Napoleon is among those few individuals in Western history who are instantly recognizable. Although a Bonaparte would again control France during the reign of his nephew, Napoleon III, the average person knows only one Napoleon, a man so famous that he needs no last name. Therefore, there is less necessity to explain who this important individual was, but rather the task is to separate fact from myth. As noted in the introductory remarks by Lord Chalfont, “Napoleon, as is often the fate of giants, has been the target of constant attack by pygmies,” but “the story of his life makes irresistible reading.”
Although his background is English, Chandler has created a balanced portrait of Napoleon. This is no mean feat when one considers that he is relating the history of a figure who attempted to invade the British Isles and who, until he was surpassed by Adolf Hitler in World War II, was often simplistically depicted as an archfiend by British nursemaids and nineteenth century historians alike.
Because military history is Chandler’s field of expertise, his choice of emphasis is readily understood, although the specifics of some of Napoleon’s less familiar battles could border on the tedious for a general reader. In addition many of the twenty-one battlefield diagrams would have no great appeal, though Waterloo would obviously be an exception.
Chandler admires Napoleon’s genius, but he neither ignores nor excuses his excessive ambition, which progressed beyond defending the...
(The entire section is 622 words.)