I've read more than a few biographies of the Great Man, and the following I highly recommend:
Napoleon Bonaparte: An Intimate Biography by Vincent Cronin
The following is my review of the book:
"It is an excellent biography of Napoleon and is filled with excellent information on Napoleon the man and head of state, and concentrates on his civil achievements as First Consul and Emperor. It is very well sourced, and if the author's sources are checked, the reader will discover that the material is accurate as well as well-delivered.
Too many 'biographies' of Napoleon do nothing but regurgitate the old 'Corsican Ogre' theory that is based on the English and allied propaganda of the period. This volume explores Napoleon's actions, motivation, and achievements and after reading of this, Napoleon is shown to have been head and shoulders above his contemporary heads of state in Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, who were his main antagonists from 1803-1815.
Napoleon's reforms and achievements in law, education, bringing back the Church to France, rebuilding the infrastructure of France after ten years of revolutionary upheavals, ensuring civil rights and freedom of religion as well as providing France with firm and honest government are highlighted and explained by the author. Further, Napoleon's personality and strong character definitely come through in the narrative provided and whet the appetite for more research into the matter.
The most outstanding facet of the book, however, is the appendix which is a critique of various memoirs of the period on Napoleon. Those that are fairly accurate are pointed out, and those that defamed Napoleon to facilitate the personal aggrandizement of the memoir writer at Napoleon's expense are revealed. It is an outstanding guide to further study.
This is the best biography done in the last forty years and this viewpoint, a fair one, is being continued in the recent outstanding biographies on Napoleon by Andrew Roberts and Michael Broers, which are also highly recommended. This volume, however, is the starting point. The critics of this volume are critical because the book is sympathetic to Napoleon, which is an absolutely ridiculous position to take. Good history, well-researched should be the goal, and this volume is excellent history."
Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts:
"NOW A MAJOR BBC2 TV SERIES AWARDED THE PRIX DU JURY DES GRANDS PRIX DE LA FONDATION NAPOLÉON 2014 From Andrew Roberts, author of the Sunday Times bestseller The Storm of War, this is the definitive modern biography of Napoleon. Napoleon Bonaparte lived one of the most extraordinary of all human lives. In the space of just twenty years, from October 1795 when as a young artillery captain he cleared the streets of Paris of insurrectionists, to his final defeat at the (horribly mismanaged) battle of Waterloo in June 1815, Napoleon transformed France and Europe. After seizing power in a coup d'état he ended the corruption and incompetence into which the Revolution had descended. In a series of dazzling battles he reinvented the art of warfare; in peace, he completely remade the laws of France, modernised her systems of education and administration, and presided over a flourishing of the beautiful 'Empire style' in the arts. The impossibility of defeating his most persistent enemy, Great Britain, led him to make draining and ultimately fatal expeditions into Spain and Russia, where half a million Frenchmen died and his Empire began to unravel. More than any other modern biographer, Andrew Roberts conveys Napoleon's tremendous energy, both physical and intellectual, and the attractiveness of his personality, even to his enemies. He has walked 53 of Napoleon's 60 battlefields, and has absorbed the gigantic new French edition of Napoleon's letters, which allows a complete re-evaluation of this exceptional man. He overturns many received opinions, including the myth of a great romance with Josephine: she took a lover immediately after their marriage, and, as Roberts shows, he had three times as many mistresses as he acknowledged. Of the climactic Battle of Leipzig in 1813, as the fighting closed around them, a French sergeant-major wrote, 'No-one who has not experienced it can have any idea of the enthusiasm that burst forth among the half-starved, exhausted soldiers when the Emperor was there in person. If all were demoralised and he appeared, his presence was like an electric shock. All shouted "Vive l'Empereur!" and everyone charged blindly into the fire.' The reader of this biography will understand why this was so."
Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny by Michael Broers
"All previous lives of Napoleon have relied more on the memoirs of others than on his own uncensored words. This is the first life of Napoleon, in any language, that makes full use of his newly released personal correspondence compiled by the Napoléon Foundation in Paris. All previous lives of Napoleon have relied more on the memoirs of others than on his own uncensored words. Michael Broers' biography draws on the thoughts of Napoleon himself as his incomparable life unfolded. It reveals a man of intense emotion, but also of iron self-discipline; of acute intelligence and immeasurable energy. Tracing his life from its dangerous Corsican roots, through his rejection of his early identity, and the dangerous military encounters of his early career, it tells the story of the sheer determination, ruthlessness, and careful calculation that won him the precarious mastery of Europe by 1807. After the epic battles of Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland, France was the dominant land power on the continent. Here is the first biography of Napoleon in which this brilliant, violent leader is evoked to give the reader a full, dramatic, and all-encompassing portrait."
Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age by Michael Broers
"Like volume one of Michael Broers's magnificent biography, The Spirit of the Age is based on the new version of Napoleon's correspondence, made available by the Fondation Napoléon in Paris. It is the story of Napoleon's conquest of Europe—and that of his magnificent Grande Armée—as they sweep through the length and breadth of Europe. This narrative opens with Napoleon's as yet untested army making its way through the Bavarian Alps in the early winter of 1805 to fall upon the unsuspecting Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz. This was only the beginning of a series of spectacular victories over the Prussians and Russians over the next two years. The chronicle then follows the army into Spain, in 1808, the most ill-considered step in Napoleon's career as ruler, and then through the most daunting triumph of all, the final defeat of Austria at Wagram, in 1809, the bloodiest battle in European history up to that time."
Napoleon by Andre Castelot
"André Castelot was a French writer born in Belgium who wrote 65 biographies of famous persons in the History of France. He is perhaps best known for his biography of Josephine. His biography of Napoleon emphasizes not only his military campaigns, but his many love affairs and his many mistresses. It shows how his tumultuous relationship with Josephine influenced and affected his Napoleonic Code. It was because of Josephine's fickleness and unfaithfulness to Napoleon that Napoleon decreed that all women upon leaving their father's houses and entering into matrimony must understand that henceforth they are to be under the control of their husbands. Women cannot be trusted to be free, said Napoleon. Yet, Napoleon was easily influenced by women. On page 299 is recounted an incident where his Governor of Berlin had committed an act of treason, and had been arrested and faced death. Then, the man's wife, who was expecting a child, came and threw herself at the feet of Napoleon, begging forgiveness. With that, Napoleon ordered the man's release, something that Napoleon did not often do. Throughout this book, there are discussions of Napoleon's relationships with women, including his fears that he could not father a child or that a child who had been born was not really his."
@Kevin F. Kiley even poorly written memoirs contain verifiable facts and data points. Sources that are “credible” (not a black and white binary description I like to use, I find such thinking a symptom of a rigid and inflexible mindset) even they contain errors. That’s why footnotes are so important in secondary works rather than long florid passages of hyperbole and praise which usually characterises hagiography. So let’s analyse the effect of removing Bourrienne and Marmont would be: Criteria 1 (Grandiose self-importance) we lose 2 data points of 5, but it remains well evidenced Criteria 2 (fantasies of unlimited success etc) One data point lost. Still stands. Criteria 3 (belief of special) No effect. Still stands. Criteria 5. (Sense of entitlement) Two data points lost out of 6 but sufficient evidence found. Criteria 6. (Interpersonally exploitative) 3 lost out of 6 quoted, but an additional 36 considered so was still the easiest to discern. Criteria 7. (Lacks empathy) 4 of the 8 quoted used Bourrienne but 40 additional passages also supported it. Criteria 9 (Arrogance) 3 out of the 8 quoted sources lost and with over 80 additional points means the criteria stands. As only 5 are needed it seems that even if 100% of the data from these sources are spurious, it does not support reversing of the clinical opinion. There is therefore no material effect. All data quoted is from ‘The Spirit and the Sword’ pages 20-33
Agreed @Zack White but the demonising comment came before he mentioned Dwyer, and I specifically asked for a response that distanced us from it. The conflation of metal health and demons is biblical and medieval. Are we to suffer it to continue to exist in the 21st century? All evil requires to prosper is that good men do nothing.
