Book Review: Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power


by Philip Dwyer

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 802. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 030016243X

Napoleon as Emperor

In this logical sequel to his Napoleon: The Path to Power  (2009) Prof. Dwyer (Newcastle, Australia), gives us a well-written, fast paced, and nuanced account of Napoleon’s life from his coup d'état of 1799 to his departure for St. Helena, in 1815.  In it, Napoleon emerges as a man who, although possessed of many positive qualities, a “modern” thinker who brought great benefits to those he ruled, was also a man who could be utterly ruthless in his pursuit of his perceived “destiny” , which ultimately clouded his judgement and brought him to his doom. 

Although he doesn’t actually say it, Dwyer’s account demonstrates how Napoleon built and maintained what is today called a “cult of personality , much like Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin would build, as well as many another lesser tyrants, that served him well during his lifetime, shaping an image that many hold dear even to the present. 

Of course Dwyer covers much more.  He gives us some excellent discussions of Napoleon’s campaigns, generally bringing to his treatment more about the opposing side than is often the case.  Dwyer also ranges through Napoleon’s family problems, and his diplomatic, religious, and domestic policies. 

Although confirmed Bonapartists will probably find much to complain about in Citizen Emperor (mentioning, for example, the  many  mass executions that usually go unmentioned in books about Napoleon), Dwyer has given us an excellent look at the man and how he tried to reshape the world.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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