Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire

John Bierman, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (439p) ISBN 978-0-312-01827-6
In Bierman's delightfully disdainful biography, Louis Napoleon, the bungling, sexually athletic ruler of France's Second Empire, emerges as an implausible monarch. When Parisian workers took to the barricades in 1848, this rakehell was busy gambling and enjoying his English mistress, the courtesan Harriet Howard. A few months later he would be elected president. Proclaiming himself Emperor Napoleon III, he took countless lovers and led his country into one senseless war after another. Dissolute and muddleheaded, he clashed constantly with his frigid wife, Empress Eugenie, who combined a vast ignorance of the world with decided opinions on every facet of foreign policy. Louis Napoleon was quite probably not a Bonaparte at all, biologically speaking, according to the author, but he rode to power on the strength of his name. The biographer of Raoul Wallenberg ( Righteous Gentile ), Bierman attempts to rescue Louis, reminding us of his inventive, bold, humane traits. His populist portrait strips away the tawdry trappings of the Second Empire far more revealingly than many scholarly studies. Illustrations not seen by PW. BOMC and QPBC selections. (August)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1988
Release date: 01/01/1988
Paperback - 978-0-312-03900-4
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