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Napoleon: The Man behind the Myth

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  519 ratings  ·  76 reviews
A landmark new biography that presents the man behind the many myths. The first writer in English to go back to the original European sources, Adam Zamoyski’s portrait of Napoleon is historical biography at its finest.

Napoleon inspires passionately held and often conflicting visions. Was he a god-like genius, Romantic avatar, megalomaniac monster, compulsive warmonger or j
Hardcover, 728 pages
Published September 6th 2018 by William Collins
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Sumit RK
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
"What A Novel My Life Has Been!" ~ Napoleon

Napoleon, A life, is an interesting take on Napoleon and his life. Mr. Zamoyski has crafted an intriguing account of Napoleon's life, relying mainly upon the accounts and impressions that he left upon his contemporaries. The focus of this work is more upon social and political history of the Emperor and is less on battles and campaigns.

The book traces Napoleon’s rise from his not so humble beginnings in Corsica & his education at the military aca
There are two books by the same name,” Napoleon: A Life”. This one is by Zamoyski and was published in 2019. The other is by Andrew Roberts and published in 2015. I read it in 2015 and found it to be an outstanding biography of Napoleon. The reason I decided to read Zamoyski’s book was his attempt to debunk the fantasy, myth and exaggeration of Napoleon’s life. Zamoyski attempts to reveal more about Napoleon’s personal life than did Roberts.

The book is well written and researched. Napoleon Bonap
Much has been written about Napoleon and I expect you could fill half of New York’s Public Library with them. Loved by many, feared and hated by many others, resulting in an often romantic way of describing Napoleon’s life or depicting him as a mass murderer. This book, by Adam Zamoyski, stands somewhere in the middle: it focusses more on the person Napoleon rather than his achievements on the battlefield. It gives an objective view of (as the title says) “man behind the myth” with his insecurit ...more
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Napoleon would not fit well into today’s discussions about grown children still living at home with their parents and having troubles getting launched and figuring out their careers. No shiftless twenty something here! In his twenties (1789-1799) he went from being a young Corsican nobody to a military hero, political dictator in a coup d’etat (first consul) and the conqueror of much of Europe. By 40, he would still have made the lists of up and coming military leaders, along with being Emperor. ...more
Literary Soirée
NAPOLEON: A LIFE goes deep into the psyche of the Emperor of the French in this myth-shattering, beautifully written biography. “What a novel my life has been!" Napoleon once said of himself, as the author spins a compelling narrative of the boy born into a poor family, by twenty-six an army general, transformed into a brilliant military commander through marriage with an older woman who seduced him. Within a few years he helmed Europe with power unseen in modern history, his downfall equally st ...more
Klaas Bottelier
“The man behind the myth”, the subtitle says it all, even if you have read books about Napoleon before I still recommend this one, it is a very well researched and in-depth view on Napoleon as a person, an excellent read.

This was some quality writing, as I expected from Adam Zamoyski, he always brings history to life so well. Very well researched, the bibliography at the end of this book was 19 pages long, the Napoleonic era is clearly Zamoyski’s specialty (as evidenced by his other works).