I'm becoming a bit weary of the "glorification" of Ed Coss as the be-all-and-end-all of the alleged psychoanalysis of Napoleon. I also think the attempt to analyze any historical figure, particularly those who have been dead for several centuries, is an exercise in ridiculousness and produces nothing but psychobabble, a word I am quite fond of because it applies to quit a few folks writing these days. I already posted several weeks ago exactly what I thought of Coss, and I won't repeat it. However, I also said I thought Napoleon had a streak of narcissism a mile wide, plus a couple of other issues, but guess what? I figured that out all by myself by reading lots and lots of books, articles, manuscripts, and other document over decades and in English, French, German, and Spanish. I didn't need some man with a Ph.D. from OHU--I have one from FSU--to tell me that he thought Naps has serious mental issues.
At the end of the day, I second Hans-Karl's opinion that most of the Brit-centric folks who loathe Napoleon are missing out on an opportunity to expand their dislike because they can't read German or Dutch or Russian, or even French. And while Dwyer is a good author to read if you want the opposite of hagiography, he is a sloppy historian. One does not deliberately cherry-pick one's sources to support a theory already firmly developed before the research even begins. The same applies to those who really, really like Napoleon.
Let's move on from Coss, shall we? He is a historian, not a scientist nor a mental health professional. He simply presented one of several papers at an inaugural conference; he did not invent the wheel. And as for an "eye-opening" view of Napoleon's alleged mental health, I would agree that it is, but not in the laudatory manner I believe was meant here.
@tomholmberg I appreciate your ‘if the cap fits wear it’ style, however saying someone may have faced mental health challenges is not demonising. For the sake of mental health stigma in the here and now, I must ask you to either withdraw or explain please.
So all above cited biographies of Kevin Kiley are worthwhile to read because they fawn Nabulieone?
I find most biographies a waste of time there you only read the bias of the author.
I see - that even that of Tulard it not even mentioned.
My favourite though is
Presser, Jacques : Napoleon - Da Leben und die Legende
other then the usual boney fawning blurb of Cronin here a cirtical evaluation.
A pity that the best biography, in my view, that of Presser is only available in Dutch and German, there in case you are no Anglophone and don't publish in Anglospeak, such works are ignored.
I find Patrice Gueniffey's "Bonaparte" very interesting, even if only the years 1769 to 1802 are dealt with so far. With over 1000 pages, the work is very detailed and balanced in my opinion. I hope that Gueniffey will add another book on the Empire over the next few years.
On the old Napoleon Series from 2017, examination of one specific topic did reveal that, in his Napoleon biography at any rate, Professor Roberts' attitude to providing valid references in support of his narrative was somewhat cavalier. On a single page, not one footnote bore any relation to the assertion to which it was attached, let alone support it. Something of an eye opener. I seem to remember that in that regard Vincent Cronin did not come out of it too well, either, although at least he did not cite Dr. Ibid.
Kevin, I’m afraid I’m rather ridiculous therefore, as I prefer biography to hagiography. My copy of Cronin was swiftly donated after reading to Oxfam, as I foresaw little utility in it’s retention. I haven’t found I’ve missed it. I’ve retained Roberts and Broers, because being a little newer they have more references and up to date research. I tend not to agree with many conclusions though. As the 100 days are my main area of interest, I’m looking forward Broers next instalments in his series. I suppose it would be difficult to write a biography about someone you disliked, so many biographers tend to be at least sympathetic, if not positive. We should also face commercial facts: hagiography sells! The problem I face is that I’m interested in Napoleon the man, not so much the legend and legacy. These only give glimpses. The fact that they at best excuse, but often just ignore Napoleon’s narcissistic personality disorder makes them too selective for my liking. That’s like writing about Louis XVIII and not mentioning his weight problem. Zack Thank you for the Dwyer recommendations. I’ll make the effort to broaden my horizons. I’m a skeptic when it comes to the legend and legacy but I try to keep at least a semblance of balance. As Napoleon appears to be the most written about individual outside of theology, I’m sure the debate will rumble on long after we are all gone!
I would respectfully submit the suggestion that, even if only to ensure variety in one's reading diet, some Philip Dwyer would be useful.
(He says fully expecting to jumped on by those who aren't a fan of the anti-Napoleon interpretation). 😉🤣