Thursday, December 24, 2015

David A. Bell's "Napoleon: A Concise Biography"

David A. Bell is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton. Born in New York and educated at Harvard, Princeton and the École Normale Supérieure, he previously taught at Yale and Johns Hopkins, where he also served as Dean of Faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of three prize-winning books, most recently The First Total War (2007).

Bell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Napoleon: A Concise Biography, and reported the following:
Napoleon: A Concise Biography is a very short book, so page 99 actually brings us close to the end. It covers events in the spring of 1815, when Napoleon Bonaparte had already been defeated and sent into exile on the island of Elba. But then he dramatically escaped, landed on the French coast, and marched to Paris He attracted enthusiastic support along the way and returned triumphantly to power. He would not stay there for long, however: just one hundred days. In June he would lose the battle of Waterloo, and be forced back into exile, this time on the small South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, where he would die in 1821.

The principal paragraph on page 99 recounts the beginning of the Hundred Days. It also refers back to a particularly dramatic confrontation between Napoleon and the army of the restored Bourbon dynasty (the “encounter at Laffrey”) with which I opened the book:
It was under these conditions that Napoleon fled Elba on February 26, 1815, easily evading lackluster British and French patrols and landing on the French coast three days later. As he marched north to Paris, he met with an increasingly enthusiastic response from stunned onlookers, and his talent for stage-managing dramatic events for maximum effect, as in the March 7 “encounter at Laffrey,” had not deserted him. More such events followed. His longtime subordinate Marshal Michel Ney had sworn an oath of loyalty to Louis XVIII, and on hearing of Napoleon’s return promised to bring the emperor to Paris in an iron cage. On March 14 Ney changed sides again and tearfully embraced his old master. Five days later, the army defending Paris declared its loyalty to Napoleon as well. Louis XVIII, who had pledged to die rather than abandon his capital, abandoned his capital and fled the country. On March 20, tens of thousands of Parisians, many of them weeping hysterically with joy, welcomed Napoleon back to the city.
Learn more about Napoleon: A Concise Biography at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: David A. Bell.

--Marshal Zeringue