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Napoleon: A Biography

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  292 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Napoleon Bonaparte's character and achievements have always divided critics and commentators. In this compelling biography, Frank McLynn draws on the most recent scholarship and throws a brilliant light on this most paradoxical of men--as military leader, lover, and emperor. Tracing Napoleon's extraordinary career, McLynn examines the Promethean legend from his Corsican ro ...more
Paperback, 752 pages
Published April 30th 2003 by Arcade Publishing (first published 1997)
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David Brown
History was always my favourite subject at school and my passion for events from the past remains undiminished. When it comes to Napoleon Bonaparte I am ashamed to say my knowledge of him was minimal prior to picking up Frank McLynn’s biography which, at 600+ pages, promised to offer great enlightenment. Of Napoleon I knew he was the Emperor of France around the time of Horatio Nelson and that he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and spent the rest of his life exiled on an island. B ...more
Eric Folley
I could only get through the first four chapters before I had to put this aside. While I was very interested in learning more about Napoleon and his times, this book was not for me.

First of all, it seems to assume that you already have a good understanding of the general history of France during Napoleon's life, which I don't; I was hoping this book would help with that as well, but many important bits, like, say, the French Revolution, are glossed over. Since McLynn argues that Napoleon was a v
Matt Bennett
Think you need 752 pages on Napolean? You are probably wrong. I was.

McLynn writes well, and this is surely a complete life of a world-historic figure. But there's way too much assumed knowledge, and not nearly enough maps. The battle sequences are great for folks with detailed geographical information about late 18th C Italy, France, Egypt, Syria, Austria-Hungary, German, Russia, Spain and Portugal. For everyone else, it's a slog through the battle scenes.

McLynn is also weirdly obsessed with the
Greg Strandberg
I liked this book when I read it over a week or two in 2009. It was surprising how poor Napoleon was and how much of an utter nobody he was when in boarding school and such. I'm not sure if this one had the story of him leading the snowball fight, but that is a good story nonetheless.

If you want a good one-volume book, this is a good bit. I'd have liked a bit more on some of the weirdness and sexual proclivities, and I just don't remember them being here.

I will add that there's a short book on
Mark Taylor
While I was reading Andrew Roberts’ excellent 2014 biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon: A Life, I was also reading Frank McLynn’s 1997 book Napoleon: A Biography on my Kindle. So I’ve been a little immersed in the Napoleonic era as of late, and I might be suffering from Napoleon overload. McLynn’s book isn’t as good as Roberts’, but it’s still an excellent treatment of a fascinating figure.

McLynn is a psychological biographer who published a biography of Carl Jung the same year Napoleon: A
Kevin Milligan
Men lined on a wet grassy field, fighting ferociously for a farmhouse waiting desperately for the arrival of Grouchy and his thirty thousand reinforcements. As thousands of dark colored uniforms line up on the eastern edge of the battle field a call goes out. The French are here, but this is not to be the case as the arriving Prussians turn Napoleon's flank sealing the deal for one of the most well known battles in history, Waterloo.
This is all that I have known of the unbelievable life of this
If I wanted to read a pop psychology analysis of Napoleon I would have picked up Napoleon: A Pop Psychoanalysis By A Non Expert, not Napoleon: A Biography.

The book, in parts, is well written and really immerses you in the story... but then come the last pages of the chapter where the author shows his knowledge of pop psychology in all of its glory. What a way to ruin a book. I couldn't get past 10% of the book.

Also, if you're going to describe a battle in detail, it's a good idea to throw in a
John Wilson
Good balanced view of Napoleon. As Elvis once said, you have to take the good with the bad, the bad with the good - and that is truer of no one who's ever lived than it is of Monsieur Bonaparte. The book shows, though, that he had his own morality, and showed remarkable flashes of humanity interspersed with wreaking carnage. France, along with Russia, seems to have the most tortured history of the modern industrial states. Was it their fortuitous location or something about the people that cause ...more
Gerry Germond
Napoleon, A Biography is big. Without the source notes and index, it is 668 pages. Napoleon was emperor, commanding general, First Consul, lawgiver, son, brother, lover, and exile; his life was large and it is hard to write a comprehensive and detail biography of the man. McLynn gives it his best shot.

So it’s a historical biography. Like most such, it begins with a birth and continues through various events until Our Hero dies. Here’re the main things I’m going to retain from my reading.

