Napoleon: His Wives and Women

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9780006531463: Napoleon: His Wives and Women

A masterly biography of Napoleon, concentrating on his private life, by the historian described by Stella Tillyard as ‘a master portraitist of great men’s private lives’ and by Amanda Foreman as ‘one of England’s greatest living historical writers’.

Modern history has produced one single myth on a heroic scale to rival those of Alexander and Caesar – that of Napoleon. The continuing fascination of this astonishingly gifted man is reflected in the number of books published each year on various aspects of the Napoleonic legend: some 250,000 volumes in all since Napoleon’s mysterious death in 1821.

What is still needed is now provided by Christopher Hibbert: an authoritative up-to-date account of Napoleon’s private life at all stages of his developing and extraordinary career, based on the fruits of modern research, his character, interests and tastes, his friendships, enmities and love affairs, his relations with the members of his remarkable family, the impressions he made on his contemporaries away from the council chamber and the battlefield, his personal life at war, in exile and as emperor in peacetime, the mystery surrounding his death: in short, the man revealed behind the soldier, statesman and legend.

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Review:

It's well known that Napoleon Bonaparte had a huge appetite for power: Christopher Hibbert's Napoleon: His Wives and Women reminds us of his great ardour for the opposite sex as well. Twice-married (to Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796, and to Marie Louise of Austria in 1811) Napoleon was also a serial philanderer, rarely without a lover until ill and apparently impotent in exile at the end of his life. This is the latest in a long line of Hibbert's "personal histories" of (mostly) 19th-century famous figures. He displays, once more, his skill at getting beneath the skin of his subjects and in this case revealing the moody temperament and possessive libido of the French conqueror.

Hibbert accounts for not only Napoleon's mistresses and marriages, but also his formative relationship with his mother and with his sisters, and he also describes the many women (from maids to society hostesses) who came into Napoleon's orbit, as confidants, carers and commentators. This is a compendious account of Napoleon's private life (much of which was inevitably public too), underpinned by a secure hold on the military history of the first empire. What it all adds up to, that is, what part all these women played in the rise and fall of Napoleon, Hibbert seems reluctant to say, eschewing both psychological and sexual speculation. At the end of this poised and highly readable study, we are left only with Napoleon's somewhat jaundiced and weary conclusion that women "belong to the highest bidder". --Miles Taylor

Review:

"Hibbert brings to life one of the most enigmatic characters in history, and sympathetically chronicles the man behind the warrior' -- Mary S. Lovell, author of THE SISTERS: THE SAGA OF THE MITFORD FAMILY

"One of England's greatest living historical writers'" -- Amanda Foreman

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