Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769–1799 by Philip Dwyer - review by Andrew Roberts

Andrew Roberts

As Emperor Apparent

Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769–1799


Bloomsbury 651pp £20

Writing a biography of the Emperor Napoleon requires an ambition that is, well, Napoleonic. Fortunately, few people alive know as much about Napoleon Bonaparte as Philip Dwyer, biographer of Talleyrand and Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Newcastle in Australia. This life of his hero in two volumes – of which The Path to Power is the first – is the work that Dwyer was placed on earth to write. This book ends with its subject barely thirty years old, at the time of the Brumaire coup of November 1799, but includes over one hundred pages of notes and bibliography that testify to Dwyer’s tremendous scholarship. We are thus clearly in the presence of what will be a monumental work.

Because Dwyer is so expert in the secondary material of the Napoleonic epic as well as the primary, he is able to sum up every issue, telling us what historians have said about each problem as it arises. Usually he judiciously comes down on one side or the other, although

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