Napoleon’s Paris

Napoleon’s Paris

David Buttery
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
Review by Onetenner

I’d like to start by saying this book was an absolute pleasure to read, it’s written authoritatively, with enthusiasm and an easy pace to follow. To my mind, a lot of books of this ilk can be too stilted and dry, this has a good flow and the author’s clear enthusiasm shines through.

All of that may sound a bit odd for a Guide Book – in reality, it’s much more. There is a very comprehensive guide to the important (and some less so) sites of the era, for me, the value of the book is the telling of the oft-forgotten side to Napoleon Bonaparte - this isn’t some sort of revisionist history telling, trying to re-balance the ‘History is written by the victors’ stance of the historical narratives taught to children in the last century, in my view, it puts meat on the bones of the French Empire, how it came to be after the Revolution and why the French view it as one of their greatest periods in history. The book covers a relatively short period – just sixteen years, so much happened in Europe in that time it feels like it should have taken longer!

Let me explain…

The book itself is a heavyweight – two hundred- and forty-eight-pages including a thorough index and bibliography, approximately A5 sized but printed on paper that you’d expect to be used for a coffee table photo book which gives it a pleasing density and emphasises its contents. There are many well framed recent photos, maps and plates from the period interspersed throughout the text in ten chapters, all of them have their own ‘hidden gems’ within.

Chapter One covers the life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte – or more correctly Napoleone Buonaparte, a descendent of a minor Italian nobility family that settled on Corsica in 1529. It goes on to describe his early life and military training at the Ecole Militare in Paris where he qualified as a Second Lieutenant and got a commission in the La Fere Regiment in Valence. The point is also made that although it was the French Revolution that broke the bonds on the French people, it was Napoleon that conferred the rights they gained into law.

Chapter Two sets out the Grand plan for France and Paris, it also examines the depth of involvement Napoleon had with the details on the ground – some of which was from afar as there was an empire to conquer! I won’t go over every chapter, suffice to say, this book is published by Pen and Sword Military, as such there is plenty to keep those with an interest in the Napoleonic wars turning the pages. Of all the book, I’d have to say that chapter five – The Battle of Paris, was the one I learned the most from, the artillery in the graveyard and the treachery from those Napoleon trusted to keep Paris safe are some of the details I was previously unaware of.

The chapters that may be considered more traditional for a guide book have a level of detail and historical background that is unexpected in its completeness, although written pre-Covid, there are opening times, restrictions, phone numbers and web addresses along with maps and suggested routes that would make visiting these sites far easier and more complete than the traditional hotel supplied tourist map, for example, it’s possible to visit the top of the Arc de Triomphe and, although it is still a working military school, the Ecole Militaire can be visited on certain days. The location of monuments, graves and tombs of interest is also included along with a good history of Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Chapter Ten is more of a ‘how to’ for visiting Paris, including travel, hotels, safety etc. Clearly, things have changed since the book was written and a potential visitor will have different challenges to consider to those listed – the same can be said for the opening times for some of the buildings and museums mentioned in the book.

For anyone interested in the history of the period, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book, equally, for anyone who has little knowledge of this period – as the author says in the introduction, “it is always dangerous to assume knowledge so this book is designed to cater for various levels of interest in Napoleon”. – give it a read, I think you’ll be richer for it – if nothing else, there’s lots of ‘pub quiz’, or more likely these days ‘Zoom quiz’ winning material hidden within.

I visited Paris as a child, this book has given me the enthusiasm to go there again, this time with a much better depth of knowledge. It has also given me an appetite to search out more works by the author, I was aware of him previously but somehow never read any of his books, given my Father’s interest in the period he covers – I’m not sure why!

Highly recommended 5/5


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