ABOUT THIS BOOK
Patrice Gueniffey is the leading French historian of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic age. This book, hailed as a masterwork on its publication in France, takes up the epic narrative at the heart of this turbulent period: the life of Napoleon himself, the man who—in Madame de Staël’s words—made the rest of “the human race anonymous.” Gueniffey follows Bonaparte from his obscure boyhood in Corsica, to his meteoric rise during the Italian and Egyptian campaigns of the Revolutionary wars, to his proclamation as Consul for Life in 1802. Bonaparte is the story of how Napoleon became Napoleon. A future volume will trace his career as emperor.
Most books approach Napoleon from an angle—the Machiavellian politician, the military genius, the life without the times, the times without the life. Gueniffey paints a full, nuanced portrait. We meet both the romantic cadet and the young general burning with ambition—one minute helplessly intoxicated with Josephine, the next minute dominating men twice his age, and always at war with his own family. Gueniffey recreates the violent upheavals and global rivalries that set the stage for Napoleon’s battles and for his crucial role as state builder. His successes ushered in a new age whose legacy is felt around the world today.
Averse as we are now to martial glory, Napoleon might seem to be a hero from a bygone time. But as Gueniffey says, his life still speaks to us, the ultimate incarnation of the distinctively modern dream to will our own destiny.
In [Gueniffey’s] account of Napoleon’s youth and young manhood…his interpretation is superb… Work like this quite dazzles the mind… [Gueniffey] has produced a magnificent and scintillating study of political…analysis that will take its place as a classic French account of Napoleon’s life.
-- Steven Englund New York Review of Books
The book is exhaustive, scrupulously accurate, and firmly persuasive, for the most part, on the individual stages of Napoleon’s career. It is likely to stand as the definitive biography for quite some time.
-- David A. Bell The Nation
[A] magisterial and often exhilarating biography… [Gueniffey] writes with a powerful grounding in the intellectual history of late 18th-century France. One of the notable features of the book, and one that distinguishes it from the majority of biographies, is Gueniffey’s concern to anchor his subject in the spirit of the times… It is the most detailed and analytical discussion yet published of his career from his first steps in the military to the moment in 1802 when he was proclaimed First Consul for life… Gueniffey’s next book, on Napoleon’s imperial years, can only be eagerly awaited.
-- Alan Forrest Literary Review
Magnificent…Patrice Gueniffey’s Bonaparte is beautifully written, and its portrait of Talleyrand is masterly. If you need more Napoleon, Gueniffey’s next volume is a good bet.
-- Denis Boyles Claremont Review of Books
This is clearly a remarkable book… The excitement level never flags in this beautiful retelling of Bonaparte’s lucky period and apogee. The book itself is a triumph in every direction. If you would like to polish up your Napoleon or encounter him in fresh clothes, this is your book.
-- Tom Keneally Sydney Morning Herald
[The book’s] mastery of the sources and authorities is remarkable…[Gueniffey’s] principal interest lies not in his recreation of the battles, but in how they are connected not only to the man’s psychology and character, but to the tumultuous history swirling around this most fabulous life…Bonaparte…is punctuated by Gueniffey’s probing, his skepticism about much in Napoleonic historiography that he finds overwrought or mistaken, and his incessant questioning of just how much can be known for sure about Napoleon, whose motives are so elusive. Gueniffey’s work, once completed, will be the dominant ‘life’ of our generation and a few to come.
-- David P. Jordan History and Theory
A masterful biography that deconstructs Napoleon to show the myriad aspects of his character… This biography does justice to the scale of its subject, and it is a worthy study of a brilliant but flawed leader. Ultimately, it shows us Napoleon’s life as the vast canvas that it was, full of the drama and violence of history.
-- David Murphy Irish Times
Patrice Gueniffey is one of the few historians recognized both in France and in the wider academic world for his work on the Napoleonic era. The author of several books on the period and an editor of Napoleon’s letters, he was persuaded in 2004 to abandon a more limited project to undertake a full biography of his subject. Nine years later the first volume, which ends in 1802, was published in Paris and immediately won all the available plaudits. A second volume will follow in due course. When the work is complete there is little doubt that it will be accepted as the most authoritative biography of Napoleon that we have or are likely to have in the foreseeable future. For now, we have only the first volume but this is enough.
-- Charles Williams Prospect
No matter how much anyone may have read on the subject, this book will provide some new insights into how Napoleon became convinced of, and clung to, his belief in his exalted and exceptional destiny through many years of obscurity and indifference or even mockery at the hands of his young French peers… Patrice Gueniffey…sees and explains more clearly than foreign biographers usually do the fluctuation of the political constituencies within revolutionary France… This is a very good and thorough book.
-- Conrad Black The Spectator
-- A. M. Mayer Choice
A masterful portrait, staggeringly complete and contradictory and fluently translated—a delight to read.
-- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Bonaparte is that rare sort of book that you start with curiosity and finish with regret that it’s over. We learn much and it never ceases to entertain. Patrice Gueniffey…is a worker doubling as an artist—in short, a great historian.
Tens of thousands of books…have been devoted to Napoleon. But some trees, like this one, dominate the forest.
-- Le Figaro
The epic of the self-made man revealed… Masterful… The great virtue of this biography is that it peels away the myth to reveal the epic underneath… Savor the first volume of this fascinating biography of a character who, as Madame de Stael wrote, made ‘mankind anonymous by monopolizing celebrity alone.’
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Maps
Part One. Napoleon and Corsica: 1769–1793
1. An Italian Family in Corsica
2. A French Upbringing
3. The French Officer and the Corsican Patriot
4. The Revolutionary of Ajaccio
5. Lost Illusions
Part Two. Entry on Stage: 1793–1796
7. In Search of a Future
Part Three. The Italian Campaign: 1796–1797
9. That Beautiful Italy
10. An Italian Policy?
11. On the Road to Vienna
13. Saving the Directory
15. Parisian Interlude
Part Four. The Egyptian Expedition: 1798–1799
16. The Road to the Indies
17. The Conquest of the Nile
18. Governing Egypt
20. The Return from the Orient
Part Five. Crossing the Rubicon: 1799
21. The Conspiracy
Part Six. A King for the Revolution: 1799–1802
23. First Consul
24. First Steps
25. From the Tuileries to Marengo
26. Works and Days
27. The Turning Point of 1801
28. Peace with the Church
29. The Top of the Ladder