Rowman and Littlefield (2020)
Hardback, 255 pages, 15 maps
I like to have well-stocked shelf of reference books to hand for my own research and writing. Although we live in the internet age where there is a plethora of online reference sites (The Napoleon Series being an obvious one!), plus numerous blogs and social media sites that discuss all aspects of the Napoleonic period, it is still useful to be able to thumb through a reference book to find a fact required to complete some current research.
Napoleon Bonaparte: A Reference Guide to His Life and Works is a useful addition to any reference library. Before examining this work, I will state that no one book is going to provide access to every bit of information the reader might want. This book however will sit comfortably alongside other reference books that it complements very well.
The author has attempted to tell the story of Napoleon in what he describes as a deconstructed biography. It begins with a chronology of the important events in Napoleon’s life, with a sprinkling of explanatory events included. The main section of the book is an alphabetical account of the major events, places, and people in Napoleon’s life. This is not a reference work for the entire Napoleonic era, but rather a guide for referencing Napoleon’s life and the lives of those people who interacted with him at specific times. No such book can cover everything that a student of the period would consider relevant, but this work makes a credible effort. Extensive cross-references have been included in the dictionary section to make this book as useful as possible. The entries cover every aspect of Napoleon’s life in acceptable detail.
There are several appendices that provide more information to supplement the main alphabetical listings: Napoleon’s Marshals and Their Titles, Key Battles from 1796 to 1815, Selected Treaties, Conventions, and Decrees of the Napoleonic Era and Napoleon’s Immediate Family. All handy sections within the book.
An informative and helpful section is a comprehensive Bibliography. This covers primary sources in the form of archives, printed primary sources and memoirs; biographies, contemporaries, warfare (with sources covering all the coalitions formed against France), the major campaigns on land and sea, and politics and culture. Not exhaustive but useful none the less. There are a few illustrations throughout, and a selection of maps taken from the historical atlases in the collection of the US Military Academy’s Department of History.
Is this a reference book for the established historian, perhaps not? But for students beginning their study of any aspect of the period then Napoleon Bonaparte: A Reference Guide to His Life and Works would be a useful addition to their library.