Book Recommendation on the Age of Napoleon

Jun 2018
New Hampshire
Greetings gentlemen,

What good introductory book would my fellow History buffs recommend about the Age of Napoleon for someone fairly new to the subject? I am looking for a book to order that I can begin reading by the end of this work week Friday night.

Thank you in advance.
Likes: Futurist
Feb 2019
Depends on what you are looking for, if you're looking for a readable, single-volume overview of Napoleon's career this is a must:


If you're looking for an overview of naval warfare:


If you're looking for administration of the Napoleonic empire:

This one is also decent, but a bit harder to read:


I suggest reading Grab's book first and then following up with Woolf's book.


Forum Staff
May 2013
Albuquerque, NM
For a good over-view you might be interested in Durant's The History of Civilization, v.11 The Age of Napoleon, 1975. The History of Civilization was very well-received and printed in vast numbers, but most probably saw little use. As a consequence a fine used copy of the whole set for a pittance. The Durants were both fine scholars who were largely successful in publishing a fine overview of their topic as it was in those times. The books are still an outstanding over-view, which was always the author's intentions. You will love their bibliographies, notes, footnotes, and Indexes to navigate all the wonderful sources they draw upon. Since the set's publication, researchers have made important advances in our knowledge and understanding of the detail lacking in even the most monumental work.

A curiosity about Napoleon has been the starting point in many a young person's obsession with historical study since the mid-19th century. After 1815, Napoleon became one of the most written about personages since late antiquity and so there are abundant secondary sources easily within reach. Everyone wrote memoirs so we can peek into the lives of those who witnessed history in the making. Just remember that each author was more interested in being thought brilliant than entirely honest. For instance, the head of Napoleon's Secret Service wrote about Paris during the Emperor's reign, and even better we see through a total scoundrel's eyes conditions from the beginning of the French Revolution through the time Napoleon stepped off stage at last. Sorting out the likely truth from the self-serving and evasive, secretive nature of the biography takes time and careful study. For many that would be the most boring and unproductive way to live, but once you catch the History bug it will be a passion that you rush toward and leave with reluctance. Welcome to Historum, I hope you will abide with us and share our enthusiasm for learning.
Mar 2016
I just finished reading Thunder on the Danube, John H. Gill's three-volume work on the 1809 war with Austria, and as far as military histories go it's probably the best I've ever read. Extraordinarily detailed (to the point where it's a day-by-day breakdown and study) and gives a clearer explanation of not just the war but also exactly how Napoleon was a military genius by focusing in with great detail on all of his decisions and why exactly he made them. Even with one of his "weaker" campaigns (i.e. not as great as his 1796-1807 campaigns) it shows just why he was called the "God of War" by Clausewitz. However, I don't really recommend this book as an introduction to Napoleon, since it focuses in almost entirely on a four-month period in mid-1809, while he's on campaign. In that regard it's perfect if you're interested in his military career, but not if you want a comprehensive biography of the man (which the book never intended to be, obviously).

A decent biography is this:

View attachment 22769

Kepp in mind that Roberts has a considerable pro-Napoleon bias, so take it with some skepticism.
Roberts's pro-Napoleon bias is overstated. He certainly takes a more favourable view of the man than not, but he does not whitewash Napoleon's failings or moral flaws in the slightest; he mentions such as the looting of Italy, the massacre at Jaffa, his strong sexism and rolling back of Revolutionary developments such as granting women more grants and the abolition of slavery, the disaster with Haiti, his frequently counter-productive and short-sighted nepotism, the disastrous decisions involved with the Russian invasion, his occasionally weak(er) strategic thinking, and the more temperamental and unfair personality.

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