Definitive works on Napoleon and his era?

After reading I don’t know how many novels set in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, I’ve decided I need to sit down and get the actual facts of the whole era straight in my head, but I’m not sure where to start. I could use a quick refresher on the French Revolution, and then more detail on Napoleon himself, the wars, and what’s going on in the rest of the world at the time.

Can people recommend good books to cover these topics? I don’t mind dense, as long as they’re not completely dry. I’m even OK with primary sources from the time - again, as long as they’re not completely undigestable. Are there any books that are seen as the definitive go-to sources that I should check out?

I’m sure that Dopers will be able to point me in the right direction. Thanks in advance.

Two places to begin:

How Far from Austerlitz by Alaistair Horne covers a portion of his career as well as the battle in the title.

The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes by Mark Urban covers the Peninsular War in detail, along with the rise of Wellington.

An oldie but still a goodie: The Age of Napoleon by Will and Ariel Durant, the final volume of their Story of Civilization series. Durant wrote cultural history, so there are entire chapters on (among other things) Beethoven, the British Lake Poets, and Goya. You can skip those chapters if you wish and just read the sections on the French Revolution and Napoleon, and get as good a one-volume introduction to the era as you’re going to find.

I like Robert Harvey’s *The War of Wars: The Epic Struggle Between Britain and France: 1789-1815 *. It’s a one volume history of the period from the French Revolution to Waterloo. While the Amazon reviews are a bit mixed (many disliking the heavy emphasis on Britain over France’s other enemies - even though its right there in the title) I think it’s a good survey of the time.

I learned a lot from it, especially the Italian and Egyptian campaigns, and you get to hear of implausibly heroic figures like Sidney Smith and THomas Cochrane.

The Campaigns Of Napoleon is a good read. (Try to find it in a library - it would be kind of pricey to buy)

What I was going to recommend (I have the series on my bookshelf and on CD-ROM) as well. Great, very readable stuff.

However, you may run into the problem where you need to know what was going on before Napoleon, and may eventually read the series backwards. :wink:

I second this recommendation.

And I’ll add Robert Asprey’s two volume history as a follow-up: The Rise Of Napoleon Bonaparte and The Reign Of Napoleon Bonaparte.

With Napoleon in Russia: The Memoirs of General de Caulaincourt, Duke of Vicenza

I don’t know how readily available the English translation is, but Max Gallo’s four part historical novel on Napoleon is considered must-read material for fans of the period in France.

It’s a novel, but by all accounts (I haven’t read it) it’s tremendously well researched, and provides great insight on the man himself.

It might help if you have a good image of the man himself when you study him. So, I present to you: Napoleon by Ingres.

Has arrogance and pomposity ever been better depicted? I often wonder whether Ingres was actually mocking him with this portrait.

These are all good reco’s as far as I know.

From the learned audience here how are the Patrick O’Brian series as far as the naval side (meaning how historically accurate)?

I’ve enjoyed them immensely but have no authority to speak on the veracity. I’ve read these books thoroughly and Napoleon was represented as an evil villain.

Sorry for the slight hijack but I am curious.

Thanks for all these, folks. I am reading this thread and making notes.

Taking another tack, although it does nothing at all to explain the ebb and flow of the campaigns, John Keegan’s The Face of Battle does a wonderful job of examining what it really would have been like to be an actual soldier at the Battle of Waterloo. It breaks through a lot of myth and wishful thinking. Keegan includes some vivid quotes from primary sources too.

A similar book for life in the navy (British, but the French would have been similar) is John Masefield’s Sea Life in Nelson’s Time.
He had experience in the Royal Navy on a training ship dating from 1839 (so not quite a Napoleonic era vessel) and on other ships in the 1890s.