I received a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 3 Stars
I know almost nothing about Napoleon. You might wonder why I accepted this book then, and it is because I read Braude's previous book about Monte Carlo and absolutely LOVED IT. He's a great writer with a good eye for the details that really matter and the research to back up his interpretations.
This one though...while all of these things are true for this book also...I have come to the conclusion that I just can not get interested in France once my heroine Eleanor has passed from this life. So basically, anything going on in France after 1204, I am not into.
Even so, I wanted to give this one a try because I really do not know anything about the former emperor except that he was a little guy with a big ego, and probably a bit of a chip on his shoulder due to being so short. 5'2" seems short, even for that period, though it was obviously far less pronounced than it would be today.
I didn't know why he was exiled, how it came to be, or even where he was exiled until reading this one, so I appreciated the gaps in my knowledge being filled. Beyond the basics though, this part of his story was really hard for me to get into. I started here because I figured I would get enough of the back story to see how he came to this point, and that this would also pique my interest because he escapes. That should have been tense and dramatic, right? Except...it wasn't. A memorable line for me what the statements in regard to even though he had been exiled, there was no language written up in any documents that explicitly said that Napoleon could not leave Elba, so what did they expect? He was a military leader and good at commanding people, so it should come as a shock to no one that he up and left. Even with that tension though, the story as a whole felt very quiet and unremarkable to me. Not through the author's writing, but because of the material, the story itself. Given the fact that at one time Napoleon ruled over half of Europe and tens of millions of subjects, his peaceful and unassuming existence on Elba did not fit what picture I do have of him in my mind.
I found it interesting that this is the first text to really explore this period of Napoleon's life. I wonder why it is so often skipped over, given that fascination with him. Everyone has heard of Waterloo, yet historians don't spend a lot of time discussing the period leading up to Napoleon's brief return to power, and the battle that would eventually mean the deaths of thousands fighting on both sides.
It still baffles me that anyone thought this exile was a good idea - especially one that was not terribly far from France. That they let so many of his followers go with him to Elba is also questionable. I'd love to have been in that meeting:
"Hey, so Napoleon needs to go. We should execute him and end this for good."
"Nah, let's just send him and his most fanatical followers packing to a little island not too far away, and allow him to rule there and still keep up the show of him being in charge of anything. What could go wrong?"
Um, hello?? Did they really think he would stay there? Especially when someone obviously forgot to add the clause, "By the way, you can never leave Elba." ?!?! Seriously. Come on now.
In the end though, I do have to say this book was not for me. I find no matter how I try, there are some subjects who hold little interest for me and Napoleon is one of them. Even so, I do not want this review to dissuade anyone who does have an interest in France and/or Napoleon from reading it. It is probably best to read if you already have a lot of knowledge about this era and Napoleon, as I did feel I was at a disadvantage to truly appreciate what this time on Elba meant for Napoleon, given that I know very little else about him. It is a well-researched and incredibly thorough text, and you get to know the historical figures grappling with this unusual situation very well.