Napoleon: A Life – by Andrew Robert – audiobook review and notes

napoleon a life andrew roberts

I recently finished the audiobook, “Napoleon: A Life” by Andrew Roberts. As you may expect from the title, this hefty audiobook (nearly 33 hours) gives great detail on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte.

What struck me most about the life of Napoleon was his ability to cope – no, more than cope, he thrived – in such an environment of confrontation. Napoleon waged wars against the strongest powers in Europe, and even when in massive confrontations, he wrote obsessive letters to people on seemingly trivial topics, detailing their marriages and affairs. Even when opposed by with such great forces, he did not shut down, he did not seek escapism, except perhaps for brief periods with his mistresses.

Imagine having the entire forces of Europe against you. Imagine armies coming towards you, and you towards them, where death is the obvious outcome for thousands of your men and very possibly yourself. Imagine the kind of human who can face such chaos and disorder, where the fate of an entire country and the lives and deaths of countless men rest on your afternoon decision.

What clarity Napoleon had with his life, with such goals and desires. And his big picture thinking, his desire to spread the enlightenment, all combined with his passion for structuring societies.

And the lightheartedness in which he performed all these tasks, the ability to make bad jokes in the wake of tragedy. To inspire those around him, to lead, to maintain his entire paradigm when the entire rest of the world with far superior forces was against him.

While so many died paving the way for his ambition, Napoleon knew and maintained that ambition.

I’ll soon I’ve started posting my notes on Andrew Robert’s audiobook “Napoleon: A Life”. More to come.

Section 6 / 4:05:42
Strength = mass * velocity

Napoleon believed that the strength of his army was a product of the mass of the army and the speed at which his army could move.

Section 6 / 4:17:11
Sent back many gifts to Paris from the places he conquered.

Jer: seemed like a smart move to win the favour of people from his home town.

Section 6 / 4:19:05
Napoleon on speaking to his army: “One must speak to the soul, it is the only way to electrify the men.”

Section 6 / 4:23:54
Napoleon exaggerated the losses of his enemies and downplayed his own losses to make all his victories look better and his defeats less so. This exaggeration was so common and consistent in all his public reports throughout his entire career.

Section 6 / 4:30:52
Napoleon strongly felt that a single commander was important and not having two commander to divide the power was very important.

Section 6 / 4:41:08
Interesting how much emphasis was on the enlightenment after Napoleon occupied a territory

Section 6 / 4:57:29
Had a great ability to compartmentalize his life. Seems like a useful skill to develop

Section 6 / 4:58:12
Napoleon could completely focus on different parts of his life. Even though was going through a tormented personal life, he was able to compartmentalize it and focus on the war as needed.

He used the analogy of a dresser and a set of drawers that he could open and close for the different aspects of his life.

Section 7 / 4:58:35
Napoleon seemed to be obsessive about the details of things and that all the small details were important

Napoleon on paying attention the the little details.
“There is but one step from triumph to downfall. I have seen in the most significant of circumstances, that some little thing also decides great events.”

Section 7 / 5:05:54
Napoleon was a huge romantic for his wife Josephine. He was a complete suck to his wife, who at that time, was not that into him.

Section 7 / 5:18:25
Napoleon made a huge bluff when a much larger enemy force stumbled into a town he was in. He bluffed saying that his entire army was there with him and that they had a few minutes to surrender to him else be destroyed.

What a bluff… With half the amount of men as the enemy, the enemy surrendered to Napoleon on his tenacious bluff.

Section 7 / 5:37:42
If Napoleon perceived an enemy general to be weak, then Napoleon would write great praise of this weak general in his bulletins in the hope of keeping that person employed against him. If Napoleon believed the enemy general to be strong, then Napoleon would say nothing about them.

Section 7 / 5:40:56
To get divisions within his army to fight harder, Napoleon would publicly shame them.

Section 7 / 5:56:10
Chapter 6 / 57:30
While Napoleon brought many ideas from the Enlightenment to areas he conquered, and many men benefited, he seemed particularly mean to women.

