This book does not purport to be a definitive biography of Napoleon.
Indeed I wonder if such a thing is possible, short of a multi-volume life
along the lines of Martin Gilbert's lifetime work on Churchill, and even
then there must be doubts whether any one individual could fully master
all the sources dealing with the multitudinous aspects of such a complex
life. As the great French scholar Frederic Masson found, after spending a
lifetime studying the Emperor, Napoleon becomes more elusive and more
enigmatic the more one knows about him. I have therefore set myself the
modest task of attempting a clear synthesis of our existing knowledge of
this extraordinary colossus who convulsed the world for two decades.
Regrettably, I have decided that I cannot afford the luxury (self
indulgence?) of detailed footnotes and citations. In the case of Napoleon,
in order to sustain a single proposition one would have to cite the
conflicting evidence available sometimes from more than a dozen sources.
Apart from the fact that this volume, which is already long enough,
would have to double in size to accommodate the critical apparatus, I am
not sure the reader is really interested in the agonizing that goes on before
a historian makes his or her Thucydidean judgement on what is likely to
have been the truth about a particular incident. I have therefore
contented myself with a summary of 'indicative reading'.
My debt to the work of the great French scholars, especially Masson
and Jean Tulard, will be evident. Among English students of the
Emperor I would single out for special mention the seminal work by
David Chandler on Napoleon as military commander. My thanks are due
to a number of individuals who played a part in this book. Will Sulkin,
Euan Cameron and Tony Whittome at Cape gave particular support,
while to the generosity of Patrick Garland and Alexandra Bastedo I am
indebted for hospitality in Corsica, enabling me to visit all the Napoleonic
places on the island. Others who gave me encouragement at vitai
moments when my spirits were flagging were Melvyn Bragg, Nigella