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"Adam Zamoyski's Napoleon: A Life" Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Brechtel19819 Oct 2018 5:28 a.m. PST

This volume arrived this week and while I haven't finished it yet there is some interesting comments and positions by the author in the book so far.

First, it is an easy read and is over 700 pages in length.

Second, the following comments are worthy of note:

'Until very recently, Anglo-Saxon historians have shown reluctance to allow an understanding of the spirit of the times to help them see Napoleon as anything other than an alien monster. Rival national mythologies have added layers of prejudice which many find hard to overcome.'-xiv.

'Napoleon did not start the war that broke out in 1792 when he was a mere lieutenant and continued, with one brief interruption, until 1814. Which side was responsible for the outbreak and for the continuing hostilities is fruitlessly debatable, since responsibility cannot be laid squarely on one side or the other. The fighting cost lives, for which responsibility is often heaped on Napoleon, which is absurd, as all the belligerents must share the blame. And he was not as profligate with the lives of his own soldiers as some.'-xv.

'In the half-century before Napoleon came to power, a titanic struggle for dominion saw the British acquire Canada, large swaths of India, and a string of colonies and aspire to lay down the law at sea; Austria grab provinces in Italy and Poland; Prussia increase in size by two-thirds; and Russia push her frontier 600 kilometers into Europe and occupy large areas of Central Asia, Siberia, and Alaska, laying claims as far afield as California. Yet George III, Maria-Theresa, Frederick William III, and Catherine II are not generally accused of being megalomaniac monsters and compulsive warmongers.'

'Napoleon is frequently condemned for his invasion of Egypt, while the British occupation which followed, designed to guarantee colonial monopoly over India, is not. He is regularly blamed for re-establishing slavery in Martinique, while Britain applied it in its colonies for a further thirty years, and every other colonial power for several decades after that. His use of police surveillance and censorship is also regularly reproved, even though every other state in Europe emulated him, with varying degrees of discretion or hypocrisy.

Interesting comments and conclusions regarding Napoleon and the period in general, don't you think?

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP19 Oct 2018 5:47 a.m. PST

I saw a signed copy in Waterstones yesterday and was sorely tempted. But then I thought how many books I still have unread. Nap the Great for example….Napoleon's Brothers, Beating Napoleon etc etc.


This makes me think I may have missed out there! No great fan of Boney myself, but I freely admit he does get some very unreasonable press, if judged by the standards of his times.

Answer to your Q…yes, indeed. OK convinced now……another one for the bookshelf

Personal logo War Artisan Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Oct 2018 11:06 a.m. PST

One man's calm reason is another man's apologist rant.

Brechtel19819 Oct 2018 11:18 a.m. PST

I have books stacked up too, so you're not alone in that regard.

Yellow Admiral19 Oct 2018 1:03 p.m. PST

An oversized reading pile is a common problem in our hobby….

42flanker19 Oct 2018 1:06 p.m. PST

Until very recently…hypocrisy.

Hilarious. How many questions can be begged, or straw men knocked down, in one lazy paragraph of special pleading, weasel words and chop logic?

Brechtel19820 Oct 2018 2:19 a.m. PST

Really?

Have you even attempted to read the book? And Zamoyski is right on the money with his comments.

The problem appears to be that any and all sympathy, of any type, towards Napoleon is not tolerated by those who support the British 'cause' during the period, no matter how much accuracy or common sense is applied to that sympathy.

And it was four paragraphs, not one.

How is the author 'lazy'?


The book is very well-sourced and documented. Before making comments on the book itself and the author it might be best to at least attempt to read it.

Stoppage20 Oct 2018 3:31 a.m. PST

Rival national mythologies have added layers of prejudice which many find hard to overcome

Fair point.

At primary school we sang "Boney was a warrior" – was this indoctrination?

Brechtel19820 Oct 2018 3:48 a.m. PST

What is usually overlooked is that the belligerents were all expanding empires and that national objective lead to war between the European powers.

Brechtel19820 Oct 2018 3:50 a.m. PST

An oversized reading pile is a common problem in our hobby….


A more true statement has never been made on this forum.

Well done.