Jer: This is one oddly cruel example, but there was another example (not sure where) too where women seemed to fare worse under his rule than others.

Section 7 / 6:07:49
Chapter 6 / 1:09:20
Napoleon was highly conscientious of the power of propaganda and tried to influence public opinion via the newspaper.

Jer: This I recall was similar to the approach used by Benjamin Franklin. Both men made great use of the public forums.

Section 7 / 6:22:18
Chapter 6 / 1:23:20
Napoleon really was interested in his soldiers lives and liked to spend time with them. He wanted details about what was happening in all areas. He gave them small items, and he joked with them.

Jer: These sorts of small acts of kindness from such a great man to the more common man, seemed to inspire such loyalty from those around him. Even later in his life, we see a common thread, where those common people who served close to him were devoted to him.

Section 7 / 6:22:27
Chapter 6 / 1:23:50
Napoleon referred to the ancient world and made the soldiers feel that they were part of something bigger, and that their death would mean something – that they were a part of a great pageant that history would always remember.

Jer: What a way to inspire people. Reminds me of Griffith from Berserk…

Section 7 / 6:23:30
Chapter 6 / 1:24:30
Napoleon really wanted to make sure that his soldiers were treated fairly.

Section 7 / 6:24:12
Chapter 6 / 1:25:49
Napoleon learned much from Julius Caesar. Napoleon even wrote a book called “Caesar’s Wars” later in his life when we has in exile.

Section 7 / 6:24:46
He gave big, lavish compliments to his soldiers that he thought performed well.

Section 7 / 6:25:38
He made many referenced the ancient world and captured the imagination of his men.

Section 7 / 6:26:17
While Napoleon gave many compliments to his soldiers, he was hard on those higher ups (e.g., generals and family) whom had more responsibilities.

“Severe to the officers; kindly to the men” — Napoleon

Section 7 / 6:26:45
Napoleon had a phenomenal ability to remember people and details even if only met them once.

Jer: Remembering small details about people seems to make a big impact on people. A common theme from other books.

Section 8 / 7:02:58
Chapter 7 / 36:00
Such a smart move – made cannons in the same fashion as the English so could use their cannon balls when in their country.

Section 8 / 7:07:00
Chapter 7 / 40:00
Went for dinner with the Freemasons, whom seemed to support his direction.

Section 8 / 7:10:24
Chapter 7 / 43:20
Placing oneself in the limelight with simultaneously seeming to move away from it, is a skilled diplomatic move.

Section 8 / 7:13:42
Chapter 7 / 46:30
What a polymath Napoleon was… Well read and understood theatre, theology, sciences, music, etc… Was initially admired by many of the leading intellectuals at the time.

Section 8 / 7:21:59
Chapter 7 / 52:50
Napoleon’s wife and her lover were profiteering off corrupt war contracts.

Jer: His wife really was quite terrible to Napoleon at the start and wanted little to do with him.

Section 8 / 7:22:11
Chapter 7 / 53:30

Jer: It’s also worth noting that Napoleon worked/hired his brother (and family) for trusted positions.

Section 9 / 7:24:29
Chapter 8 / 1:40
To attack England, they wanted to take over Egypt.

Section 9 / 7:30:34
Chapter 8 / 6:30
Napoleon was so well read. Took 125 books along with him on his Egypt campaign. History, geography, philosophy, poetry, drama, different religious books, Greek mythology, Captain Cook’s voyages, Julius Caesar, many other biographies…

Section 9 / 7:31:03
Chapter 8 / 7:55
As Alexander the Great took many learned men along with him on his campaign, so did Napoleon. Napoleon took many learned men along from a variety of fields to make it a cultural scientific journey.

Section 9 / 7:32:02
Chapter 8 /9:00
Joseph Fourier (the famous mathematician) went along with Napoleon on his trek through Egypt.

Section 9 / 7:32:51
Chapter 8 / 9:30
Listen to Napoleon’s speech here to his army… he makes so many different appeals to his men’s needs (pride, destiny, patriotism, personal gain via land).

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