With a new introduction by Andrew Roberts.

'A penetrating interpretation...No one with a serious interest in the Napoleonic period can afford to ignore it. ' - Times Literary Supplement

Whether viewed as an inspired leader or obsessed tyrant, Napoleon has divided opinion for over 200 years. Few individuals have left such a mark on history. Georges Lefebvre's classic work, published in Routledge Classics in one paperback volume in English for the first time, is a definitive portrait of the Napoleonic era.

Lefebvre's history sweeps us from the lightning coup d'état of 18 Brumaire in 1799 to his final downfall amidst the wheatfields of Waterloo. More than a biography, it is a brilliant survey of the turbulent age Napoleon inaugurated in his attempt to redraw the map of Europe, from the Peninsular War to the invasion of Russia. The cast includes his antagonists - Pitt the Younger, Wellington, Metternich and Tsar Alexander - and his allies - the wily Minister of Police Fouché and Talleyrand, the 'Prince of Diplomats'. Lefebvre's account is equally clear-eyed about Napoleon's genius and his flaws. Napoleon's determination to emulate Caesar and Augustus condemned Europe to more than a decade of war and economic crisis, but he also built an empire, introducing educational, administrative and financial initiatives that are still in place today.

Georges Lefebvre (1877-1959) One of the foremost historians of the Twentieth Century and known as the 'historian's historian', he held the chair of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne. His The French Revolution is also available in Routledge Classics.


There is a paradox that lies at the heart of Georges Lefebvre’s magisterial biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, published in this fine edition by Folio for the first time as a single volume in English. The author, who held the Chair of the History of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne from 1937 until 1945, was one of the great Marxist intellectuals of the second quarter of the twentieth century; indeed it was he who invented the soubriquet ‘History from below’. Yet his two-volume Napoléon, first published in 1935–36 and translated into English in 1969, is emphatically of the ‘Great Man’ school of history so despised by Marxists. It is pure history from above, and accepts that the actions and will of a single extraordinary man could counteract those of the proletarian masses that Lefebvre himself idolised. So how could this be?

Born to relatively poor parents in Lille in August 1874, Georges Lefebvre attended the local lycée and only matriculated into the University of Lille by means of a series of scholarships that were early testaments to his burgeoning intellect. He became a teacher after graduating in 1898 and began writing in 1904, but it was not until 1925, when he was over fifty, that he published his doctoral thesis, Les Paysans du Nord pendant la Révolution Française. This posited the thesis that it had been the peasantry that ignited, supported and sustained the French Revolution, which he depicted as developing through four distinct phases between the Fall of the Bastille in 1789 and Napoleon’s Brumaire coup ten years later.

In 1935 – the year of the publication of this life of Napoleon – Lefebvre was honoured by becoming the president of the Société des Études Robespierristes (he admired the ‘Sea-Green Incorruptible’ for his frugality, integrity and application) and also the director of the Annales Historiques de la . . .

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