The Order of the Silver Cross

Napoleon rose to power on the destructive wave of the French Revolution.  His own synopsis of his remarkable career is succinct—“Corsican by birth, French by adoption and emperor by achievement.”  The Age Of Napoleon, by Alistair Horne, seeks to encompass a broader range of the emperor’s achievements in a short volume of 218 pages.

Napollion Buonoparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769.  His father, an impoverished nobleman, secured a place for his son (funded by the king’s charity) at a military school in Brienne, France, in 1778.  The nine-year-old Corsican had a poor command of the French language, and the other students made fun of him because of his Italian accent.  Yet this outsider would one day command them, their country, and half of Europe’s population.  After graduating in 1784, Napoleon was admitted to the Ecole Militaire, an officers’ school in Paris.  At 16, he became a second lieutenant of artillery.  A teacher described him as “knowing mathematics and geography extremely well . . . taciturn, loves solitude, very egotistical, ambitious and aspires toward everything.”  The young man once wrote in his geography notebook: “St. Helena, small island.”  He could not have foreseen his prison exile on that desolate rock.

Napoleon had an outstanding intelligence combined with practical...

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