Like a lot of generally well-educated people I FEEL like I know a lot about Napoleon. But as a person who knows me, I actually know that I don’t actually know very much about Napoleon. It’s possible that a significant amount of my knowledge of Napoleon comes from fictional sources like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. And more to the point, a lot of what I know about Napoleon come from British sources. This led me a question I still don’t have the answer to, which is, what is the reputation and connotation of Napoleon within French culture? It’s going to take a lot more time to sort this one out. Given his autocratic rule and his military expansionist imperlialism, and given how ultimately inglorious end, it’s not easy in common sources to find the answer to this question in a way that really satisfies my curiosity.
So this book does not do that either. It’s a perfectly solid book for what it does want to do, which is paint a clearer picture of the domestic rule of Napoleon’s reign, given how much focus there is in the military campaigns. Again, this goes back to the idea that since multiple other nations have lots of opinions of the military campaigns through direct experience, this all makes sense. In addition, so much is known and discusses about the French Revolution and so much about the later decades of the 19th century — Les Mis for example, this is…not exactly a dead period, but one that is less discussed.
So the book has a limited focus and a limited success, but I did find it interesting. My favorite section involves the creation of Pere Lashaise, the very famous, but also very commercial cemetery that houses such figures as Balzac and Jim Morrison.