And that was the reason my wife and I added an actual library to our house in 2002…and the book pile just keeps getting larger by the day…

von Winterfeldt20 Oct 2018 4:02 a.m. PST

Napoleon was a great liar, his added layers of lies many find hard to overcome – a fair point indeed

rmcaras Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2018 6:23 a.m. PST

what "leader"/ government doesn't exists upon layers of lies?

von Winterfeldt20 Oct 2018 6:39 a.m. PST

yes indeed, Boney was a genius in that

42flanker20 Oct 2018 11:10 a.m. PST

We use to sing 'Marlbrouk s'en va-t-en guerre.' – despite the grotesque historical innaccuracies.

It was for the broader cultural value.

arthur181521 Oct 2018 12:32 a.m. PST

We used to sing 'Hearts of Oak' – happy Trafalgar Day, everyone!

42flanker21 Oct 2018 12:45 a.m. PST

'Rival national mythologies have added layers of prejudice which many find hard to overcome.'

A fine example of repressive British government propaganda
and national self-righteousness. The saintly surgeon Pitt thwarted by the Corsican Ogre:

link

'The plumb-pudding in danger: – or – state epicures taking un petit souper'
by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey
hand-coloured etching, published 26 February 1805.

seneffe21 Oct 2018 9:47 a.m. PST

I vaguely remember that in the 1970s when I was at school- we used to sing a song about Hitler. I can't recall all the lyrics, but there was something in it about the Albert Hall…..

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP21 Oct 2018 9:55 a.m. PST

Some of us were ten years earlier at school.

Goering has two, but very small, Himmler……. is somewhat similar..and Joseph Goebbels has none at all…

Rumour is that General Napoleone Buonparte was not as tall as he might have been…let alone any other dimensional challenges he might have suffered.

(Stress I am only kidding)

I do admit that I should have bought this when I saw it (esp when I have a gift token from my parents in law, to spend in Waterstones bookshop)

42flanker22 Oct 2018 12:38 p.m. PST

Dear Mr Zamoyski. May I call you 'Adam'? You don't know me but there's a couple of observations I should like to make regarding the introduction to your book, which someone shared with me recently. I have voiced some harsh sentiments and I feel it's only fair to explain myself a little

So, let's look at this.


'Until very recently, Anglo-Saxon historians have shown reluctance to allow an understanding of the spirit of the times to help them see Napoleon as anything other than an alien monster.

What does that mean? You know, exactly?

What is an ‘Anglo-Saxon historian', anyway ? I might be wrong but I believe ‘Anglo-Saxon' if it means anything is best used to describe either a historic language or the related archaeological period. If you mean ‘British,' Adam, why not say? Perhaps you means to include Americans of ‘Anglo Saxon' descent as well. Do you mean ALL ‘Anglo-Saxon historians'- whoever they might be? Presumably we must exclude the Irish. I am not sure the Scots would be happy to be included.


"Reluctance to allow an understanding of the times to help them see Napoleon as anything other than…."

Sorry. "Reluctance to allow a.." WHAT? Anglo Saxon historians (all of them, mind) are ‘reluctant' to consider the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte except from a modern perspective- is that right? I'd have thought that was preferable to being blinkered by the contemporary view of Napoleon as The Corsican Ogre, as I have heard bemoaned here and there? What other 'understanding of the times' can it be that these A-S's are denying themselves with their insistence on benefitting from the tools of modern scholarship?

You know, Adam, I might be being harsh, but this looks like mealy-mouthed balderdash to me, and barely English.

Moving on.

"Rival national mythologies have added layers of prejudice which many find hard to overcome."

Well, quite possibly. National mythologies can do that. Rather than generalise, though, why not give some examples for us to consider?

‘Many'- Many what; who? Have we moved beyond Anglo-Saxon historians now?


'Napoleon did not start the war that broke out in 1792 when he was a mere lieutenant and continued, with one brief interruption, until 1814.

Now, be fair Adam. Does any one really think he did?

Which side was responsible for the outbreak…

Well, I think you'll find it was Revolutionary France, Adam- unless we are talking about measles.

Which side was responsible for the outbreak and for the continuing hostilities is fruitlessly debatable, since responsibility cannot be laid squarely on one side or the other.

"Which side was…is…" I think you might be struggling a bit with those subordinate clauses there, Adam, but, anyway, that's what historians do, Adam. Debate responsiblity. Fruitlessly or otherwise. And not only Anglo-Saxon ones.

"The fighting cost lives, for which responsibility is often heaped on Napoleon, which is absurd, as all the belligerents must share the blame."

Well yes, regrettably, it did cost lives. Fighting can be like that, Adam, but who has been doing this heaping of responsibility? Is it those A-S historians again? Where should we direct our disapproval? But anyway, as the Duke would have said, there is responsibility enough for all. And there's a portion reserved just for Napoleon Bonaparte. How big a portion? Well, we can debate that.