I too
Napoleon: A Life, by Adam Zamoyski, is a fantastic new biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of Europe's most interesting 19th century statesman. Napoleon was born into a relatively well off aristocratic Corsican family, who were grappling with identity and status in recently annexed Corsica. Napoleon's family would court both Corsican nationalists and French occupiers, mercurially playing sides off, switching allegiances, and trying to gain status, save face, and become wealthier. Napoleon as a ...more
Carolyn Harris
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A detailed and engaging biography of Napoleon I with a focus on his early years in Corsica and experiences during the French Revolution before his rise to power. Zamoyski argues that these formative years shaped Napoleon's later reign as Emperor as Napoleon never considered himself to be secure in his position compared to the hereditary monarchs in Europe and sought constant military victories to reinforce his legitimacy as ruler.
As the focus of the book is on Napoleon's early years, later even
An excellent biography of Napoleon from a Polish perspective; not as detailed as s ay the recent awesome one of A Roberts or as comprehensive as A Castelot's reference biography, but very engaging and presenting a fairly balanced image of the emperor within the context of his times; while the author avoids simplistic villains/heroes (except of course the Tsar who is the ultimate villain quite understandably, with Napoleon in mnay ways presented as his dupe who really wanted the Tsar's friendship ...more
Hasso von Moltke
I've always been intrigued by Napoleon, although it can at times be difficult to dig through the mythos that surrounds him. As this book reveals, quite a bit of that mythos was built up by the man himself, a shameless self promotor. Mr. Zamoyski digs deeply into this man who proved so influential and reveals a complicated man. Throughout his career Napoleon inspired both love and hatred, and, in spite of his often poor manners and childish behavior, he possessed a charisma that even his opponent ...more
Ian Miller
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very extensive and well-researched book that covers the life of Napoleon. It is well-written and shows a wealth of detail, including the background, such as life in Corsica, in Paris, and finally on St Helena. It was hardly surprising Napoleon escaped from Elba; we see his stay there was only financed for two years. What was he supposed to do? It also shows the general incompetence and prejudice of the time. His "jailer" (he was told he was not in jail, but what else was it?) on St Hel ...more
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
I'm completely bemused as to why this book was written. It is not, as the subtitle suggests, a look at the man behind the myth- there is barely any analysis of the myths surrounding Napoleon, and Zamoyski even unironically at one point refers to Napoleon as 'the Great Man'- an enormous red flag for what is advertised as a counter to Robert's Napoleon the Great. Ultimately this is Yet Another Napoleonic Narrative, of which there are far too many, and therefore unfortunately superfluous. The best ...more
Eric Davidson
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Much better than the version by andrew Roberts...

Looking back this book has the essential theme that i like in every biography, focusing soley on the character. It skips most of the battles, looking instead to his reactions and hobbies during the times with a in-depth yet somewhat misguided analysis of his character. Its hard to think that someone who was accomplished ever existed, if he had walked into a room you would think he was just flesh and bones and yet an entire era was named after him.
Anne Morgan
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of those larger than life figures who becomes a myth, a hero, and a villain, and in the process the true human being often disappears. In Napoleon: A Life Adam Zamoyski works to discover the man behind the legend. Zamoyski works to place Napoleon in the context of his time period, both politically and philosophically. He works to explain the occasionally unexplainable mindset of the French Revolution and French Republic so that readers can understand how ready France wa ...more
Andrew Dockrill
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was my first introduction to the author Adam Zamoyski, whose writing flows very smoothly, and his attempt at writing Napoleon can certainly be added to the higher rung of authors who have written on him. I was at first a little disappointed when I did read his book as I had watched a recent live debate he took part in with Andrew Roberts where the debate revolved around whether Napoleon should be given the title of great or not. Adam was given the position where he had to argue that he was ...more
Jordan Ayres
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic account of the life and death of Napoleon Bonaparte. Zamoyski does a brilliant job of condensing such an incredible life into a comprehensive and easy to read book. He chooses to focus particularly on the man himself and the relationships he forms throughout his life, rather than go into heavy description of the numerous battles in Napoleon’s life. Which I much preferred. For someone new coming to this chapter of history, I found it fascinating and would highly recommend it.
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A straightforward bio about the emperor. Zamoyski doesn't go into details of Napoleon's military feats, otherwise the book would be twice as long. The writing is engaging and makes for a good read. ...more
Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this title up with the expectation that I would finally learn some details about l'Empereur. The rich narrative was enjoyable and I gained a much deeper understanding of the life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte. This is a very readable biography. ...more
Cristian Necșulescu
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Napoleon, the Man Who Would Be God, But Ended as the Pandemic for All

Bonnie — as Napoleon Bonaparte was affectionately nicknamed by the English folks in the late 18th century, a highly consumer market of the sensationalist press of the era and of its lurid accounts of his supposedly family incestuous relations, who also took the ominous form of the Ogre, as Napoleon was known in British politics, or the Little Corporal, as he was portrayed in various English political quarters of the time—was th
Stan  Prager
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Review of: Napoleon: A Life, by Adam Zamoyski
by Stan Prager (11-14-19)

