Jim's Reviews > The Age of Napoleon

The Age of Napoleon by Will Durant
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's review
May 29, 12

bookshelves: history, france
Read from May 11 to 27, 2012

In this era of professional historians, who, in their haste to be seen as "scholarly oxen," focus in on narrower and narrower subjects, it is delightful to look back at Will and Ariel Durant's incredible The Story of Civilization. In eleven volumes, ending with this one, the two attempted to cover the history of Western Civilization from the beginnings to the death of Napoleon on St. Helena.

What I admire most about the Durants is their concentration on the cultural history of the era. Instead of describing battles in loving detail, they dispense quickly with them -- with not a single battle map. On the other hand, there are fascinating whole chapters dedicated to the Lake Poets and the "Rebel Poets" of England, Beethoven, and German Philosophy.

I undertook to read The Age of Napoleon not to evade the academic rigors of more scholarly works, but to provide a good base for their more detailed work. Although a history buff, I had never read a good general study of the era. Fortunately, that's what the Durants are all about.

On the other hand, I felt that the French Revolution deserved more than the 155 pages dedicated to it. As I read on, I began to realize that the Napoleonic Wars were in fact the original world war. Involved were not only all the countries of Europe, but Turkey and the United States. (The War of 1812 was largely caused by impressment of American sailors by a Royal Navy pressed to stop Napoleon at all costs.) To be true to their original intent, they had to discuss the affects of Napoleon not only on France, but on England, Scotland, Ireland, the German states including Prussia, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Poland, Russia, Denmark, and Sweden. As a result, the French Revolution got short shrift.

Still, I am mightily impressed by what they have accomplished. Even this seeming flaw served only to emphasize the massive extent of the Napoleonic moment in history.

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05/11/2012 page 33
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Justeenetta (new)

Justeenetta I'd be interested of a review of this book: durant is the favorite historian of my favorite teacher, an historian, geoffrey bret harte of very fond memory

message 2: by Mary Ronan (new)

Mary Ronan Drew This series by the Durants was looked down on in the 1950s and considered "middlebrow," a term of disdain at the time. But I bought it (from the BOMC, another disdained middlebrow institution) and if I'm able to put together a coherent timeline of Western Europe it's because of these books. I'm so glad to see you appreciate the Durants and what they have done. So much work!

message 3: by RJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

RJ On the contrary, for a book that had to cover so much ground I thought that the Fr.Revolution was covered quite well. Perhaps it deserved a volume unto itself, but by this time the Durants were wrapping this series up.

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