In This Review

Napoleon
Napoleon
By Paul Johnson
Viking, 2002, 190 pp

Johnson sees Napoleon as a ruthless opportunist whose career convincingly demonstrates that the individual -- rather than structures, economics, or geography -- determines the course of history. Numerous Napoleon biographies already exist, and this one was written more to give a concise assessment of the man than to provide new information or radically new interpretations. But Johnson does provide useful insights into the life of the Corsican. Most important, Napoleon's inventions -- "the deification of force and war, the all-powerful centralized state, the use of cultural propaganda to apotheosize the autocrat, the marshaling of entire peoples in the pursuit of personal and ideological power" -- foreshadowed some of the horrors of the twentieth century. The book also leaves the twenty-first-century reader wondering how a power-hungry dictator, looter, and philanderer managed to become the modern-day object of romantic admiration whose magnificent tomb still attracts so many visitors to the Invalides.