'Absurd.' Now there's a useful word.

"And he was not as profligate with the lives of his own soldiers as some."

Once again, Adam, I really have to say, it would be illuminating if you suggested one or two names, you know, to illustrate your point.

"In the half-century before Napoleon came to power, a titanic struggle for dominion saw the British acquire Canada, large swaths of India, and a string of colonies and aspire to lay down the law at sea; Austria grab provinces in Italy and Poland; Prussia increase in size by two-thirds; and Russia push her frontier 600 kilometers into Europe and occupy large areas of Central Asia, Siberia, and Alaska, laying claims as far afield as California.


Ah, well, oof, starting to struggle here. Yes, Britain and France were locked in a struggle for control of areas of the Americas and India and the immense commercial wealth these offered. France lost that struggle.

Aquire- grab- increase- push- occupy- lay- Yes, all the powers were at it. Yet, touchingly, they were always striving for a balance of power. As for ‘aspiring to lay down the law at sea'- do we assume that, whatever you are alluding to, this was ‘a bad thing'? In which case, why not explain? We might be persuaded of your argument.


Yet George III, Maria-Theresa, Frederick William III, and Catherine II are not generally accused of being megalomaniac monsters and compulsive warmongers.

No. I have a feeling that is probably because they weren't.

But then, none of them were hyper-active autocrats holding the reins of military and civil power in a very firm grasp, marching round Europe at the head of large, frequently victorious armies for the best part of twenty years while indicating a fairly clear ambition to exert political and commercial control over western Europe.

Curious, that you leave out Frederick II of Prussia, who after all was quite a trouble-maker, although he did play the flute, which is hard not to like.

Rather than waste time with these strawman arguments, would it not be more profitable simply to present an objective consideration of the negative aspects of Napoleon Bonaparte's ambition – there must be a few- and refute them where appropriate (Perhaps not in your introduction, which, frankly, as it stands, is not your best bit of writing)?

'Napoleon is frequently condemned for his invasion of Egypt

- here let's skip quickly over a consideration as to whether that condemnation might have been justified, and move on to

-the British occupation which followed

Ah- except we both know, surely Adam, that there was no British occupation. The force was withdrawn leaving the local Turkish beys to fight for dominance ( Is it worth adding that the British high command did not abandon their troops).

He is regularly blamed for re-establishing slavery in Martinique-

Martinique and Guadaloupe and St Domingue as well. Or trying, at least. Not only repealing the previous decrees abolishing slavery (Liberté, Egalité… You know….) but attempting to RE-ENSLAVE, at immense cost in lives, both black and white. This was not a bureaucratic detail. Shall we skip over whether that was blameworthy at all?

- while Britain applied it in its colonies for a further thirty years, and every other colonial power for several decades after that.

Indeed. Britain did at least take the lead in ending the slave trade, but there is nothing good to be said about the plantations. Period. Does that make Napoleon Bonapartes' actions not blameworthy?

His use of police surveillance and censorship is also regularly reproved, even though every other state in Europe emulated him, with varying degrees of discretion or hypocrisy.

Really losing the will to live a bit, now.

What? I mean, "Emulated"? – What, until Napoleon used police surveillance and censorship, it had not occurred to other governments in Europe to do so? Is that what you mean? Well there's a fine example to follow. Perhaps you mean something else. But I need to lie down now, so you'll have to sort that one out yourself, Adam

There it is. I am sure I'll get round to reading the rest of your book one day- Napoleon, after all, is an interesting and important figure in European history- but you know, Adam, not just yet.

Brechtel19822 Oct 2018 1:36 p.m. PST

I have only one question. Have you read the book?

If not, I would suggest that your posting is both presumptuous and condescending to the author. If you have read the book, then please say so.

Paul Demet22 Oct 2018 10:25 p.m. PST

Brechtel – why must he have read the book to answer the question you posed in your in your opening post?

'Interesting comments and conclusions regarding Napoleon and the period in general, don't you think?'

