Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte” as Want to Read:
Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  183 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
From the award-winning historian and author of Revolutionary Mothers (“Incisive, thoughtful, spiced with vivid anecdotes. Don’t miss it.”—Thomas  Fleming) and Civil War Wives (“Utterly fresh . . . Sensitive, poignant, thoroughly fascinating.”—Jay Winik), here is the remarkable life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, renowned as the most beautiful woman of nineteenth-century ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2014)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Wondrous Beauty, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Wondrous Beauty

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Nov 16, 2016 Louise rated it really liked it

This is one of those unique side stories that make history so interesting. The teenage Betsy Patterson and the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte fell in love in her native Baltimore where he was, by chance, avoiding his military responsibilities.

Everything about their marriage was a problem (international politics, their ages, finances, religion, and Betsy’s overbearing father’s plans for her) but all problems were overcome. When Jerome Bonaparte sailed away to France at his brother’s comm
Feb 25, 2014 Jaylia3 rated it it was amazing
Before reading this biography of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte I didn’t realize Napoleon Bonaparte had a Baltimore connection, but it’s a fascinating story, well told in this book, that encompasses both European and early American history and culture. Betsy met Napoleon’s younger brother Jérôme in 1803 while he was in Maryland avoiding military service and the two teenagers fell in love and married within that year, against the wishes of their families and governments. Betsy’s strict controlling fat ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Mmars rated it really liked it
Born in 1785, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte lived a life more typical of women one hundred years later. Though her father’s self-made American wealth could have supported her, a life-long feud with her father over her short, youthful marriage to Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother,) an unrelenting desire to live in Europe, and the determination to live a dignified and independent life thereafter forced Elizabeth to develop a financial acumen unusual for her time. However, she was never able to ...more
Oct 16, 2014 Kathie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: generous-dozen
The story of a Baltimore girl with high hopes. It's hard to care for any of these characters. Elizabeth had a difficult relationship with her father after her mother died, at least that's the way she saw it. He tried to protect her from making awful choices, at least that's the way he saw it. She was an intelligent, attractive woman who just wanted to LIVE. But not in Baltimore and she was willing to do almost anything to get out of Baltimore and live the good life as long as it was in Europe. B ...more
Apr 25, 2017 Kipperly rated it really liked it
3.5 to 4.0. This book was meticulously researched and well-written. I learned about Napoleon Bonaparte's children. The subject of this biography is Elizabeth Patterson who was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, and met, fell in love, married and had a son with the French emperor's youngest son Jérôme.

Because I am familiar with Baltimore, I wish the author had included the locations of places where the Patterson family lived and where various activities took place. It also would have been helpful
Jul 26, 2014 Christine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, bonapartes
A highly readable and accessible biography of a Bonaparte bride whose story exemplifies the difficulty of bridging the complex cultures of late-18th- into 19th-century Europe and United States. Dr. Berkin does a good job of not overly romanticizing her subject, nor does she apologize for or condemn her actions even as she tries to explain them. That, combined with her decision not to bog this book down with more context than necessary (as many biographies tend to do) and excellent use of the com ...more
Christy Sibila
May 20, 2017 Christy Sibila rated it liked it
An intriguing history of the sister-in-law to Napoleon.
Feb 19, 2014 Carin rated it liked it
This is how a history ought to be written. I have read two other histories lately that I didn't like at all, and I must say I went into this one with some measure of dread, but it was great. It was short, moved briskly, and was well-written in an accessible style.

It sounds a bit fairytale-like or just plan hard to believe, but in the early 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte's youngest brother, Jerome, who was uneducated, liked his women, and a sprendthrift, came to America in order to avoid doing hard wo
Jan 30, 2017 Breana rated it really liked it
decided to give this one a try since it has been some time since I last read a book that was nonfiction. I read the synopsis and thought, “Hey, this might not be a bad book." And you know, after reading Wondrous Beauty by Carol Berkin I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes life is as strange as fiction. There are some things you just can’t make up, and Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte’s life was worth reading about. Her story perfectly illustrates the life of an ambitious woman living i ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Lauren rated it liked it
This is a light (and I do mean light) biography. Centering on Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, a wealthy American woman who was (briefly) the sister-in-law of Napoleon, the book’s premise is that Elizabeth was an independent woman, ahead of her time.

