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THE REIGN OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

Robert Asprey, Author
Robert Asprey, Author . Basic $32.50 (512p) ISBN 978-0-465-00481-2
Reviewed on: 10/15/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Paperback - 481 pages - 978-0-465-00482-9
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This accessible, fast-moving narrative of Napoleon's regime from 1803, a sequel to The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, encompasses the period from the aftermath of Austerlitz (1805) to its subject's lonely death on the island of St. Helena (1821). Basing his account heavily on the emperor's correspondence, Asprey is often empathetic: he understands Napoleon's determination to sink Britannia's arrogant ruling of the waves. But as a former U.S. Marine captain, he is always aware of the tension between rhetoric and battlefield reality: the irony is palpable when, after the gruesome battle of Friedland, Napoleon orders Te Deums to be sung throughout the empire. The author has as sharp an eye for the common foot soldiers who fought and died in the great "adventures" in Poland, Spain and Russia as he does for their Great Leader. Climbing the fierce December slopes of the Sierra de Guadarrama, north and west of Madrid, French troops encountered a blizzard so strong that they needed to dismount and link arms. Days later, three veteran grenadiers blew their brains out, traumatized by the march and the fear of capture by the English. Asprey is particularly adept at describing the unexpected guerrilla movement that arose in occupied Spain, the result of Napoleon's complacent attempt to wage "a conventional war in an unconventional environment against unconventional people." As the author readily admits, the Great Leader was, after all, increasingly delusional, and the experience in Spain was a foretaste of the scorched Russian earth, the Cossack raids and the harrowing retreat from Moscow, when, in Asprey's words, "the human had become the animal." Illus. and maps. (Nov.)

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