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Madhavan K. Palat

NAPOLEON: THE SONG OF DEPARTURE; THE SUN OF AUSTERLITZ; THE EMPEROR OF KINGS; THE IMMORTAL OF ST HELENA
By Max Gallo . Translated from the French by William Hobson
Pan Books, 2004, 2004, 2004 & 2005, pp. 402, 320, 422 and 406, price not stated, £6.99, £10.99 and £6.99

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 11 November 2005

Napoleon buffs must enjoy such a work, which displays the energy of the subject and dwells so lovingly on his relentless genius; but it is not yet another biography or history. It is a nearly continuous reverie by Napoleon on those momentous events, on his personal life, and on life in general, and a further series of reflections by the author as he composes the narrative in the present tense. We seem to have been lodged inside Napoleon’s mind from where we may both watch the events unfold as Napoleon saw them and reflect moment by moment about them as Napoleon himself did. It is a splendid illusion, and the author has called it a novel.   It begins, logically enough, with the forming of Napoleon’s own mind. The ten-year old boy was deposited at the military school in Brienne and was not seen by his family for the next five years, by which time he seems to have become a mature adult who advised his father on the education and future professions of his siblings, including of his elder brother Joseph! It will be no consolation to school-children to learn that such a mind was formed by unmitigated study with a fierce concentration that would be daunting to most. He blossomed into a brilliant mathematician by solving every problem in his two-volume textbook and finishing his two-year course in one year. Napoleon said that the ceaseless activity of the mind could solve all problems, and on the ship to Egypt he would employ the long hours at sea by posing problems to his officers to shake them out of their lethargy.   Such unremitting activity produced a problem-solving machine, a computer we would say today. He saw problems before others could imagine them, he saw them in their totality, and he hurled his “solutions” with devastating effect. He developed early his famed capacity for absolute concentration for any length of time at any time or place and whatever his physical condition. Nobody has ever seen him tired, and when he held his councils, the rest would drop, literally, from exhaustion and be carried away, but he would reach the end of his agenda. He would compete with his horses for stamina: they would drop dead, but he would merely leap on to another mount. He was forever complaining that his generals were tired and wanted to enjoy the fruits ...


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