I'm back from another hiatus- and this last one was a doozy. For those of you who have been around since the site was launched- please accept a heartfelt "welcome back." For first-time visitors to the site, I offer a sincere welcome!
Goodness gracious, I've been busy. First of all, my household is bracing itself for the arrival of twin girls, and there's been quite a lot of preparation involved. I've also started a new full-time position and have just been taking life one day at a time. Fortunately, I somehow managed to play through recent remake of Resident Evil 4 in this chaos. Let me just say Capcom truly outdid itself in paying homage and revitalizing one of the greatest games ever made. The length of this most recent absence from the Blogsphere serves a good reminder of a writing lesson- one does really do need to 'make' time in their schedule for writing. Most often, it won't keep its head above the tides of other competing activities, unless its paying the bills.
On the writing front, The ABC of Battle, my first children's book, is still slated to release this fall, and I remain very excited about its development. I am continuing to progress with book three of my Lovecraftian series, though that has unfortunately been slow-going lately (but not "no-going"). Below are some sketches from my wonderfully talented illustrator which should give a taste of how epic its going to be!
That's enough housekeeping- now, to the post, I have a review of a (somewhat) recent historical biography: Andrew Roberts' "Napoleon- A Life." This is my first book by this author, and let me start by saying how refreshing it was to dive into a nonfiction read again. I've always found Napoleon an interesting figure- he was by no means royalty or even high society, just a member of a large, reasonably well-off Corsican family. From this position he rose to become Emperor of France and for a time, master of Europe.
The biography has a comprehensive feel, and an unbiased one. Of course, the narrative is presented following the genius, ambition, and ultimate tragedy with the reader feeling at-all-times in the entourage of the general. That does not shield us from having the great errors and character flaws illuminated before us, especially in the most decisive moments. Most will be familiar with the ill-fated invasion of Russia, but there are a score of other insights that help contextualize how a state that looked so imposing on a map in the spring of 1812 could completely unravel in less than two years. The resentment of punishing treaties against his enemies and baffling misallocation of family members as trusted client-rulers are expertly argued by Roberts, along with the misuse of many of the "Marshals of the Empire" upon the battlefield.
I think one thing portrayed skillfully in this book is Napoleon's dual nature- he simultaneously thinks on the grand stage of history, likening his actions to his ancient heroes and obsessing over his wider comparative legacy, while never losing sight of the day-to-day, writing letters to address the smallest incidents and minutiae of his state. While in the midst of one of his famous campaigns, reorganizing the entire military into corps (which will be copied and used against him) and setting blistering marches and grand, sweeping-envelopments of enemy armies, he is also ascribing specific punishments for reported crimes back home, exchanging letters with scientists about contemporary theories, interviewing magistrates about the governance of their various towns and districts. These numerous letters are woven neatly into the narrative flow- the primary sources do not derail the story but are enliven it at appropriate junctures.
Another point of praise is that the reader is left with no question over what precisely comprised Napoleon's greater legacy. Napoleon's winning campaigns brought new territory and glory to France- but both fleeting. However, his codification of a new, standardized law code across the Empire was truly revolutionary and retained by a great many peoples not contained to the borders of France. In the same vein, Roberts weighs in on the debate if Napoleon represented either the betrayal or the fulfillment of the revolution that began in 1789. While a political Jacobin at the start, Napoleon always remained expertly attuned to the opportunities to advance his own star, usually at the cost of the more liberal freedoms and structures established by the revolutionary government and press.
Yet with the entire weight of the England, Austria, Russia, and Prussia often bearing down on him, Napoleon's increasing conservatism is convincingly rendered as the only way to preserve the more worthy aspects of the triumph over the ancien reigme. France eventually gained a new monarch that suppressed the most strident opposition in the press and awarded loyalty and competence with new noble titles, but the fundamental character of French society, the banishment of hereditary aristocratic privileges, and the organization of commerce and intellectual progress remained on its revolutionary and altered course, and on much surer footing and less susceptible to counter-revolution than it would have been during the Terror.
There is so much packed into this book I cannot imagine there is a more comprehensive and accessible portal to the life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte. The interior is 900 pages when including the bibliography and notes, and one is not left wanting. Napoleon's love life, failed early academic ambitions, health picture, and complex perceptions of the other Great Powers- represent how the book always moves seamlessly from the grand to the intimate, as Napoleon himself was forced to do daily. I am impressed enough with the author's presentation and style that I will proceed to read another biography of his (though not for several months). When I do get around to it, I will be starting his life of George III (of Britain), who Roberts intriguingly presents as misunderstood and highly capable. This does seem a perfect fit, given the wide-ranging and continually engaged historiography surrounding the "Last King of America."
In conclusion, here are a couple of Napoleon facts you can employ to impress your friends or vex your enemies.
At the time of the book's publication (2014), more books had been published about Napoleon than the number of days that had passed since his death in 1821. We will have to wait until the next edition to verify if this still holds true today, but either way, what a statistic!
Second, Napoleon did not invade Russia in winter, but in fact, crossed the Neiman River in June. He also lost more soldiers on his march TO Moscow than in the retreat back to France. Granted, the onset of Russian winter and scorched-earth tactics employed against him exacerbated his losses, but there is certainly a misconception about him losing nearly his whole army (The Grand Armee' was a truly massive and multinational force for the time of over 600,00 soldiers) to frostbite and starvation. The ruthlessness of Tsar Alexander and the resolution of the Russians not to surrender after the fall of Moscow remains the critical factor.
I don't plan to be gone as long before my next post, but do know that whenever I have something truly inspired to write about- rest assured it will be my pleasure to share it with you!