Tim's Reviews > Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped

Napoleon's Privates by Tony Perrottet
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Although published several years ago, this spicy little book is well worth reading today. The short chapters certainly allow for quick study and the salacious topics spike some piquant entertainment. But if swallowed in one sitting, the reader might become over-stimulated if not bored.

“Napoleon’s Privates” does not refer to the Little Corporal’s soldiers nor does it deal extensively with the French Emperor’s penal captivity. Rather, the material unveils Bonaparte’s penile embarrassments, amorous peccadilloes, and sexual shortcomings in more than a half-dozen interspersed segments.

The revisiting technique binds the volume together. The chapters are glib and pithy, and occasionally include sidebars that expand the present topic with related information. The pieces span from 330 BC to post-1960 in jumbled order and indulge in such subjects as pornography, sex implements, real estate, culinary pursuits, and restaurants.

The author strokes our curiosity through glimpses of artists, literary figures, historical characters, politicians, and industrial giants (otherwise termed “Robber Barons”). These disclosures mostly are treated through spreadsheet formats that reveal the person’s personality, peccadilloes, or prurient parts. Of particular American interest might be the revelations about U.S. Presidents: a philandering George Washington; the secret family of Thomas Jefferson; the questionable manhood of James Buchanan; the outing of Abraham Lincoln; or the purported dalliances of JFK.

Perrottet’s style is breezy, sprinkled with touches of humor. For instance, in his chapter on latex condoms, he provides an insertion about Winston Churchill, who during World War II, had a special batch of condoms constructed in double the usual size and shipped to Joseph Stalin with the labeling: “Made in Britain—Medium.”

Perrottet has published several historical works and he has gained exposure through media, such as NPR, History Channel(s), and Smithsonian Magazine. His credentials demonstrate that he has more credibility than a mere buff in this historical exposé. He adds authority by acknowledging the input of several institutional experts heading classical, historical, and arcane collections. His use of chapter-ending footnotes for further reading arouses an air of substantial command for those readers who have time and interest in investigating that segment’s material further. Plus, Perrottet includes an index for those super-curious readers—that almost makes this a textbook, doesn’t it?
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