Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship. By Isser Woloch. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-32341-2. Index. Notes. Pp. xv, 281. $15.95.
While many of Napoleon's military assistants are famous in their own right, his civilian political assistants are almost completely unknown. Some examples of the former include Marshals Davout, Lannes, Ney, and Masséna, who have all been the subject of numerous biographies. Isser Woloch attempts to address this imbalance by focusing on the politicians who aided Napoleon's seizure of power in the Coup of Brumaire (1799) and then helped him run the Consulate and subsequent Empire. This is not a general history text and will be difficult for the nonspecialist public to follow as it contains [End Page 232] many references to people, events, and institutions that the author does not explain in detail. Woloch does, however, give some warning of this fact in his introduction by stating that his book should be read after digesting a full-scale biography of Napoleon.
The author adroitly examines the political machine that Napoleon used to run France and focuses on the most influential politicians in the government. While Talleyrand and Fouché, Napoleon's two most famous civilian officials, are given their rightful place in the text, they are not the main focus. Woloch illuminates a host of officials from the Directory and Consulate governments as well as the Imperial Senate and Legislative Corps who can be shown to have been crucial to Napoleon's success. The author chose to focus on men like: Boulay de Meurthe, Théophile Berlier, Antoine Thibaudeau, Regnaud de St. Jean d'Angely, Lazare Carnot, and most important, Jean-Jacques-Régis Cambacérès. His goal of exposing the reader to a generally unknown aspect of the Napoleonic period is ambitious and could easily have led to a quagmire of stories of petty political dealings. Woloch escapes this fate with a clear writing style and a level of detail that is comprehensive without stifling the flow of the narrative.
Woloch's sources are excellent. He uses numerous files from the Archives Nationales in Paris that are the logical choices for accurate primary documentation and supplements these by consulting a number of memoirs and collections from the private papers of the participants dealt with in his accounts. His documentation is concise and careful with an average of sixty endnotes per chapter.
Anyone looking for a military or diplomatic history of the era should
look elsewhere. However, for the reader interested in acquiring a better
understanding of the Napoleonic regime or the larger issue of how nascent
republics can be led to dictatorship, this is a worthwhile addition to
the field of study.
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