A revelatory portrait of Napoleon to mark the 200th anniversary of his death, written for our own time, not in power politics or epic battles, but through his love of nature and the gardens that gave his revolutionary life its light and shade.
Napoleon's gardens range from his childhood olive groves in Corsica, to Josephine's gardens and menageries in Paris, to gardens in Cairo, Rome and on Elba, to the walled garden of Hougoumont at the battle of Waterloo, and ultimately to Napoleon's final garden on St Helena, where Chinese labourers built him a summerhouse where he could sit and scan the sea in his final months.
During the French Revolution ideas about nature - human nature, the natural world and exchanges between the two - were at the centre of fierce political debates and events. In this lively and perceptive cultural history, Napoleon is placed firmly in this context: he wanted to see himself as a patron of the sciences and progress, bringing an end to the Revolution and binding up its wounds. In fact he unleashed an era of destruction and war, causing millions of deaths across Europe.
In this innovative biography, as uniquely fitting its subject as Ruth Scurr's applauded portraits of Robespierre and John Aubrey, Napoleon emerges a giant figure made human, seen through the eyes of those who knew him best - close witnesses, rich and poor, famed and obscure - in the shade of his gardens. The result is vivid, multidimensional and haunting, throwing us back in time, so that we see him before us, both as the Emperor hunting for glory and the man in an old straw hat, leaning on his spade.
Ruth Scurr is an historian, biographer and literary critic. She teaches history and politics at Cambridge University, where she is a Lecturer and Fellow of Gonville & Caius College. Her first book, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize and was listed among the 100 Best Books of the Decade in The Times. She reviews regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, The Telegraph and the Wall Street Journal.
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- Ruth Scurr's imaginative take on Napoleon's life serves up fascinating insights into the man's behaviour and motivations, as well as an illuminating account of those around him. The gardening angle is fresh and perfectly developed; to garden is to control and manipulate, an empire builder does the same
- Ruth Scurr brings shades of subtlety and nuance to a life well known, telling Napoleon's story through his love of nature and the gardens. A brilliantly original biographer . . . She can write beautifully; and she casts a cold eye on proceedings, unfazed by previous adoration or condemnation of her subject . . . grippingly original
Paul Lay, The Times
You can order the book here at Penguin.co.uk.books.