You stated that you had not finished the book, but quoted the specific points which 42flanker has addressed, although probably not with the responses you wanted

Brechtel19823 Oct 2018 2:56 a.m. PST

I don't care what the answers are, but the way in which they were answered is what I was commenting on.

von Winterfeldt23 Oct 2018 5:18 a.m. PST

Until very recently, Anglo-Saxon historians have shown reluctance to allow an understanding of the spirit of the times to help them see Napoleon as anything other than an alien monster

some sun ray beamed Anglo – Saxon historians – Cronin – Roberts – Elting

I agree reading some non Anglo Saxon historians – like Coppens, Tulard or Presser – would do some benefit, but wait a minute they are not sun ray beamed – so Boney lovers please ignore.

23rdFusilier Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2018 5:48 a.m. PST

"Until very recently, Anglo-Saxon historians have shown reluctance to allow an understanding of the spirit of the times to help them see Napoleon as anything other than an alien monster. Rival national mythologies have added layers of prejudice which many find hard to overcome.'-xiv."

Ok, sounds like the author put his bias and prejudices up front for all to see. He came up with his topic and then went about cherry picking books/sources to agree with his interpretations. No thanks, I will pass on this one.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2018 6:06 a.m. PST

Until very recently, Anglo-Saxon historians have shown reluctance to allow an understanding of the spirit of the times to help them see Napoleon as anything other than an alien monster

Which historians is he thinking of, that thought of Napoleon as an "alien monster"?

Osterreicher23 Oct 2018 2:50 p.m. PST

Goering has two, but very small, Himmler……. is somewhat similar..and Joseph Goebbels has none at all…

Another version goes:
"Hitler has only got one ball,
the other is in the Albert Hall,
His mother,
the dirty Bleeped text,
took the other when he was still small."

"Goering has really got some gall,
he threatened to bomb the Albert Hall,
the Structure,
he did not rupture,
now he's lined up to take a great fall."

Brechtel19823 Oct 2018 2:51 p.m. PST

Which historians is he thinking of, that thought of Napoleon as an "alien monster"?

While not specifically using that term, both Corelli Barnett and Alan Schom definitely cast that type of light on Napoleon in their 'biographies.'


Both denigrate the Emperor and are riddled with inaccurate information.

von Winterfeldt23 Oct 2018 10:46 p.m. PST

"And he was not as profligate with the lives of his own soldiers as some."

really?
Isn't he the person who runs away when his soldiers are in deep deep trouble, Egypt or Russia 1812 comes to mind.

His use of police surveillance and censorship is also regularly reproved, even though every other state in Europe emulated him, with varying degrees of discretion or hypocrisy.

He gets a publisher executed – who isn't even a citizen of France.
He orders letters to be opened – even those of his trusted lieutenants – seemingly suffering a bit from paranoia.

He took over from a Republic and reestablished absolute monarchy, l'état c'est moi, fits him well.

I am not aware that other rulers ordered a town to be burned because two French actors were hissed at a theater play?

To Gen Lagrange, Governor of Cassel, Warsaw 13.01.07
…."The inhabitants of Hersfeld appear to be guilty. You will send a flying column of 4k men, and have the town thoroughly sacked, to punish the insult offered to the sixty men of my troops… The town of Wacht is guilty. Either it will give up the four principal authors of the revolt, or it must be burnt…..
Issue a proclamation… Indicate the men each town must give up on pain of being burnt….Visible traces must be left, to frighten the evil–intentioned in Germany. It was thus, by burning the big village of Binasco, that I kept Italy quiet, in the year IV. …"
To Marshal Berthier, Rambouillet, 7.9.07
"You must be sure to inform Marshal Soult, by special messenger, of the incident at Konigsberg, where two actors, appearing on the stage as French officers, were hissed by the audience. you will tell Marshal Soult that I have demanded satisfaction from the King of Prussia for this insult, and that I have required that the two chief culprits shall be shot….."
To M de Champagny, Min for Foreign Affairs. Rambouillet, 7.9.07
"… I shall refuse all evacuation until the two ringleaders have been shot…"
To M. Fouche, Min of Police Rambouillet, 7.9.07
" …..Give orders to have Mr. Kuhn, the American Consul at Genoa, put under arrest, for wearing a Cross of Malta given him by the English, and as being an English agent. His papers will be seized, and an abstract of them made, and he will be kept in secret confinement until you have made your report to me…."
" …to the effect that the nobility did not attend the ball given by M. Lamartiniere, Senator. (he asks for details and as to whether they were actually in Bordeaux at the time, since they might have been in the country.) If, on the contrary, any of these lordlings have ventured to fail in the respect due to the Senator, it will be well for me to know the fuglemen, so that the police may remove them from Bordeaux."
To M. Fouche, Min of Police Bayonne 25.4.08
"The Journal de l'Empire still goes on badly…..If he does not change his ways, I shall change the editor…Mons Etienne is the cause of the present agitation in France, about Roman affairs. Pray have all the old editors, who are so hot against the present Administration, turned away. … I had also forbidden the newspapers to refer to priests, sermons, or religion…"
To M. Fouche, min of Police Bayonne 11.7.08
"Have young St Aignan placed in the military school at St Cyr. You will let him know that it is my will. You will also let him know that I do not intend him to marry, till he has fought two campaigns. You will have him taken there bodily…"
<q/>

