Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire - How the Emperor Self-Destructed, Digby Smith

Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire - How the Emperor Self-Destructed, Digby Smith

This book concentrates on everything that the author sees as a flaw in Napoleon's system of government, control of his army and performance in battle.

I'm not sure I agree with all of the author's arguments. Some of his examples of Napoleon's intervention in the details of the Continental System actually look significant enough to justify his attention, dealing with events in a major port, but in general his criticisms are sound.

The book has a varied structure, with some thematic chapters (the nature of his rule, economic errors, a look at his HQ) and some chronological chapters, looking at the main campaigns from 1809 onwards. I'd have liked to see a chapter on Napoleon's diplomatic failings, which played a major part in his downfall - his failure to establish last peace with any of his major enemies meant that at the end Napoleon faced a coalition of just about every other European power. This material is covered, but is a bit spread out.

The author paints a picture of a despotic tyrant, with plenty of examples of Napoleon ordering actions that we would consider major war crimes (including executing hostages and destroying villages). It would have been useful to see if any of these orders were obeyed, but Napoleon's armies did commit some very well documented atrocities (especially in Spain).

The author makes good use of Napoleon's own letters and orders, as well as the biographies and other works of his closest associates. This gives us a clear picture of Napoleon's working methods and his decision making process, and sometimes shows us the steps that led to some of his biggest mistakes.

This does sometimes come across as a bit of an anti-Napoleon rant, but it does a useful job of bringing together all of the flaws in Napoleon's systems and his campaigns in one place.

1 - The Steps to the Throne
2 - Military Blunders
3 - Economic Errors
4 - 1809: The Puppets Fall Short of Expectations
5 - Napoleon, Centre of the Universe
6 - Corruption
7 - 1812: Russia - the Great Blunder
8 - The Errors of 1813
9 - 1813: Leipzig, the Battle of the Nations
10 - 1814: Flashes of Genius, Thoughts of Suicide
11 - 1815: One Last Throw - The Hundred Days

Author: Digby Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2015

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