I don’t usually bring you reviews of non-fiction books, but when I saw this one in Net Galley, I could not resist, I’m not sure why. OK, here goes…
The Eagle in Splendour: Inside the Court of Napoleon by Philip Mansel
First, the description:
The grandeur and extravagance of the court of Napoleon I once surpassed even that of that Louis XIV, the Sun King. His palaces at Saint-Cloud and the Tuileries shimmered with walls of Lyons silk and exotic treasures gleaned from distant campaigns; it echoed with the rustle of jewel-encrusted gowns, the drums of military marches and the whispers of his courtiers’ intrigues. This was the center of Napoleon’s magnetic power, a dazzling reflection of the greatest empire in European history. Napoleon’s military conquests changed the world, but it was through the splendor of his court that he strengthened his ambitions for empire and retained his control over it. Mansel brings to life in exquisite detail the heady world of this court: the power and ambition, visual magnificence and rigid hierarchy; stories of mistresses, fortune-seekers, servants and courtiers. Ultimately, the life of the court illuminates the life of Napoleon and the great force of a man who conquered half the world yet, in the end, was “devoured by ambition.”
Now, my review:
Thanks to I.B Taurus for providing me with a free copy through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Some historical figures have maintained a hold on people’s imagination for years. Napoleon is one of them. Mansel focuses on Napoleon’s court, its organisation, its style, its people, its excesses and its politics, to tell the story of Napoleon’s rise and fall. Despite Napoleon having started his military career under the auspices of the Revolution, he went on to create a monarchy. Mansel hypothesises (and makes a very good case) that his court was central to his success (and ultimately his failure), and the excesses that characterised such court (the palaces had to be bigger, the furniture more luxurious, the courtiers better dressed, the women prettier…) were an attempt at giving his endeavour a legitimacy that he felt he lacked, in comparison to other monarchs in Europe (and in France), who came from long dynasties of rulers.
The book discusses other aspects of Napoleon’s life, including his family, his conquests, his battles, his personal life, but always with a focus on the court. Such focus serves the story well, allowing us to get to know many of the main players, the role they had played in previous governments, and what they did under Napoleon’s rule, and is peppered with quotes, that provide a more personal point of view and illuminate the character of Napoleon as seen by his courtiers.
The only issue I have with the book is that it is perhaps not best suited for a digital version. There were problems with the formatting of the version I had that I imagine won’t be present in the final version, like strange word divisions, accents out of place, etc. The wonderful images of course are not resizable and although I can adjust the size of the letters so that I can read without glasses, I needed my glasses to see the images well. Also, having all the notes at the back and not being able to follow a clickable link made them difficult to check. Perhaps a chart with the main players and how they connected to each other would also be helpful (especially if it could be linked to the names), more so at the beginning of the book when the reader is not yet familiar with everybody.
Although I haven’t read many books on Napoleon I felt that by the end of Mr Mansel’s book I knew the emperor and the man much better. I recommend this book to people who enjoy history and books about Napoleon in particular, and if you can, I’d suggest getting a paper copy as it might obviate some of the difficulties I found with the digital version.
Thanks so much for reading, and you know, like, share, comment if you like (but I won’t be able to comment for a while) and of course, CLICK if you’re also fascinated by Napoleon.
Ah, this review won me automatic approval from I.B.Tauris in Net Galley, and that means I can access any books they post there. I guess I’ll be reading more history and non-fiction books from now on… (In fact, I got another one, and it sounds fantastic! I’ll keep you posted!).