Skip to Main Content


A Political Life

About The Book

This sophisticated and masterful biography, written by a respected French history scholar who has taught courses on Napoleon at the University of Paris, brings new and remarkable analysis to the study of modern history's most famous general and statesman.

Since boyhood, Steven Englund has been fascinated by the unique force, personality, and political significance of Napoleon Bonaparte, who, in only a decade and a half, changed the face of Europe forever. In Napoleon: A Political Life, Englund harnesses his early passion and intellectual expertise to create a rich and full interpretation of a brilliant but flawed leader.

Napoleon believed that war was a means to an end, not the end itself. With this in mind, Steven Englund focuses on the political, rather than the military or personal, aspects of Napoleon's notorious and celebrated life. Doing so permits him to arrive at some original conclusions. For example, where most biographers see this subject as a Corsican patriot who at first detested France, Englund sees a young officer deeply committed to a political event, idea, and opportunity (the French Revolution) -- not to any specific nationality. Indeed, Englund dissects carefully the political use Napoleon made, both as First Consul and as Emperor of the French, of patriotism, or "nation-talk."

As Englund charts Napoleon's dramatic rise and fall -- from his Corsican boyhood, his French education, his astonishing military victories and no less astonishing acts of reform as First Consul (1799-1804) to his controversial record as Emperor and, finally, to his exile and death -- he is at particular pains to explore the unprecedented power Napoleon maintained over the popular imagination. Alone among recent biographers, Englund includes a chapter that analyzes the Napoleonic legend over the course of the past two centuries, down to the present-day French Republic, which has its own profound ambivalences toward this man whom it is afraid to recognize yet cannot avoid. Napoleon: A Political Life presents new consideration of Napoleon's adolescent and adult writings, as well as a convincing argument against the recent theory that the Emperor was poisoned at St. Helena. The book also offers an explanation of Napoleon's role as father of the "modern" in politics.

What finally emerges from these pages is a vivid and sympathetic portrait that combines youthful enthusiasm and mature scholarly reflection. The result is already regarded by experts as the Napoleonic bicentennial's first major interpretation of this perennial subject.

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (May 11, 2010)
  • Length: 592 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439131077

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

Pierre Sorlin University of Paris-VIII (Saint-Denis) Let me put this bluntly: I have never before read a book that simultaneously impressed me for its scholarly brilliance yet read like a novel. Englund's examination of Napoleon's apolitical politics of la Nation is must reading for historians, yet his opening description of the Emperor's tomb at Les Invalides is worthy of Balzac.

Louis Bergeron School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (Paris), author of France Under Napoleon With his acute look from across the Atlantic, and his panoramic knowledge of the literature on the subject, Englund must be read. There is no doubt some predestination present in his writing a book that will definitely remain an epoch-making one.

Philip G. Dwyer University of Newcastle, editor of Napoleon and Europe Steven Englund's is the best biography of Napoleon to have been written in English in many, many years.

Jack Miles MacArthur Fellow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of God: A Biography Two centuries later, Napoleon Bonaparte can still fill us with awe -- at least when we meet him in the company of Steven Englund. An arresting reintroduction to a man about whom, after all, the last word has not been said.

Jacques-Olivier Boudon University of Paris-IV (Sorbonne), President of the Institut Napoléon Englund invites us to take the deepest possible look at Napoleon. He tracks the mystery -- one might say, the genius -- of a man who was adulated and hated by an entire generation of romantics. Yet Englund refuses the romantic vision; he sticks to the facts, which he recounts with a diabolic precision, portraying in incisive strokes the best portraits drawn of the Emperor's colleagues. Far more than just another synthesis, this superb book gives us the following message: If Napoleon was certainly the heir of the Revolution, he is even more the incarnation of the French nation.

Arno J. Mayer Princeton University, author of The Furies: Violence and Terror in the Russian and French Revolutions This life of Napoleon is constructed magnificently and written with elegance and zest. Englund treats Napoleon as a political general of the epoch of the French Revolution that so profoundly marked both his consciousness and his project. The author has a magisterial command of the most important scholarship on the General on Horseback, but he has the great merit of carrying his erudition lightly.

John Merriman Charles Seymour Professor of History, Yale University, author of A History of Modern Europe Napoleon, whose amazing life, incessant wars, and centralized empire helped shape modern France and influenced modern Europe, continues to fascinate. Steven Englund's new biography of Napoleon is the finest now available, unfailingly informed, elegantly crafted, and invariably compelling.

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images