Synopses & Reviews
Part forensic investigation, part dramatic jailbreak adventure, Mark Braude's The Invisible Emperor is a gripping narrative history of Napoleon Bonaparte's ten-month exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba
In the spring of 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated. Having overseen an empire spanning half the European continent and governed the lives of some eighty million people, he suddenly found himself exiled to Elba, less than a hundred square miles of territory. This would have been the end of him, if Europe's rulers had had their way, and Napoleon for a time seemed resigned to a quiet retirement in this idyllic setting. But soon enough Napoleon imposed his preternatural charisma and historic ambition on both his captors and the very island itself, plotting his return to France and to power. After ten months of exile, he escaped Elba with just of over a thousand supporters in tow, landed near Antibes, marched to Paris, and retook the Tuileries Palace--all without firing a shot. Not long after, tens of thousands of people would die fighting for and against him at Waterloo.
Braude dramatizes this strange exile and improbable escape in granular detail and with novelistic relish, offering sharp new insights into a largely overlooked moment. He details a terrific cast of secondary characters, including Napoleon's tragically-noble official British minder on Elba, Neil Campbell, forever disgraced for having let "Boney" slip away; and his young second wife, Marie Louise who was twenty-two to Napoleon's forty-four, at the time of his abdication.
What emerges is a surprising new perspective on one of history's most consequential figures, which both subverts and celebrates his legendary persona. By putting this sliver of Napoleon's life under the microscope, Braude depicts him in all his glory and hubris: vanquished, fallible, and, yet, irrepressible. The Invisible Emperor is both a riveting story and an original examination of how preposterous, quixotic, and grandiose ideas can suddenly leap from the imagination and into reality.