In 1814 Napoleon's situation seemed lost for good. A king was back on the throne of France, and his personal fortune was at such a low that he attempted suicide - saved from death by the fact that the poisons he took had been weakened in effect. On 28 April of that year he left for Elba on board HMS Inconstant. That, thought Europe, is the end of that: the military genius was gone, and the nations he had conquered could settle back into what became complaisance and self-contentedness.
- Paul Britten Austin
This halcyon moment was to be ended rather quickly however, for on 26 February 1815 Napoleon set sail from Elba to make his return to the main stage. This was the beginning of the campaign which ultimately led to the battle of Waterloo and his final defeat.
This book is an account of the period from his landing in Antibes to his triumphant arrival in Paris just twenty days later. The book recounts the progress towards Paris by quoting contemporary records - personal diaries are very significant in the account - and shows how his small force managed to journey through the mountains and bad weather until they crossed the Paris.
The author stresses throughout that the return of "The Man" was a success for a number of reasons. The Bourbon king was not popular and his appointments equally questionable; much of the army remembered past glories and compared that with their half-pay and reduced status; above all the peasants were not happy and Napoleon advanced trailing the glories of French military conquest behind him.
This is an enthralling book, and it's method - many, many quotations and good, concise linking text - works, even though at first sight it is a departure from normal historical presentation. It is the quotes that stand out, and the fact that they do so is due to the author's research and his ability of link his quotes with the historical chronology.
The only criticism is that despite some good footnotes, the author fails to ascribe the quotations to source; often one comes across a good quote without knowledge of where it comes from, but in view of the value of the book to the pre-history of Waterloo it is a minor, academic, criticism.
For any student of Napoleon and especially the charismatic leader this book is a must have.