Napoleon: For and Against

Napoleon: For and Against

Napoleon: For and Against

Napoleon: For and Against

Excerpt

I cannot claim to be an expert on Napoleon. To do so rightfully one must have devoted a lifetime of study to the man and to the period.

This book is a by-product of our recent experiences. In the early months of 1940, finding lt difficult to pursue the work on which I was engaged, I plunged into reading about Napoleon and wrote an essay which was to have appeared in the June number of one of our monthly reviews. After the capitulation, in May, the manuscript was returned to me, still marked with an instruction to the printer to be quick, and without a word of explanation. No explanation was needed for me to understand that, although I had not written a single word in it about Hitler or National Socialism, the parallel with our own times had seemed to the editor a little too pointed in the new circumstances. In September 1940 I used the article for some lectures in the Rotterdam School of Economics, where occasional bursts of laughter showed the audience to be equally alive to the parallel. Again, when I repeated those lectures, not much more than a month later, in very different surroundings and for a very different public, namely in Buchenwald concentration camp for my fellow hostages, it was the parallel that roused the keenest interest and amusement.

After Buchenwald, in the various places in Holland where I spent the remainder of my forty months of internment, I did a good deal of further reading on Napoleon, but it was only after my release on medical grounds in February 1944 that I conceived and executed the plan of the present book.

Let me state, in fairness to my own work, that I found a good deal more than the parallel to attract me. Napoleon had his own fascination, and French historiography a charm of its own. Not even the article of 1940 had been in the first instance suggested to me by the problem of the resemblance or contrast between Napoleon and Hitler, but by the historiographical problem, the problem of the endless variety of interpretations of Napoleon, his career, his aims and his achievements. Yet -- how could it be otherwise? -- I had been struck by the parallel no less than had my readers . . .

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