Napoleonic Literature
A Capsule History of Napoleonic Literature

More books have been written about Napoleon than any other figure in history. Between 1815 and 1900, more than 100,000 titles were produced. Publication of Napoleonic literature continued strong until the 1930's when it slipped in popularity. Even so, new titles continue to appear regularly. Why have so many books been written? First and foremost was Napoleon's impact on history. During the period 1800-1815, almost every significant event in European history was the result of an action initiated by Napoleon. The Napoleonic Wars were the greatest event in the 19th Century and, as such, people literally devoured everything that was written concerning Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars. After Waterloo, people soon discovered that writing about Napoleon was financially lucrative. Especially after Napoleon's death in 1821, volume upon volume began to flood the market. People who knew Napoleon wrote books; former soldiers, French and otherwise, wrote about their experiences in the Napoleonic Wars. If the Napoleonic Wars were the most significant event in 19th Century European history, the Battle of Waterloo was the singular most important event; for up to twenty years after the battle, the date June 18, 1815, was ingrained in almost every European's mind. For example, if an Englishman born after the battle was asked when he was born, he would probably reply something like "10 years after Waterloo," rather than give the specific date. Everyone knew the date of the Waterloo battle.

Early Napoleonic authors had lived during the Napoleonic era and most had forged strong opinions. They usually fell into one of two extremes; they either adored him or hated him and are generally referred to as the apologists and the haters. In the apologists' minds, Napoleon was faultless; if something went wrong it could not possibly have been Napoleon's fault or that he was out-generaled, so they shifted the blame to his subordinates, illness, bad weather or some other outside force that will not detract from Napoleon's greatness. An excellent example of an apologist is J.T. Headley, author of The Imperial Guard of Napoleon, which is the first book featured at this site. The haters, on the other hand, bore a grudge against Napoleon, or just disliked him or his methods. Paul Barras, whom Napoleon ousted from power, is an excellent example. The writings of the apologists and haters are interesting to read, repleat with anecdotes and obscure facts, but are highly suspect with regard to their accuracy in recounting important events. In the late 19th Century, objective authors began to appear. These authors were separated from the Napoleonic era by several decades and were more historically accurate. This is not to say that there were no objective authors in the early years, just that they were very scarce. Many people delayed publishing their memoirs so that they wouldn't hurt the reputation of a living person. Some went to the extreme of waiting until all immediate family members of a to-be-defamed character had died. Some important memoirs were lost to history for decades. Of course, apologists and haters exist today but by and large today's authors are objective historians.

(If you surfed directly to this page, please go to the Napoleonic Literature Home Page to see the wealth of information that's available on this website.)