42flanker24 Oct 2018 2:03 a.m. PST

Which historians is he thinking of, that thought of Napoleon as an "alien monster"?

While not specifically using that term, both Corelli Barnett and Alan Schom definitely cast that type of light on Napoleon in their 'biographies.'


Both denigrate the Emperor and are riddled with inaccurate information.,

"I wonder if Adam Zamoyski obtained his information from Corelli Barnett and Allan Schom…?

"…I haven't seen someone make as many errors in fact in so short an amount of time since grad school. I will, however, buy his new book on Napoleon just to see how many errors he does put in writing and what his source material is.

"..I watched the presentation once again and counted at least nineteen errors Zamoyski made. I have no doubt that he used Brienne, de Stael, and a few other unreliable and inaccurate memoirs…"

q. Kevin Kiley

link

"Andrew Roberts had command of his subject where, in my opinion, Adam Zamoyski did not and in the latters opening statement made at least nineteen errors in fact regarding Napoleon. It seemed to me that there was too much Bourrienne, Schom, and Corelli Barnett."
q. 'Brechtel'
TMP link

Brechtel19824 Oct 2018 2:24 a.m. PST

It seems so far that Adam Zamoyski's book is much better than the presentation referred to in the above posting. There are still errors that I have found, such as his comments on artillery in particular and weapons in general, but I was surprised to see what he had written regarding the excerpts that I quoted and posted. He did make the inaccurate statement that Napoleon was no strategist, which ignores the strategic decisions Napoleon made from 1800-1809.

He does list Bourrienne and some other dubious sources in his large bibliography, but he also comments on them in his narrative:

'…I have concentrated on verifiable primary sources, treating with caution the memoirs of those such as Bourrienne, Fouche, Barras, and others who wrote principally to justify themselves or to tailor their own imange, and have avoided using as evidence those of the duchesse d'Abrantes, which were written years after the events by her lover, the novelist Balzac…'


Overall so far, it is an interesting book and it appears that the author has made an honest attempt to be accurate as well as fair.

Brechtel19824 Oct 2018 2:27 a.m. PST

Isn't he the person who runs away when his soldiers are in deep deep trouble, Egypt or Russia 1812 comes to mind.

A sweeping statement that can be shown, and has been repeatedly on the forums, to be inaccurate and ignorant of the facts of both situations.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2018 4:32 a.m. PST

I haven't read Schom, but Barnett definitely does not call, create an image, or imply that Napoleon was an 'alien monster'. It is clear rather that Barnett considers Napoleon an unprincipled ambitious over-rated chancer

Kiley's claims that it is riddled with errors can be safely ignored: they have been examined previously and found to be merely areas where Kiley disagreed with Barnett's interpretations.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2018 5:42 a.m. PST

Would most of agree that he was thoroughly unpleasant character? I mean Napoleon I, not Adam Z I hasten to add.

Without ever meeting him personally, he does not strike me as the most self-effacing, even tempered, considerate and caring sort. Not one I would chose as a companion.

None of these things make him a monster however, indeed the same terms could be applied to DoW, Monty, Patton etc. On the contrary, they are the characteristics that seem to define the successful general (debatable for at least one on my list, I concede.)

Brechtel19824 Oct 2018 8:56 a.m. PST

Kiley's claims that it is riddled with errors can be safely ignored: they have been examined previously and found to be merely areas where Kiley disagreed with Barnett's interpretations.

It is interesting where different interpretations of the same book can be found. That is a result of different points of view of the subject to hand.

I disagreed with Barnett's diatribe because his comments were inaccurate and not based on credible source material, but on his opinions, biased as they were.

