cover image Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life

Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life

Alan Schom. HarperCollins, $40 (912pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017214-5

One of the most written-about of men, Napoleon has been portrayed from his dark side before, usually in frankly partisan books. Schom (One Hundred Days: Napoleon's Road to Waterloo), his assiduous new biographer, claims: ""I have attempted to suppress nothing, and have tried to be as impartial as humanly possible."" His tarnished superman is a psychopath driven by excesses of audacity, unscrupulousness and ambition, impatient to have his way whatever the cost. At 30, promising gain to some and glory to many, he ruled France; at 40 (now as emperor) he controlled much of Europe, resisting advice that he relinquish land for peace, for he had destabilized the continent, fabricating untenable regimes to make royalty of his siblings. Schom's life is the first to exploit the findings by Ben Weider and Sten Forshufvud in The Assassination at St. Helena Revisited (1995) that Napoleon was poisoned by a servant. From the moment Napoleon seized power in November 1799 until his defeat at Waterloo in June 1815, he kept Europe in continual war (apart from one year, 1802-03). Despite a penchant for the cliche (Napoleon's ""mighty new Empire leaked like Swiss cheese""), this is a gripping, if long, read, although not for hero-worshippers. Illustrations not seen by PW. History Book Club main selection. (Sept.)