The Journal of Military History 67.4 (2003) 1285-1286
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Napoleon's Road to Glory: Triumphs, Defeats & Immortality. By J. David Markham. London: Brassey's, 2003. ISBN 1-85753-327-5. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 313. £20.00.
In Napoleon's Road to Glory, Napoleonic scholar J. David Markham has produced a superb, one-volume biography of Napoleon Bonaparte that effectively shows how Napoleon came from modest origins to become the dominant force in Europe in the early nineteenth century. The reader may ask why we need a new biography of such as well-documented man as Napoleon. The answer is that Markham's fresh approach to Napoleon may change the way one looks at this great man without compromising anyone's fundamental beliefs about Napoleon's place in history. In short, it is an interesting read whether one is a fan of Napoleon or not.
In just 300 pages, Markham has produced the essential, one-volume story of Napoleon's rise and fall. It is not a "bugles and bayonets" approach to Napoleon's military genius, but rather a careful analysis of the results, consequences, and legacy of Napoleon's remarkable life. Markham also reveals the secrets of Napoleon's success as a leader.
The book is generally favorable toward Napoleon and his image, but it is also critical of Bonaparte when necessary. It shows his darker side and shortcomings as he propels himself to the forefront of French life in the turbulent years following the French Revolution. It offers some interesting observations such as the comment that Napoleon's Coronation as Emperor in 1804 was Napoleon's way of saving the French Revolution from revisionists. Markham covers all the main events of Napoleon's life and offers many insights into Napoleon's character and the love of grandeur that still bedevils many Frenchmen. For example, Markham highlights Napoleon's admiration for George Washington and the ten days of mourning that he decreed upon learning of Washington's death. That exceeded the two days of mourning that Napoleon imposed on Elba after Josephine died in 1814.
Napoleon prized education for the French people and became the "education Emperor" before such political terms were popular. Markham also explains Napoleon's motives for selling the Louisiana Territory to the United [End Page 1285] States and his perennial problems with Great Britain over the control of Antwerp and the Scheldt River Estuary, items that are usually overlooked in Napoleonic biographies. There is also an updated version of the current controversy over whether Napoleon died from natural causes on Saint Helena or was poisoned.
Napoleon's life is a study in leadership during difficult times. The value of the text is enhanced by photographic reproductions from Markham's fascinating Napoleonic collection. This book is well worth the expense for anyone interested in Napoleon who wants to read a finely crafted, updated version of Napoleon's life. It would be extremely useful as a textbook for a course on Napoleon and late eighteenth century-early nineteenth century France. Vive l'Empereur!