Brechtel19824 Oct 2018 2:43 p.m. PST

…Barnett definitely does not call, create an image, or imply that Napoleon was an 'alien monster'. It is clear rather that Barnett considers Napoleon an unprincipled ambitious over-rated chancer

And the difference between the two is…?

seneffe24 Oct 2018 3:04 p.m. PST

v Winterfeldt- is that actually correspondence from Napoleon? Evidently it's been referenced before but I don't ever recall seeing it.

von Winterfeldt24 Oct 2018 10:25 p.m. PST

I copied and pasted it from a contribution on napoleon-series.org quite a while ago, from Susan Howard, it is timeless and shows quite evidently the train of thoughts of a dictator whose only methods to deal with even the slightest offense against his sense of honor with brute force.

New Letters of Napoleon I (omitted from the Napoleon 3 edition) Trans Lady Mary Lloyd, London 1898.
This is a one vol selection from Lecestre's 2 vol collection.

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2018 1:00 a.m. PST

New Letters of Napoleon I here: link

42flanker25 Oct 2018 3:31 a.m. PST

Most illuminating.

The essence of micro-management:

XXVII

TO GENERAL SOULT, COMMANDING THE CAMP

AT ST. OMER.

La Malmaison,
(13th February 1804. )

Have the crew and gear of the fishing-boat which com-
municated with the English seized at once. I reproach
myself with having neglected to have this done sooner.
Make the skipper speak, and I even give you authority to
promise him his pardon if he gives information ; and if he
should seem to hesitate, you can go so far as to follow the
custom as to men suspected of being spies, and squeeze his
thumbs in the hammer of a musket.

von Winterfeldt25 Oct 2018 4:48 a.m. PST

Indeed, according to Boney lovers – he abolished torture, well, squeezing a thumb in the hammer of a musket – seemingly this isn't one.

no wonder those written evidence was omitted in the original correspondence, keep up the Boney cult.

von Winterfeldt26 Oct 2018 11:02 p.m. PST

interesting interview – thanks to Marc Moerman on Napoleon-series.org

An interview of Zamoyski himself for a Flemish paper, written in Dutch, about his latest book, interview that I translated from Dutch to English

"Napoleon did not understand Tsar Alexander. He did not understand dum people, they can be very stubborn '

Napoleon was like a child in a sandbox "
"We can all make a mess of it, but we can not all become Napoleon." Adam Zamoyski emphasizes in his biography the rise of the Corsican.

Three years ago, on the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo, you could pave the way to Austerlitz with the new Napoleon books. The deluge is somewhat matted, but still the man keeps inspiring and fascinating historians.

The appearance of the Napoleon biography of Adam Zamoyski (69) is symbolic. Too late? Not at all.
Zamoyski, a Polish-British American, wrote acclaimed books about, for example, Chopin, Poland, the regime of fear after the French Revolution, the year 1812 and the Congress of Vienna. That he would also venture to a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte was written in the stars. That he would not talk about his military exploits, or not in particular, too. His book is an epitome of elegance, nuance and, despite the nearly 800 pages, tempo.

I meet Adam Zamoyski in the stylish castle of Bois-Seigneur-Isaac in Ophain, on a cannon shot from Waterloo. Host Baron Bernard Snoy is a friend of Zamoyski, old nobility among themselves. Count Zamoyski lives in London but regularly moves to his estate in Poland. Bernard Snoy had an impressive career in the World Bank, the OSCE and the European Union. His father, Jean-Charles Snoy et d'Oppuers, signed the Treaty of Rome on behalf of Belgium in 1957. The European idea is in the wallpaper of these stately rooms. They are Adam Zamoyski – tight in the sharp cut suit – as cast;

With your curriculum it is not entirely surprising, but still, in the name of God, a biography about Napoleon?

'When I read some of the latest biographies, I understood that a new one was needed. Most people still can not just look at the man as a man. Somewhere in their head the image of him plays as either a genius or a despot. Many biographers have been brought up in a particular national history and have difficulty in rejecting what they have learned as a child. The French do not touch the trauma, the British find it impossible to get rid of the myth that they were, as in 1940, only to save Europe. When I was in elementary school in London, Napoleon was compared to Hitler, which is completely absurd. At the summer school with my French cousins ​​I heard the opposite. I was fortunate to grow up in different parts of the world and feel perfectly at ease in the middle. '

The American version of your book is called "Napoleon. A life '. That is very understated, isnt'it?

