More has been written about Napoleon than about any other man - most of it fantasy inspired by national or ideological narratives. Adam Zamoyski dismisses the myths that have grown up over the centuries, the anecdotes often presented as 'facts', and the value judgments about his supposed lust for power, overweening ambition and callous war-mongering.
He examines what drove and enabled this boy from an island backwater to be welcomed as a messiah by the most sophisticated society in Europe and become the most powerful man in modern history. He was not the god-like genius many like to believe, nor was he a megalomaniac dictator bent on destruction – he created more than he destroyed. His life does read like a novel and he overcame extraordinary odds, but that was because he and his generation were inspired by a complex cultural dynamic which led them to believe that nothing was impossible. He was the catalyst for an epic. Yet he was just a man, and in many ways a very ordinary one, whose flaws and fears help to explain where it all went wrong.