cover image Men On Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution

Men On Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution

David A. Bell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-20792-2

Princeton University history professor Bell (Shadows of Revolution) profiles 18th-century revolutionary leaders Simón Bolívar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint Louverture, Pasquale Paoli, and George Washington in this fluid and thought-provoking survey of political charisma. Though the movements they led differed in scope and origin, each cultivated a reputation for military savvy, harnessed popular support, and, even in the case of the reticent Washington, molded a persona that continues to resonate. Bell argues that the advent of the Enlightenment, the rise in democratic forms of government, and the increasing popularity of newspapers created ideal conditions for mythologization. Napoleon, in particular, emerges in this account as a propagandist par excellence. Bell skillfully explores the links between his subjects and draws insightful comparisons and contrasts between them (Bolívar, Louverture, and Washington were renowned horsemen; Bonaparte deliberately hid his mediocre riding skills) to reveal that the line between democracy and authoritarianism has always been “vanishingly thin.” This erudite and entertaining “great man” history helps to explain the modern reemergence of autocratic leaders around the world. (July)