Many wrote about the military exploits, but the more I read about it, the more impossible I found it to understand it all. It was also very complicated and confusing for the soldiers. They hardly knew what they were doing themselves. I did not want to talk about that. However, I was interested in how the small offspring of the unsightly Buonaparte family, with its talents and faults, originating from the stinking Corsican fishing town of Ajaccio, became the myth named Napoleon. '

"You can look at him carefully on the basis of his own letters and writings. From the age of 10, when he was in the military school, he began to make notes in the books he read. They show his intellectual and emotional development and also show that he did not always understand the book well. I wanted to limit myself to those immovable sources and to reliable testimonies of his time, and not to write down from memory or hearing fifty years later. With all that material it is not so difficult to get close to the man. For example, who else wrote so honestly about his first, failed sexual experience? That piece of text tells so much about the man and his complexes. '

"His father wanted to climb the social ladder at all costs. He sent his sons to the mainland to work on their careers there, but he died early and Napoleon never knew him. There was no father figure, but an almost fearfully strict and strong mother. In France he ended up in a military school and his complexes were reinforced, his figure, his southern skin, his Corsican accent. He was laughed at because he would be a bastard. He had no idea how to behave and then became arrogant. "

"He lacked empathy, was manipulative and self-centered. At the same time he was very smart and he could solve problems quickly, but he did not have a long-term vision. If you put that against the characteristics of a psychopath, you clearly see similarities. He had a few close friends, men he had met at the officers 'school, but no one ever said to him: "Stop it, Napoleon, you're ridiculing yourself."'

His closest comrades died one by one on the battlefield.
"Even then. Nobody went against him. He always tried to distance himself from himself and the others. He was a complicated young man. No genius, but a quick thinker. It frustrated him when he saw stupid people doing stupid things. That's how it all started. He saw an officer take a wrong decision and he intervened because he knew better. That drove him forward and in this way he received constant promotion. '

"Just as he stood at the start of his military career, the revolution broke out, which he welcomed, as most intelligent people did. He was already a republican before, he found the royal system inefficient and unpragmatic and he was a practical man. But the revolution turned into a frightening system of dog eat dog. Under Robespierre everyone tried to save his own skin. At the same time people were afraid of who was too smart. He found himself in a situation where he had to think about self-protection and therefore he had to be ruthless. In such a situation you have to quickly reject your young ideals and become practical or even cynical. He had gone to politics in Corsica during the revolution and everybody was deceived by everyone. On his birth island he was a small Mafioso and intrigant; even before he was twenty-five, he had already deceived, lied, falsified and bribed. '

'In the Italian campaign, his first achievement, he was given the command of an army. Because he was smart and had read history, he knew that France would not have peace in the south if the Austrians were not reduced. He was successful and pumped as a master in propaganda who succeeded. His bosses in the Directorate helped to sell that image, because France needed successes. Until they realized that they had created a monster that they could not cage. "

And so events pushed him forward.
"Yes, suddenly he got the keys to the land. Napoleon had all the power and he could do what he wanted. He had a vision of how a country should be governed and how society should be organized. He was like a child in a sandbox. But at that moment all his uncertainties – social, sexual, intellectual – strengthened again to the surface. While on the other side of the Channel the British helped to create the monster. The British press wrote, often paid by the government, that Napoleon was not a real Frenchman, perhaps even of North African descent, that he slept with his sisters, that he kept orgies, that his wife was a Bleeped text, that he was stepdaughter did … That was, for the bourgeois moral preacher he was, his sore spot. The British government also paid the assassinations, which did not help Napoleon to be happy and calm. I have never quite understood why he crowned himself Emperor in 1804, because from then on it went downhill, but he wanted to secure his inheritance and anchor his achievements. "

And then everything turned.
"He was pushed from one side to the other, like on a surfboard. He was an excellent surfer, but the waves were too big for him and he had to keep surfing because otherwise he drowned. From his emperorship and the Third Coalition he had to take up arms. He won all big strokes, Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena. He was thousands of miles from Paris and defeated everything and everyone. The emperor of the Holy Roman Empire begged for mercy, the tsar of Russia fled for him. '

"Suddenly he was the master of Europe. How should this man know what to do? 1807 is the crucial year. He went to negotiate with Tsar Alexander, while that was the moment to summon a congress in Erfurt or wherever, as a victor, and say, "Let's come up with something intelligent for the future of Europe." '

Let us think of the European Union?
"(Laughs) For example, yes. But instead he began to palate with Alexander. Strange, he thought the idea of ​​talking to the tsar was sexy – you saw something similar with Roosevelt who at the end of the Second World War was stalking with Stalin in Yalta. In any case, with the peace of Tilsit, Napoleon reaches the turning point, from then on everything goes wrong, which could go wrong. On the one hand you had a leader, Napoleon, with all the features of a psychopath, with whom you could not make an appointment. And on the other hand, you had a state, Russia, with all the features of a psychopath, who lacks empathy and is egocentric, offensive and manipulative under every regime and under every ruler. Impossible that the two would reach an entente.

