Napoleon’s Family

  • England, 1986 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • USA, 1986 (Viking, and History Book Club of America): 1999 (Books on Tape)
  • Translation, 1994, Russian (Russitch)
  • Translation, 2007, Polish (Amber)


In Napoleon’s Family, Desmond Seward recounts the saga of these arriviste émigrés. The back-biting and bickering for honours among the Emperor’s siblings was often vicious, always entertaining, and an embarrassment to their brother. They showed no aptitude for governing or courage on the battlefield, only for self-indulgence. One brother was a drunken wastrel, another a venal womaniser, a third a paranoid depressive. The sisters had an insatiable appetite for lovers, among whom were Metternich and the violinist Paganani. The book is more than a scandalous family chronicle, however. It offers a penetrating view of Napoleon – a military genius who brought France to the height of glory, a far sighted ruler who initiated social and economic reforms, but a man who could not escape from his background or to control his own family.

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Reviews of: Napoleon’s Family

  • With precision, wit and remarkable clarity, the author chronicles the intertwined lives of these tfhalf-savage squireens, scarcely more than peasants with coats of arms through an all but unbelievable saga of vanity, stupidity and mindless greed …

    Washington Post Book World
  • The rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte retold – and retold most engagingly – with emphasis on the greatest of all his many burdens …

    The New Yorker