Reviews: Books of General Interest


Napoleon for Dummies

By J. David Markham

Markham, J. David.  Napoleon for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2005. 364 Pages, 70+ graphics. ISBN# 0864597981. $19.95

Napoleon for Dummies

J. David Markham's latest book, Napoleon for Dummies, is the perfect book for someone who wants to get the lowdown on Napoleon. It combines outstanding scholarship (Markham is a top international Napoleonic scholar and award-winning author) with the easy-reading style associated with the Dummies series, and takes the reader beyond the stereotypes to the real Napoleon. If the rest of the biographies in this new series are anywhere as good as Markham's biography of Napoleon, then Wiley Publishers will have created a real winner.

The first thing you discover when you read Napoleon for Dummies is that it really isn't for dummies at all. It is for people who enjoy a good read and would like to find out more about Napoleon. As one would expect, Markham writes in an easy, accessible style that should appeal to all readers. The book is well-organized and easy to follow. In his introduction, Markham explains why we should even care about Napoleon, giving examples of why that great man was important both to people of his time and to those of us living in the 21st century. Markham makes Napoleon even more accessible by including 70 engravings from his personal collection. It is always better to have a visual image of the people about whom one is reading, and this book does an outstanding job in this area as well.

In successive chapters, Markham traces Napoleon's life from his early days on Corsica to his career-ending defeats and exile. Throughout this discussion, Markham points out both good and bad decisions, and does not hesitate to call some of Napoleon's actions into question. It is also clear, however, that Markham sees Napoleon as a positive force in history. But this feeling is based on careful analysis of Napoleon and his legacy, an analysis which is easy to read and important to understand.

Markham next turns to a discussion of some of the innovations associated with Napoleon. Now the book becomes a bit more like a traditional Dummies book, providing the reader with a ready reference to various aspects of Napoleon's contributions. Markham discusses such issues as Napoleon's military innovations, his approach to politics and governing, his economic and legal contributions, his promotion of religious freedom, his diplomacy and his contributions – intended and unintended – towards a united Europe.

For many people, the story of Napoleon is one of romance, and Markham does a wonderful job telling the story of Napoleon's loves. We learn of his two wives, Josephine and Marie Louise, and we also learn of Napoleon's earliest loves, his mistress in Egypt and, perhaps most romantic of all, of his Polish mistress.

In the tradition of the Dummies books, Markham closes his discussion with several chapters in a “Part of Tens” section. These include interesting discussions of Napoleonic battlefields, additional references, a time line and maps. The chapter in this section that I found most interesting was the one where Markham discusses a number of pieces of advice that he would have given to Napoleon (with, of course, the great advantage of hindsight).

In short, if you want to read a really good book on Napoleon, or if you just want to read a really good book, I highly recommend that you try Napoleon for Dummies.

J. David Markham is President of the Napoleonic Alliance and an award-winning author. His other books include Napoleon and Dr Verling on St Helena; Napoleon's Road to Glory: Triumphs, Defeats and Immortality; and Imperial Glory: The Bulletins of Napoleon's Grande Armée. You can obtain further information and order Napoleon for Dummies from John Wiley at: Napoleon for Dummies

Reviewed by Doug La Follette, PhD (a student of Napoleon and the Secretary of State of Wisconsin).


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2005

 

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