“What a novel my life has been!” Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the greatest successes, and tragic failures, in history. Rising from obscurity to rule most of Europe, he was defeated at Waterloo at age 45 and confined to a lonely South Atlantic island. This book gleans from his voluminous maxims and comments on this parabolic arc to provide both an inspiring and cautionary tale. It provides life and career lessons for leaders, entrepreneurs, military officers, students, and anyone who is ambitious and wondering what to make of life.
Napoleon campaigned from Madrid to Moscow, and from Belgium to Egypt. He doubled the size of the United States with the sale of the Louisiana Territory and set in motion Latin American independence from Spain. He abolished the Holy Roman Empire, set the state for the unification of Germany, Switzerland and Italy, briefly reconstituted Poland, and established a legal code still in use around the world. He was, the book contends, ‘The first modern man.’
The book organizes Napoleon’s biography and sayings into fifteen chapters, each a “rule” illustrating what he did right or what he did wrong. A final chapter uses his own words to examine whether his spectacular existence left him happy, and poses questions about the course and meaning of our own lives.
Napoleon was not just a successful general. He was a politician, a propagandist, a lawgiver, an administrator, an emperor, a builder, a dictator, and a keen and sometimes cynical student of human nature. He was man at his best and worst.
This nonfiction book was inspired by my Ethan Gage series of Napoleonic adventures, and informed by research for that series. It draws on more than a hundred other books on Bonaparte and his times.
The book is deliberately concise (150 print pages), brisk, and provocative, using the life of one of history’s most extraordinary people to shed light on contemporary life. It quotes about two hundred Napoleonic maxims, plus observations by the conqueror’s contemporaries and other historians. Numerous specific examples from Bonaparte’s life as used to explain and illustrate key points. Included is a historical timeline of Napoleon’s life and suggestions for further reading.
Bonaparte would approve. “The most honorable as well as the most useful occupation of all nations is to contribute to the extension of human knowledge,” he said. “The only victories which leave no regret are those which are gained over ignorance.”