The celebrated French general and emperor Napoleon I was born in Ajaccio in Corsica in 1769. France had acquired Corsica only 15 months before his birth, and in his early years, Napoleon was a Corsican nationalist who considered the French to be oppressors. Nevertheless, Napoleon was sent to military academies in France, and when he graduated in 1785 at the age of 16, he became a second lieutenant in the French army. Napoleon's military career presents a surprising paradox. His genius at tactical manoeuvring was dazzling, and if he were to be judged only by that, he might perhaps be considered the greatest general of all time. In the field of grand strategy, however, he was prone to making gross blunders, such as the invasion of Egypt and Russia. One criterion of a general's greatness is his ability to avoid disastrous errors. It is hard to second-guess the very greatest such as Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, whose armies were never defeated. Because Napoleon was defeated in the end, in 1815, all of his foreign conquests proved ephemeral. Robert Asprey's biography seeks to present Napoleon's life within its proper military context.
Author is a former US Marine Corps captain who served in World War 2 and Korea. A Fulbright Scholar, he is a veteran of military history, internationally respected.