"History is indeed an argument without end" Pieter Geyl
“le personnage ne se prête pas aisément à l’exercice biographique. Sans même parler, pour chaque épisode ou presque de cette vie hors du commun, de l’existence de témoignages si contradictoires qu’il faudrait croire à la présence, non pas d’un mais de deux ou trois Bonaparte”
Gueniffey, Patrice (2013-09-26). Bonaparte: (1769-1802) (NRF Biographies) (French Edition) (Kindle Locations 124-126). Editions Gallimard. Kindle Edition.
In my experience reading and discussing Napoleon I realized that most people hold one of the following opinions of the man:
They have a visceral hatred of him, see no redeeming quality.
They admire him without limit
They find some aspects of his career/ character fascinating but are repulsed by others (many shades here)
IMHO the reason for that is the complexity of the man. Anyone who reads extensively about him will come across instances where he exhibited great qualities and others where he did the opposite.
In my reading I came across cases of great courage, cowardice, fortitude, despair, gentleness, cruelty, gratitude, ungratefulness, tolerance, tyranny, loyalty, betrayal, generosity, pettiness, greatness, “petitesse”, great vision, blindness etc.
This complexity makes it very difficult to make a fair assessment of the man. Two “truth seeking” historians could look at the same material and come to opposite conclusions about the man.
Here's an exemple of two Napoleonic scholars with impeccable credentials holding opposite views on the same topic:
"Many who came to know Napoleon spoke of his self-control [...] it was the product of iron self-discipline, for Napoleon was a man of powerful, often violent emotions [...]"
Broers, Michael (2014-03-04). Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny (Kindle Locations 167-171). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.
"Of petty noble origin, a rough and ready soldier without tact and with little self-control,"
Dwyer, Philip (2013-11-25T21:00:00+00:00). Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (Kindle Location 6783). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
How can this be explained?