Napoleon III: A Life

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9780002557870: Napoleon III: A Life

While Napoleon remains a pivotal figure in French and European history, Fenton Bresler argues in this new biography, his nephew's success with the Second Empire and his fall with the Franco-Prussian War warrants him a place among the great men of his time. Louis-Napoleon, president of the Second Republic and emperor of the Second Empire, gave his country prosperous stability while enjoying a fantastically luxurious life - before losing it all. Determined to carry on his uncle's legacy and first brought to power in democratic elections (after two unsuccessful coup attempts), Napoleon III later engineered a coup d'etat and ruled as a reform-minded autocrat. His defeat of Austria helped to create an Italian nation, yet his own defeat by Prussia ushered in modern Germany and sowed the seeds for the two World Wars. With Baron Haussmann, he dramatically reinvented Paris as a city of beautiful, wide boulevards and grand public gardens. He had numerous mistresses but no lovers, many confidantes and colleagues but no friends, and in the end, no allies. From Napoleon III's early and high adventure, to glittering triumph, then ignominious defeat, Bresler concentrates on the human side of this leader, using newly available research materials. He has also uncovered evidence that incompetence at the highest level of Britain's medical establishment contributed to Napoleon III's death in exile.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

A fresh and lively look at the other Napoleon, by London journalist Bresler (Who Killed John Lennon?, 1989, etc.) For all those who know nothing of the Second Empire beyond furniture, Bresler offers a thoroughly enjoyable look at Napoleon's nephew, Louis Napoleon, who became first President and then Emperor of France from 1848 to 1870. Bresler begins by elucidating the facts of Napoleon's birth and pre-birth (Napoleon III's spawning was orchestrated by his Emperor-uncle, who needed a male heir to the throne, but was unable to conceive one at the time, through an arranged marriage between his stepdaughter and his brother), then covers his childhood and exile in England. The account picks up steam upon Napoleon's return to France during the tumultuous 1848 revolutions, when he was championed by the monarchists. He was first elected to the Assembly, then to the Presidency, and crowned Emperor when the Constitution was invalidated. Under his reign, France's economy expanded, Paris was modernizedalthough he also managed to embroil France in a variety of conflicts including the Crimean War, the annexation of Savoy and Nice, and the thoroughly ill-conceived expedition to Mexico. The perverse masterstroke for which he will forever be remembered was his declaration of war on Prussia, which caused his swift downfall when he showed little of his uncle's military prowess. Bresler, through his use of both published and unpublished sources, shows Napoleon III to be a brave and compelling leader, a canny politician, and an unselfish sovereignas one modern critic described him, ``a nineteenth-century De Gaulle, dedicated only to fulfilling his country's greatness.'' A fascinating look at Second Empire France and the little-studied ``petit-Napoleon.'' -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

This is a sparkling portrait of the man who ruled France from the aftermath of the 1848 revolution until his catastrophic defeat by the Prussians in 1870. Louis Napoleon, benevolent dictator and sexual addict, is rescued from the shadows of his more famous uncle and more esoteric academic studies. Journalist and biographer Bresler (The Mystery of Georges Simenon) tells his story with verve: his narrative is vivid without extravagance, and meticulous without losing momentum. After a childhood in exile and a series of bungled military conspiracies, the daring young Louis escaped from prison dressed as a workman. His beautiful English lover helped subsidize his rise to power as prince-president and later as emperor. During Louis's reign, bloody revolution gave way to ballroom festivity. At one dance in the Tuileries Palace, Louis saw his future empress, the Spanish beauty Eugenia de Montijo, enter in a "flamboyant gown of ivory brocade" with a wreath of orange blossoms in her hair. He oversaw a dramatic expansion in the rail network, masterminding the modernization of France and the embellishment of Paris by Georges Haussmann. Bresler is anxious to counter the "black legend" of Napoleon III, but is not blind to his protagonist's complicity in the brutal repression of 1852, and points to imperial self-indulgence as a cause of disaster at Sedan in 1870. This is a masterpiece of popular history, combining serious purpose with a refreshing lightness of touch. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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