Douglas Johnson

Believing In Boney

The Legend of Napoleon

By

Granta Books 336pp £20 order from our bookshop

WHEN I WAS nine my parents went to live in Lancaster, near to a large hospital for the mentally ill that everyone called ‘the asylum’. I remember only too well how astonished I was when I was told that a local man had been sent there because he believed he was Napoleon Bonaparte. Now I discover from the first page of Sudhir Hazareesingh’s book that in 1840 a physician called Esquirol carried out a study showing that most megalomaniacs in France took themselves either for Napoleon or for Jesus Christ. That an unfortunate man in Lancaster during the 1930s should also have believed that he was Napoleon is a sign of the fascination that the French emperor holds for everyone. This fascination is itself an important part of the Napoleonic legend. It explains, at least partly, why since his death on 5 May 1821, every month several books have been published somewhere with him as the subject.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the best aspects of Kaufmann’s book is its optimism' Here's @BurlM11's review of @epkaufm's Whiteshift. ,
    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,