“The Age of Napoleon,” by Will & Ariel Durant is regarded as “an amazing book,” by Tesla & SpaceX Founder Elon Musk, but does it hold up to the ole Fletcher Dilmore book review test?
My respect for Napoleon Bonaparte has grown tremendously after reading, “The Age of Napoleon,” by Will & Ariel Durant. It’s very easy to get lost in the propaganda that surrounds one of the greatest military and governmental minds the world has ever known. Before reading this near perfect work, my background knowledge of Napoleon were relegated mostly to short jokes and accusations of being a war mongering dictator sometimes associated with the anti-Christ or Hitler, but after taking this deep dive that gives a full perspective of not only the Life of Napoleon, but also the Age in which he lived, I have a profound respect for one of the greatest men to ever live.
Napoleon rose to power, ending the reign of terror after the first French Revolution, and began his work reforming French law with the Napoleonic Code (Civil Law). As Napoleon conquered his adversaries in the neighboring states that were highly fractionalized and ruled by monarchy’s, he united/ created new nation states and brought to them the ideas and ideals of the French Revolution along with his Napoleonic Codes. The modern Italian and German states owe much of their unity & existence to Napoleon.
Napoleon was a hero throughout France and liberator across borders, taking his army across the European continent and even to North Africa. After retreating back across Western Europe from Russia, Napoleon was captured, forced to abdicate the throne and banished to the island of Elba aboard the HMS Undaunted (History has a way of foreshadowing). Napoleon escaped Elba, made his way back to France, was intercepted by forces of the Bourbon monarch, dismounted his horse and, when he was within gunshot range, shouted to the soldiers, “Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish.” The soldiers quickly responded with, “Vive L’Empereur!” Ney, the commander of the Bourbon force who had boasted to the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, that he would bring Napoleon to Paris in an iron cage, affectionately kissed his former emperor and forgot his oath of allegiance to the Bourbon monarch. The two then marched together toward Paris with a growing army, gaining troops & support with each passing town. Alas, the monarchical powers of Europe could not allow an outsider to be in control of nation as powerful as France, and quickly united in force against Napoleon, defeating him at Waterloo and banishing him to the more remote island of St. Helena, where he eventually died.
“The Age of Napoleon,” was written in 1975 yet tells the story of Napoleon in such a way it is impossible not to see the parallels of our own time, the monarchy’s that ruled in Napoleon’s time have dissolved in name only, any outsider looking to take power from the establishment and give back to the people is quickly curtailed, and the propaganda & slander begin.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s weakness was his own ambition against an entrenched hereditary monarchies of Europe… well and the great expanses of Russia & their harsh winter. On the Fletcher Dilmore book review scale, “The Age of Napoleon,” by Will & Ariel Durant scores a perfect 10/10, and may very well be the best history book I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and cannot recommend enough for anyone wanting to understand both the greatness of Napoleon along with the difficulty of dethroning the established order.
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