"Napoleon could have saved it. In 1807 almost all of Europe saw him as a demigod, many leaders were impressed. His behavior was never exemplary, but he was not as arrogant and unpleasant as later. Then there was the magic of the young warrior with that extraordinary energy and that idealism, which would weaken with aging. "

Napoleon was captivated by the so-called rediscovered epic of the Celtic poet Ossian. Why that fascination?
"He was very sentimental and Ossian was a big hype. I do not believe that Napoleon accepted that it was an invention. He was good at the suspension or disbelief. Because he himself was a great liar, he easily went along with someone else's lie. "

"Napoleon and his contemporaries grew up in a world where everyone went to church every day. But in the meantime they had gone to school, were able to read and write and were skeptical about Christianity. At the same time there was a classicist revival with vague pseudo-religious notions and lived the idea of ​​human fulfillment, not by going to heaven, but by pursuing glory in this life. '

"Corsica was a strange place that had never been poured into a full political or social structure. Still not, by the way. It was Catholic, but the population held on to pagan or even Roman rituals. There was, as always, an idea of ​​"destiny". Napoleon and his comrades were young and heroic; they had swagger. They wanted to create a new world. Forget about Jesus, this is year 1 of the new era. They were convinced that they were doing something extraordinary. Compare it to the energy in Great Britain in the 60s. They were unstoppable. Until they stopped themselves, when they married, became rich, settled in big houses and suddenly had to lose everything. The whole company lost direction. "

Let's do something about history. What if Napoleon had not been drawn to Moscow?
"It did not matter much anymore. Napoleon maneuvered into such a position that he either had to invade Russia or feed his huge army in Poland. He had no plan b. Napoleon did not understand the tsar. He did not understand weak people, they can be very stubborn. "

Another one. What if his brothers had been more competent?
"They were not that abominable. Napoleon gave them no room. Joseph modernized Naples and was loved there. Spain was a failed state, otherwise he would have had a chance of success, but Napoleon interfered with everything. Louis Napoleon was a capable king of Holland and without the continental blockade it would not have been impossible for one of his descendants to still sit on the throne. And even the fat Jérôme, if only he had done a little less ridiculous, would have been an acceptable king of Westphalia. Lucien Bonaparte? He was too smart to want to be king somewhere. "

In your book, the chapter about the 100-day campaign, from Elba to Waterloo, is very short.
'If you look at the chronology, my book is out of balance, yes. I had the greatest attention for the period up to 1807, after that everything went much faster. That is not because I got bored or tired – now, maybe a bit tired – but the most interesting thing is the source, how things start. '

'How such a powerful man made such an inventory, of course, had to be told, but in a way it is evident, less interesting. Admit it, we can all make a mess of it, but we can not all become Napoleon. "

"The 100 days were tragic and it was a monstrous mistake by the European powers. Napoleon was tired and bored and he just started to enjoy Elba. If they had given him some money and let his wife and child come to him, he would have stayed on Elba and become what he always wanted to be in Corsica: a small ruler of a small island. The tens of thousands of deaths could have been avoided if the European powers had been more intelligent. "

Best regards

Marc

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2018 2:03 a.m. PST

Are we any nearer to finding an historian that has called Napoleon an 'alien monster', or similar?

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2018 4:24 a.m. PST

Got my signed copy in the end, today. Sorry to read the Hundred Days coverage is very brief, but I can see his point in that interview above. Many thanks for posting that…..

dibble Supporting Member of TMP27 Oct 2018 2:04 p.m. PST

Yet another author who thinks 'with no evidence' that the British paid to have him executed. "The British government also paid the assassinations," Any chance of pointing to the evidence you have found Mr Zamoyski?

And seeing as Britain was at war with Nappy, how would you expect the British press and government to portray him? How was the Belgian baby spit-roasting Kaiser portrayed?

These new lefty, historian romantics really get a cob on when they jot about some off-shore, nepotistic, Italo-French, 'Corso, bandito a sangue' tyrant.

Paul :)

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