The most consequential figure of what historians dub Europe’s “long nineteenth century” (1789-1914)—from the start of the French Revolution to the outbreak of World War I—came to virtually define the first part of that era while setting forces into motion that shaped all that was to follow. Over the course of a single decade, Napoleon Bonaparte controlled not only much of the territory on the continent, but the entirety of i
Vicki Kondelik
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Historian Adam Zamoyski has written a wonderfully detailed biography of Napoleon that is especially strong on his character and his personal life. His view of Napoleon is a balanced one: not a hero, but not a villain, either. Zamoyski says Napoleon was rather an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Unlike other historians, Zamoyski does not think Napoleon was a genius. If he had been a genius, according to Zamoyski, he would not have presided over the worst military disaster of the time, the Rus ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I realized that I knew very little of Napoleon and his life. This book changed that, and it was an enjoyable experience. The writing style makes the book easy to read.
Nicholas Trandahl
This gorgeous biography of the mythic Napoleon Bonaparte forged a man of flesh and bone, insecurities, flaws, and virtues. I was enthralled from the first page to the last, and am in awe of his life.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took longer to read this than I'd have liked on account of moving house and a couple other things getting in the way. On the whole it was very, very good but fell short of being Great, largely due to Zamoyski's occasionally inelegant prose style, though it was still in parts quite nicely written. And not to mention plainly very well researched and so on and so forth. I don't know, really. It's 40 degrees and the old noggin ain't functioning at full capacity right now, but it's definitely a prett ...more
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing

This is a whopper of a book about a whopper of a man. Adam Zamoyski is a smooth fluid writer that tells the long story (670 pages worth) of Napoleon from his youth on Corsica, relationships with his many brothers and sisters, the up and down relationship with Joséphine, to his ego-filled rise to Emperor and his final years on Elba and St Helena. If you are a fan of battles, Zamoyski does a particularly good job at describing how Napoleon became a soldier and how his war time battles made him pop
Scott Cox
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The first chapter of Adam Zaoyski’s massive tome on Napoleon Bonaparte is entitled “A Reluctant Messiah.” Perhaps the title chapter aptly encapsulates Napoleon’s mercurial reign. He was born of relatively low estate in 1769 on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, near Italy. Napoleon was a man of his times. He lived through the volatile French revolution wherein an estimated 500,000 French lost their lives. As a young man, he was decidedly republican, having “like Rousseau, come to the conclusio ...more
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
As I recently read Simon Scarrow's four part mini series on the life of Napoleon and Wellington, this book was especially interesting to show the reality* which for the most part is replicated in Scarrow's historical fiction. *Well as close to the reality as can be given history is written subjectively by imperfect people, but let's not get into that now, shall we.

As with that series, the unraveling of Napoleon's fortunes leading to his demise as the result of the disastrous Russian campaign, i
Craig Adamson
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I listen to this book via Audible and therefore I didn’t read it but listen to the book instead. Having listened to it I’m not sure this is a book I could not have read from start to finish. I really do enjoy history and a lot of detail and backstory. And this book has all of those features and then some. However I am not enough of a Napoleonic aficionado to enjoy much more than what I took in with this book.

Many of the people who have reviewed this book have talked about the fact that so much o
Jan 07, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Note that I experienced this book through in the audiobook format. I am not typically into works of biography but was interested in the life of Napoleon so I gave this a go. I enjoyed it. Zamoyski goes through Napoleon's entire life touching on the qualities that lead to his rise and later on to his downfall. It was a book that made me want to learn more about the Napoleonic era in Europe, the history of the wars and the international conflicts that so affected the rest of the 19th century. I th ...more
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Adam Zamoyski's biography of Napoleon makes for a good addition to the Napoleonic library. I can't speak to any specific original research behind the book, but it is very approachable and  readable, and in the main seems accurate. There are several key points in Napoleon's life (e.g., Vendemiaire, Brumaire) that are vividly portrayed in a manner that may well accurate, even if one must be a bit skeptical of the detail provided on the weather or Napoleon's state of mind. The author provides a lot ...more
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A historian and a member of the ancient Zamoyski family of Polish nobility. Born in New York City and raised in England. He is Chairman of the Board of the Princes Czartoryski Foundation. On June 16, 2001, in London, England, he married the artist Emma Sergeant.

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