Three books to celebrate Napoleon’s bicentenary

Europe in the time of Napoleon

under the direction of Jean Tulard

Deer, 642 p., € 29

Napoleon. The end and the beginning

Philippe Forest

Gallimard, 155 p., € 16

Napoleon. Certainty and ambition

by Charles-Éloi Vial

Perrin and National Library of France, 256 p., € 24

The bicentenary of his death, May 5, 1821, will undoubtedly earn us a surge of publications. And yet studies on Napoleon are already going well. We are certainly surprised that in this fall, which praises de Gaulle, we did not push the comparison between our two national heroes, but it is true that the astonishing book by Patrice Gueniffey in 2017, Napoleon and de Gaulle at Perrin, had almost dried up the subject.

Emperor Napoleon and General de Gaulle

Notwithstanding, we note the good health of classical historiography embodied in particular by Jean Tulard. As proof, the Cerf brings to life the book on imperial Europe that he had directed and which had remained unpublished for thirty years, for lack of a publisher.

Writers who came to visit the legend

Country by country, it is an enlightening clarification of the ride of the “Robespierre botté” in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy then of the resistance of Austria, Russia and England which will lead in 1815 in Waterloo and in Europe of the Congress of Vienna which caged the Eagle and the Lights.

From Chateaubriand and via Sainte-Hélène, a legendary Napoleonic has come, it is true, to console the lost generations. Can his romanticism still move us? Philippe Forest, a cheerful novelist and essayist, follows the hypothesis with the writers who “Came to visit the obscure and brilliant legend in the form of which, for our present, this history still remains alive”.

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He summons Élie Faure, Nietzsche, Hemingway or Larousse, he hears Colonel Chabert and Fabrice del Dongo. And he goes so far as to greet, with Hugo, the word “Immense” of General Cambronne on the first evening of a ” everything is going wrong ” premonitory. In short, we are happy to drink with Philippe Forest.


In this sympathetic landscape, a UFO arrives and it bodes well for the new “Library of the illustrious”. Charles-Éloi Vial, archivist and historian, drew on the treasures of the BNF and assembled largely unpublished iconography and biographical flashes to sting an emperor out of legend: “You have to have a little courage, he said, to dare to discover Napoleon up close, through the eyes or through the works that saw him ”, to understand “Who he was and whether he was master of his destiny or a prisoner of a fate that exceeded him” ; to describe a man jostled by genius, torn between ambition and necessity. Bet paid: his book is very safe, colorful and particularly stimulating.


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