A Life

Written by:

  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9780670025329
  • 976 Pages
  • Viking
  • Adult


The definitive biography of the great soldier-statesman by the New York Times bestselling author of The Storm of War—winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography and the Grand Prix of the Fondation Napoleon 


Austerlitz, Borodino, Waterloo: his battles are among the greatest in history, but Napoleon Bonaparte was far more than a military genius and astute leader of men. Like George Washington and his own hero Julius Caesar, he was one of the greatest soldier-statesmen of all times.

Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation. At last we see him as he was: protean multitasker, decisive, surprisingly willing to forgive his enemies and his errant wife Josephine. Like Churchill, he understood the strategic importance of telling his own story, and his memoirs, dictated from exile on St. Helena, became the single bestselling book of the nineteenth century.

An award-winning historian, Roberts traveled to fifty-three of Napoleon’s sixty battle sites, discovered crucial new documents in archives, and even made the long trip by boat to St. Helena. He is as acute in his understanding of politics as he is of military history. Here at last is a biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.



Written by: Andrew Roberts


“An epically scaled new biography . . . Roberts brilliantly conveys the sheer energy and presence of Napoleon.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Roberts is a masterly storyteller. . . . I would recommend his book to anyone seeking an accessible chronicle, rich in anecdote, of Napoleon’s fantastic story.”
—Max Hastings, The Wall Street Journal

“With his customary flair and keen historical eye, Andrew Roberts has delivered the goods again. This is the best single one-volume biography of Napoleon in English for the last four decades. A tour de force that belongs on every history lovers bookshelf!”
—Jay Winik, bestselling author of The Great Upheaval and April 1865

“Is another long life of Napoleon really necessary? On three counts, the answer given by Andrew Roberts’s impressive book is an emphatic yes. The most important is that this is the first single-volume general biography to make full use of the treasure trove of Napoleon’s 33,000-odd letters, which began being published in Paris only in 2004. Second, Roberts, who has previously written on Napoleon and Wellington, is a masterly analyst of the French emperor’s many battles. Third, his book is beautifully written and a pleasure to read.”
—The Economist

“Napoleon remade France and much of Europe in his fifteen years in power and proved himself one of history’s greatest military commanders. Roberts’s access to Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, only recently available, allowed him to create a fully human portrait of this larger-than-life figure.”
The Wall Street Journal, Holiday Gift Guide: Leadership

“A huge, rich, deep, witty, humane and unapologetically admiring biography that is a pleasure to read. The Napoleon painted here is a whirlwind of a man—not only a vigorous and supremely confident commander, but an astonishingly busy governor, correspondent and lover, too. . . . To dive into Roberts’s new book is to understand—indeed, to feel—why this peculiarly brilliant Corsican managed for so long to dazzle the world.”
—Dan Jones, The Telegraph

“Entertaining, even addictive . . . Roberts writes with great vigor, style, and fluency.”
Sunday Times (London)

“Magnificent . . . Roberts’s fine book encompasses all the evidence to give a brilliant portrait of the man. The book, as it needs to be, is massive, yet the pace is brisk and it’s never overwhelmed by the scholarly research, which was plainly immense.”
Mail on Sunday

“Truly a Napoleonic triumph of a book, elegantly written, epic in scale, novelistic in detail, irresistibly galloping with the momentum of a cavalry charge, as comfortable on the battlefield as in the bedroom. Here, at last, is the full biography.”
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard, Books of the Year

“Roberts not only brings the Napoleon story up to date but, with new evidence from the archives and an original spin on the present, makes a compelling case for why we should all read anew about the little Corsican in the 21st century.”
The Observer (London)

“Magisterial and beautifully written . . . A richly detailed and sure-footed reappraisal of the man, his achievements—and failures—and the extraordinary times in which he lived.”

“A definitive account that dispels many of the myths that surrounded Napoleon from his lifetime to the present day.”
—Publishers Weekly

“A compelling biography of the preeminent French general that stands apart from the rest, owing to the author’s thoroughness, accuracy, and attention to detail. Roberts relies on his military expertise, Napoleon’s surviving correspondence (33,000 items in all), and exhaustive on-site studies of French battlegrounds. . . . This voluminous work is likely to set the standard for subsequent accounts.”
—Library Journal (starred review)


Dear Reader Letter

Dear Reader,

Although there have been more books written with Napoleon in the title than there have been days since his death, it’s surprising how few one-volume English language biographies of him have managed to get all four parts of him—the soldier, the personality, the politician and the master of Europe—quite right. The publication by the Fondation Napoléon in Paris from 2004 to the present day of the 33,000 letters that he signed in his lifetime allows biographers to see the Emperor in all four of these facets for the first time. We can now fully discern how he multi-tasked to a quite extraordinary degree, and managed to compartmentalize his extraordinary mind.

Modern English-language biographies of Napoleon have tended to be written through the prism of the Second World War, which was the formative influence on many of the historians writing them, and have tended to portray this great Enlightenment autocrat as a proto-Hitler. Born 18 years after the end of that War, I have no such defracting prism, and I believe I can see him much more objectively, as a ruthless man, certainly, but also one who was also a great creator and builder. Other biographers have also tended to use amateur psychology to explain him, accusing him of suffering from any number of weird disorders, even including an Oedipal complex! For myself, I don’t even think he had a Napoleon Complex, and I don’t believe his story should seen through the all too convenient lens of ancient Greek drama, of hubris leading to nemesis.

In his personal life, Napoleon’s relationship with his first wife, Josephine, and his second wife, Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, were certainly not the Romeo & Juliet love stories they’ve been made out to be, but were something much more human, complicated and therefore more interesting. My book attempts to put the subtlety back into the most adventurous life story of modern history, in the human, political, military and geo-strategic spheres, and to tell the story of the man Sir Winston Churchill called “the greatest man of action to be seen in Europe since Julius Caesar.”

-Andrew Roberts



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