In some ways, she was. After her disastrous marriage to Jerome Bonaparte, she never did remarry and did buck convention. But I’d stop short of calling her independent or ahead of her time: yes, she had money (inherited) that she did invest, but she mos
Daniel Swanger
Mar 03, 2016 Daniel Swanger rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Daniel by: Daedalus Books catalogue
Admirably written with clear composition, this is a concise history of the Belle of Baltimore, perhaps the first American royal to enter European circles, the wife of Napoleon's youngest brother, who was forced to give up this fruitful marriage through his more famous brother Napoleon's dynastic concerns. Nevertheless this history involves much information on American politics, journalistic and literary commentary, and we read of Dolley Madison, Daniel Webster, and Theodore Roosevelt's connectio ...more
Bill Sleeman
Feb 23, 2016 Bill Sleeman rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history

If there had been an Internet in 1812 then Betsie Bonaparte would have broken it. Beautiful, intelligent, self-possessed and more than a little obsessed with celebrity or, as she saw it, her rights as a Bonaparte, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte pushed the limits of social convention. In the process she created a life for herself that was ultimately both satisfying and dissatisfying in that she never achieved the renown she sought. In Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterso

Mar 22, 2014 Lois rated it really liked it
A very interesting book. I had never heard of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte , first wife of Napoleon's brother, Jerome before. She was truly a remarkable woman for her time. My favorite quote is " Had the marriage not been dissolved by Napoleon, it might have dissolved under the weight of her realization that sometimes a prince is only a frog in a velvet coat. ". I wonder if the author had double meaning in those words since at that time frog was a perjorative used to describe the French.

It's a
Christine Rebbert
Aug 25, 2014 Christine Rebbert rated it liked it
A biography of Elizabeth (Betsy) Patterson Bonaparte, the young and beautiful Baltimore heiress who feel in love with the equally-young Naval officer brother of Napoleon and married him. However, Napoleon declared the marriage (to an American commoner!) void. By then pregnant with their only son, Betsy fought for years, not necessarily to restore the marriage, but to have the son accepted as a member of the royal family. That never happened either, even though she never remarried but lived into ...more
Mar 08, 2014 Barbara rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Patterson, born in Baltimore before the American Revolution, thought that Americans were boorish and that the finest culture was in Europe. So when she was wooed by Jerome Bonaparte, younger brother to Napoleon, she married him. Napoleon forced Jerome to divorce Elizabeth and marry a German princess. Elizabeth spent the rest of her life trying to convince her son (also named Jerome) and grandsons that they too should marry into European wealth and/ or royalty. It didn't work.
Feb 16, 2014 Deb rated it really liked it
Being born and raised in Maryland, this book gave great insight into our local "celebrity" Betsy Patterson Bonaparte. Very interesting tale of her marriage and annulment from Napoleon's younger brother. Also, her relationship with her father, son and various luminaries of the day. Even though the book is set in days past, Betsy shares a very contemporary outlook on life. Read this in one weekend! Highly recommend for anyone interested in Baltimore and American history.
Carole Roman
Sep 16, 2014 Carole Roman rated it liked it
This started off as a most promising biography, but after the two chapters, I found myself hard pressed to read on. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte looked to be a fascinating historical figure, a woman who flouted convention to pursue what she desired, and she wanted to be important. The problem was, that once I got past her marriage, I found her story rambling and skimmed through the book to get to the end.
Apr 27, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
This was a very brief overview of Elizabeth's life. If you're looking for a crash course or introduction about her, this is a wonderful place to start. If you're looking for something more in-depth about her marriage to Bonaparte or her life devoted to her son, look elsewhere. Berkin is a wonderful historian of Women's History and this is a wonderfully written book, it just comes off as a little hollow. I felt like I was on a speed ride through Elizabeth's life.
Jun 25, 2014 Jennybeast rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
Very interesting biography of a very interesting woman, who refused to bow to the conventions of her time. Ambitious Baltimore beauty and heiress who married a younger Bonaparte and was cast off by Napolean, she made her way and her fortune according to her own standards. This well written little biography captures her life beautifully and succinctly.

