On the morning of the battle of Waterloo, the Emperor Napoleon declared that the Duke of Wellington was a bad general, the British were bad soldiers and that France could not fail to win an easy victory. Forever afterwards historians have accused him of gross overconfidence, and massively underestimating the calibre of the British commander opposed to him. Andrew Roberts presents an original, highly revisionist view of the relationship between the two greatest captains of their age. Napoleon, who was born in the same year as Wellington - 1769 - fought Wellington by proxy years earlier in the Peninsula War, praising his ruthlessness in private while publicly deriding him as a mere 'sepoy general'. In contrast, Wellington publicly lauded Napoleon, saying that his presence on a battlefield was worth forty thousand men, but privately wrote long memoranda lambasting Napoleon's campaigning techniques. Although Wellington saved Napoleon from execution after Waterloo, Napoleon left money in his will to the man who had tried to assassinate Wellington. Wellington in turn amassed a series of Napoleonic trophies of his great victory, even sleeping with two of the Emperor's mistresses.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson History
Publisher and industry reviews
"Roberts has set himself a massively challenging task and emerged triumphant." Guardian "genuinely revealing" Sunday Times "Stripping his protagonists of mythic accretions, Roberts describes their trajectories with impressive verve." Independent "As well as being intelligent and opinionated, Roberts is a pleasure to read." Daily Telegraph "So many books have been written about Napoleon that it takes something special to justify a new one. Andrew Roberts triumphantly fulfils that obligation... This is an enthralling narrative, full of original insights and bold historical interpretations." Mail on Sunday "A remarkably readable book that serves as an excellent introduction to a key moment in European history, while still offering new insights to the specialist." The Times
UK Kirkus review
Andrew Roberts, prize-winning political biographer, freely admits it's difficult to find a new angle on Napoleon and Wellington, but he does so brilliantly here, setting up the two military giants as having parallel lives. The success of the book depends on how convincing one finds the conceit of presenting the two men almost as if characters in a novel. Born in the same year, 1769, they came to share both family and lovers, though tenuously, and met head-to-head only once, on the battlefield at Waterloo. Wellington, the Anglo-Irish toff, grew up with music. Then in January 1793, France executed Louis XVI and declared its egalitarian principles universal. England disagreed. Wellington evidently did too; he burned his violin. As Roberts puts it, 'he could have given it away to a friend or relegated it to a cupboard.' The message was obvious, and Wellington was soon fighting abroad, devoting his life to practicalities and battle urgencies, deciding to 'roam while his fiddle burned' (a typical witticism of the kind of which Roberts is a little over-fond). Napoleon, meanwhile, of Italian extraction and driven partly by a sense of racial inferiority, styled himself as the embodiment of Revolution, pursued Romantic ideals and analysed literature, studying Rousseau and even MacPherson's fake epic of Ossian. Roberts is interested in what the two men thought of each other, and finds contradictions and complexities. Napoleon famously underestimated Wellington - the 'sepoy general' - on the morning of Waterloo and lost because of his overconfidence (it would, Roberts freely translates, 'be a picnic'). Wellington meanwhile over-celebrated Napoleon's ruthlessness and held him to be worth 40,000 men on the battlefield. But Wellington also wrote private screeds denouncing Napoleon's tactics, whilst Napoleon realized that Wellington was the only general in Europe as ruthless and unafraid as himself. Roberts sees Napoleon as the ultimate victor, regardless of his battle defeat and exile. Europe is now united, with its base just down the road from Waterloo, and regulated by a French-dominated bureaucracy. Wellington, the old aristocrat, seems a mere relic of outdated beliefs. Roberts's strategy of dwelling on character rivalry, weaving in anecdote and descriptive battle sequences whilst remaining academically rigorous, will bring new interest to a tired subject. And his writing style - lively, witty, sardonic - will draw yet more readers into the ever-growing market for popular history. (Kirkus UK)
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