cover image Napoleon and the Hundred Days

Napoleon and the Hundred Days

Stephen Coote. Da Capo Press, $27.5 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-306-81408-2

This literary, almost novelistic treatment of the 100 days between Napoleon's escape from Elba and his capitulation after Waterloo uses the period as a lens through which to examine his character in general. By so doing, Coote (A Play of Passion: The Life of Sir Walter Raleigh) manages to give the reader a panoramic view of the emperor's life, not simply a focused study of the events of the Hundred Days. From Napoleon's unwillingness to concede the impossibility of even his most far-fetched plans to his megalomaniacal identification of Europe's destiny with his own, Coote illustrates the increasingly disastrous consequences of Bonaparte's temperament and character by comparing episodes of his return to power (such as the Additional Act, the Champs de Mai and the battle of Waterloo) to those of his initial rise (the Code Napoleon, the coronation in Notre Dame and the battle of the Bridge of Lodi). Throughout, Coote's prose is a delight, and his knack for description and characterization make men like Talleyrand, Fouche and Louis XVIII almost palpable (of Fouche, he writes, ""dressed in plain black clothes amid all the brilliant decor and brighter uniforms of the palace and its courtiers, Fouche gave the uncomfortable impression of being a monk disguised in evening dress, of being something other than what he seemed""). Overall, this accessible work is reminiscent of the finest classical Roman histories and biographies. Although Coote's volume will be of great interest to those already familiar with Napoleonic history, he provides enough background information to make such familiarity unnecessary.