Advanced reader copy provided by edelweiss.
Apr 15, 2014 Anne rated it really liked it
Betsy Bonaparte was an earlier Wallis Warfield Simpson, willing to shock and scandalize and discard the social conventions of early Baltimore (my hometown, these ladies are two of my favorites!) When most other well-brought-up ladies would have retreated to their homes to pray the scandal faded, Betsy set out to live her altered life the best way she knew how, unwittingly coming to represent in her old age all the things she railed against in her youth.
Diana Petty-stone
Apr 30, 2015 Diana Petty-stone rated it it was amazing
The little know story a an American born woman from Baltimore who married Napoleon's younger brother, had a child and then Napoleon had the marriage annulled and banned her from France and most of Europe. The naive young woman became one of the first self-man women in America and the toast of Europe after Napoleon's defeat. She spent years fighting with her ex-husband, who became King of Westphalia, and his family over her son's legacy as a Bonaparte. A fascinating read!
Meredith Allady
May 24, 2014 Meredith Allady rated it liked it
Competent little history of an event that usually gets a paragraph or two in Napoleonic biographies. Well-written, but probably not of much interest to anyone who isn't wrapped up in this time period, as ultimate it is merely the sad tale of a woman who, firmly convinced of both her own superiority, and that of European culture, chose to spend her whole life chasing the wind.
Margaret Sankey
Apr 18, 2014 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
From an excellent historian of antebellum America, a popular biography of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, the Baltimore belle foolish enough to marry that wastrel Jerome, but canny enough to invest her money and live well until the 1870s, despite remaining enamored of European and convinced that one of the grandsons would be embraced into the imperial family.
Joan Porte
Apr 21, 2014 Joan Porte rated it liked it
This was a decent book about someone I knew nothing about - a young Baltimore girl - looking for an adventurous life - who winds up marrying Bonaparte's brother! I wish we had learned more about her insights but a good, fast read.
Jun 28, 2014 Anne rated it liked it
Before moving to the Baltimore area, I had never heard of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte. Now I know she is a local legend, kind of the flip side of Wallis Warfield Simpson. This book was written on about a YA level, but was interesting and informational, all the same.
Aug 07, 2014 Kris rated it liked it
Interesting story with great historical insight
Jan Daulton
Mar 04, 2014 Jan Daulton rated it liked it
This is an interesting book about a woman who was ahead of her time. Drags a little in places, but if you like history, you will like this book. Entertaining....
Jun 13, 2014 Lyn rated it really liked it
I was pleasantly surprised in reading this book. Who knew there were Bonaparte's I the US. Elizabeth was a fascinating woman with a mind if her own.
Nov 11, 2016 Ashley rated it really liked it
What a life Betsy lead!
Whitney Grindberg
May 19, 2015 Whitney Grindberg rated it really liked it
Aside from a few overused cliche phrases and an obvious author bias, a really interesting read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France
  • Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres
  • The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
  • The Titled Americans: Three American Sisters and the British Aristocratic World into Which They Married
  • Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte
  • Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland
  • Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household
  • Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon
  • Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
  • Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War
  • A Scandalous Life: The Biography of Jane Digby
  • The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron
  • House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family
  • Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England, 1600-1770
  • Once Upon a Time
  • American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century
  • The Secret History of MI6
  • When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods & Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age

Share This Book

“Betsy was flattered but apparently unmoved by the admiration of local suitors. If she assumed, as surely all girls of her class and era did, that marriage and motherhood were an inevitable part of female life, she nevertheless nurtured a hope that someone would rescue her from the dull and constricting married life that lay ahead. And in 1803 that hope seemed to become a reality when a handsome stranger appeared in staid Baltimore City. His name was Jérôme Bonaparte, and he was the youngest brother of the first consul of France, Napoleon.” 0 likes
More quotes…