It was, one supposes, inevitable. The bicentenary of the fall of Napoleon was simply too tempting a subject for authors and editors alike. I have spent virtually the whole summer wading through a series of new works on the French emperor. Notable among these are Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny, the first volume of a two-part biography by Michael Broers, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799–1815, Philip Dwyer’s sequel to his Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769–1799, and now Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon the Great. Enthusiasts will have to read the first two for themselves to decide whether their authors fall into the camp of Napoleon’s admirers or detractors, but the last proclaims its allegiance on its dust jacket. Napoleon the Great: there is no arguing with that.
Except there is, on almost every conceivable ground. According to Roberts, the sobriquet ‘the Great’ is given to ‘huge figures who decisively influenced the history of their times’. As he points out, such figures are few and far between: except for Menelik II of Ethiopia, I cannot come up with