In my efforts to bail out Kevin for his lack of posting, I am trying to post more book reviews. In that vein, Stephen Coote’s Napoleon and the Hundred Days is an interesting look at the character of Napoleon and the events of his return to power in 1815.
The book begins with the Conference of Vienna in 1815 and looks back at Napoleon’s rise to power. Along the way, Coote describes the key moments in this rise and the major figures in Napoleon’s life (among them Josephine, Marshal Ney, and Fouche). Coote briefly describes Napoleon’s major campaigns leading up to the major disaster in Russia and his subsequent exile to Elba. Coote then spends the rest of the book on Napoleon’s return to power and defeat at Waterloo.
This book is a curious mix of a brief, yet detailed at times, overview of Napoleon’s life and character. I know that sounds confusing. I say that because Coote summarized an entire campaign in a matter of a few paragraphs, but spent several pages on Napoleon’s egomania and greed for more power during those campaigns. Taking nothing away from the book, I think it is more an analysis of Napoleon than a history of his achievements.
Coote does an excellent job in describing Napoleon’s relationship with the major figures in his life. I learned a great deal about his interaction with his various marshals – I did not know that he had such a fractious relationship with so many of his military leaders. It seems that at one point or another, Napoleon had severe disagreements with all of his marshals. These clashes in personality did not stop with his military leaders, but they extended to his relations with Foreign Minister Talleyrand and Police Minister Fouche (Napoleon eventually replaced both of them).
The book is more for reading pleasure than scholarly learning. I do not think that all of the material is based on fact. For example, the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the eve of Waterloo was not held in her house (as Coote contends), but in an old barn on the property. I know it is trivial, but for people who value historical research, little mistakes like that are annoying.
With all of that said, I think this is a good read for anyone interested in learning more about Napoleon.