Don’t be fooled by the title of David Markham’s new book, Napoleon for Dummies: it’s not just for novices,
but contains a wealth of information and also some fascinating opinions by one of America’s most enthusiastic and
knowledgeable Napoleonic scholars.
I read this remarkable book, dense with information, straight through,
but it is also organized as a reference book, with a fine index and strong graphics.
Chapter headings are followed by a couple of phrases constituting
a mini-outline of the chapter, and numerous sub-heads in an enormous font
make it easy to find a battle or other event you might be searching for.
But Mr. Markham doesn’t just describe, there’s often analysis, the European
context, why a particular deed was important, and sometimes other people’s
I delighted in the very personal nature of the book: even the
illustrations are entirely from Mr. Markham’s own collection of engravings
and other objets d’art. His
down-to-earth, even folksy writing style, peppered with humorous remarks,
lightens the reader’s task of following Napoleon’s amazing life: his
love life and friendships, the Napoleonic Code and other reforms, his
exiles, and the details of the many battles - Markham’s true strength.
Chapter 24, “Ten Interesting Battlefields to Visit,” is loaded
with good touring information, and reveals the extensive nature of the
author’s travels, and his proclivity for visiting antique shops along the
way. One of his asides on
Napoleon in Italy, which I appreciated as an art lover, gives a rave review
to a museum in Milan, the Museo de la Risorgimento, and ends emphatically
“you have another excellent excuse to lobby for that Italian vacation
you’ve always wanted!”
The book ends with a timeline, a map of the campaigns, and lists of
useful websites on Napoleonic history including Napoleonic Societies one can
join, in which Mr. Markham figures largely. Though the book lacks footnotes
(references are woven right into the text) and a true bibliography, there is
a chapter with several recommended books.
Markham is mostly positive on Napoleon, but perhaps his most
fascinating chapter is “Ten Pieces of Advice for Napoleon” where he
gives his opinion of Napoleon’s mistakes…such as declaring himself
emperor, thus undoing the progressive reforms since the Revolution, and
This book is a treasure trove of Napoleonic information, and explaining the
complex exploits of the great leader in such an enjoyable and clear format
is a truly remarkable achievement!
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