Aaron Cooper
Jun 12, 2013 Aaron Cooper rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers interested in French history; readers who enjoy biographies
This book started a bit slow for me, but it really came on strong in the middle and end. Napoleon's childhood and rise in the military was obviously necessary to include, but was a bit dull for me. However, once he starts on the path toward becoming Emperor, this books picks up the pace. In particular, the telling of his campaign in Russia (the beginning of the end for Napoleon) is fantastic. His descriptions of the conditions of war and the threats faced by the French soldiers from the Russia p ...more
Steve.  g
"He claimed that but for his own (admitted) mistakes in Poland, Italy and above all Spain, he would have solved the problem of nationalities and cultural differences: 'Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between States would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility....I wish to found a European system, a European Code of Laws, a European Judiciary; there would be but one people in Europe'
This is cunningly devi
The upside of reading a full-length biography is that the author has space to describe and incorporate more of the primary documentary record. For example, McLynn devotes portions of his narrative to descriptions of essays and pamphlets Napoleon wrote as a youth or young adult. The downside is that, if you don't have previous knowledge of the subject, it can feel like all trees and no forest. I recommend starting with Paul Johnson's recent short biography because, while it omits much, it does ac ...more
Josh Liller
My first thought on finishing this book? "It's over at last!" If you've never read a biograph of Napoleon, I don't recommend starting here. Lumbering, almost totally devoid of section breaks, and with an author that seems to have a fetish for the thesaurus. The author paints Napoleon as a bright but deeply flawed individual, surrounded by a sea of relatives, subordinates, and peers that were even more reprehensible (the word "incompetent" is throw around alot). Almost nobody mentioned seems lika ...more
Aurora Valentina Zenkl
May 21, 2007 Aurora Valentina Zenkl rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history and Napoleon lovers.
I think it's a great history book for people who want to know more about this great conqueror. It has everything, details about Napoleon's life, his war statedgies, his love and moral obstacles and much fantasy. I loved it, as most books of this type get boring over time, this one didn't at all. It's wonderful. What disgusted me a bit were too many details about the wars, which don't araise much interest in me, but I understand why the author did, because a lot of people are concerned with this ...more
I finished this monster last night and I have learned a lot about this very busy man. What an incredible life he led. The book had me reaching for my dictionary more often than I'd care to reveal, but in the process I was exposed to a lot of new concepts that don't appear in modern day life.

I feel richer about history having read this book. It never got boring, but some parts (especially the detailed battle descriptions) were a bit too dense. I would read another book by this author, but not rig
shruthi vandhana
Must read book!!!
For anyone who wishes to bring themselves up to speed on the life of Napoleon, I highly recommend this book. Frank McLynn visits every aspect of Napoleon's life, from his often troubled relationships with his immediate family and many mistresses to his military genius. The attention to detail is truly amazing, although it does make for a rather slow read. A well written and methodically researched book.
Nathaniel Horadam
Easy to read, great survey history, highly recommended for any novice to Revolutionary France and the Napoleonic Wars.
before i read this i knew next to nothing about napoleon but now i have a napoleon anecdote that fits almost any situation. the sad part is that i actually tell them.
the only thing left desired with this book is that mclynn leaves out the story of napoleon spending a night alone in the great pyramid with the comte de st germain. it's not as gay as it sounds...well, actually, maybe it is.
Little hesitant about this book, mostly because of the author's willingness to jump around on what he writes books on. Not to say he's not an expert (the book is amazing) but I find some of what he says at times a stretch if it is believed to be true.
Josh Boardman
I'm torn on how to rate this book. It was incredibly rigorous, and overall, very rewarding, but it definitely slogged along at certain points. McLynn has a knack for language not often found in nonfiction, and to the people complaining above about his thesaurus usage, I say: how does one fond fissiparous in the thesaurus? I think he's just that eloquent.
Great Biography! While no one can rival David McCullough's historical works, this is probably my favorite non-McCullough biography. It is military-intensive, and historically and psychologically speculative . . .but it has to be, because it's Napoleon. I learned a lot and it was well written, and occassionally VERY entertaining.
Oct 27, 2013 Pewterbreath rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Napoleon
I love Napoleon! I find him to be one of the most fascinating characters in history. This book is incredibly detailed--to the point of overwhelming proportions--so I can't really recommend it unless you are REALLY into Napoleon. Fortunately I am, and I had a wonderful summer dipping into this book.
I read this book because I knew bloody nothing about Napoleon. As a character, his moodiness, his dithering, the fact he makes the same mistakes again and again, makes him difficult to warm to (and bizarrely reminded me of Gordon Brown.) But it was incredibly well written nonetheless.
Yes it's long and it suffers at the beginning with to much psychological assumptions and jargon. But I found the story was brilliantly told from start to finish. Provided everything that I asked for and was even moved by his shameful treatment on Saint Helena. Highly recommended.
well written, well paced, and a pleasure to read. The forays into psychoanalysis felt like a stretch in most instances, and the author seemed to use Machiavelli as a descriptor on every other page. Beyond these quibbles, the author has made an epic story a fine read.
Taylor Kniphfer
A great and very readable biography of that great European Conqueror-Napoleon Bonaparte. This may be Frank McLynn's masterpiece because of the detail he gives to everyone of Napoleon's actions. Truly a biography to stand the test of time.
Ian Billick
A nice overview. Picked it up and started reading again. Cone third of the way through and no memory of having read it. Not very memorable.
Good in-depth biography of Napoleon. A little heavy on the psychology for my taste, but otherwise a thorough and well-paced biography.
A mixed bag. I guess I kind of got what I wanted. Very informative and yet glad it's over.
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About the book.. 0 6 May 21, 2007 07:40PM  
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Frank McLynn is a British author, biographer, historian and journalist. He is noted for critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Jung, Richard Francis Burton and Henry Morton Stanley.

McLynn was educated at Wadham College, Oxford and the University of London. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford (1987–88) and was visiting p
More about Frank McLynn...
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“By any reckoning, the twenty-day march from Antibes to Paris was one of the high points in his life. As Balzac later wrote incredulously: ‘Before him did ever a man gain an Empire simply by showing his hat?” 0 likes
“Next day he proved the point that he was always singularly useless unless some daredevil escapade was called for.” 0 likes
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