reader. Unfortunately for the latter, any introductory book on Napoleon will be superficial and sketchy because of Napoleonic France’s involvement with virtually every nation of Europe. Hence, the lack of background knowledge will be a disadvantage in gaining an understanding of Napoleon and the world of his time. This short book hurries over some aspects of Napoleon—the First Consulate reforms, relations with England, military tactics, the period after the defeat in Russia, and the Congress of Vienna—and lingers over others—his campaigns in Egypt, Spain, and Russia, his exile on Elba, and the Hundred Days. The author seems unaware of the apparent contradiction that runs throughout the book: why the “op-pressed” French willingly fought for Napoleon. Komroff’s propensity to describe Napoleon as a ruthless tyrant does no credit to his subject. Yet the author does service to his readers by involving them with this larger-than-life personality.
Students of history should find this account of Napoleon fascinating and informative. Komroff’s study is accurate and well written and could serve as a fine introduction to this period for high-school courses on modern European history.