Four Napoleon Experts on What to Watch and Read After (or Before) ‘Napoleon’

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Aidan Monaghan Photographer

With Oppenheimer’s debut in July and Michael Mann’s Ferrari in December, this month’s release of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon only further burnishes 2023’s reputation as a great year for dad movies. The hallmark of any good dad movie is that it offers ample opportunity to further study the lore—and to that end, back in July we recommended a list of other books, movies, podcasts, and docs related or tangentially related to the “daddy” of the atomic bomb.

The Napoleon release felt like a great opportunity to do the same for Bonaparte. It is, however, a task made slightly more difficult due to the sheer volume of lore. While Oppenheimer never made the cut as, say, a Bill & Ted’s character (an easy benchmark for recognizability), Napoleon is arguably one of the most written-about figures in all of human history.

So for this list, rather than pretending that we’re all Napoleon specialists, we figured it was worth bringing in some ringers. Below, four authorities on Napoleon recommend their favorite books, movies, pods, and docs about the little Emperor. Between the four of them, it should be enough Napoleon-related content to keep you in Tricorner Mindset long after the release of our next great historical epic.

E.M. Rummage, host of The Age Of Napoleon Podcast:

As far as books: for people who want to learn more about his military achievements: Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler and Swords Around a Throne by John Elting. For people who want to read more about his life: Michael Broers’s three-volume biography (Soldier of Destiny, Spirit of the Age, and Decline and Fall of an Empire), George Lefebvre’s 2-volume biography (usually labeled Napoleon: from Brumaire to Tilsit, and Napoleon: from Tilsit to Waterloo.) For one-volume biographies, Adam Zamoyski’s and Steven Englund’s are both good. To learn about the period more generally, I’d recommend Alexander Mikaberidze’s The Napoleonic Wars: a Global History. Also people should check out Ridley Scott's first movie about the Napoleonic Wars, The Duellists. Absolute masterpiece, one of my favorite movies of all time. And Master and Commander, of course.

David Bell, professor of history at Princeton and author of Napoleon: A Concise Biography

I can't resist the opportunity here to mention my own book Napoleon: A Concise Biography. Among the longer bios, my favorite is the three-volume one by Michael Broers. There are so many films and shows about Napoleon. The great classic is Abel Gance's film Napoleon, from the 1920s. Sacha Guitry's Napoleon, from the 1950s is also great. More recently, my favorite is Antoine de Caunes's rather mischievous Monsieur N, about Napoleon in exile. Simon Leys's novel The Death of Napoleon is also great fun.

Susan O’Bey, Chief Secretary of the Island of St. Helena, site of Napoleon’s second exile and the place where he died

The Man on the Rock, a 1975 documentary narrated by the late Kenneth Griffith, is one of my earliest encounters with the story of Napoleon. It describes the arrival of Napoleon and his entourage on St. Helena in 1815 and captures the mood of the islanders, who were naturally curious and more than a little apprehensive about the impact of the exile on their daily lives. Jean Paul Kauffman’s The Black Room at Longwood (1997) provides an evocative insight into Napoleon’s last years as the pages flit between historical and contemporary opinions of those, past and present, who occupied Longwood House [Napoleon’s final residence]. Napoleon Bonaparte: England’s Prisoner, from 2001, gives an interesting perspective, while 2016’s Napoleon and Saint Helena by Michel Dancoisne-Martineau describes the events which link Napoleon to the island before and during the six years of his exile.

Michael Broers, Oxford historian and consultant on Ridley Scott’s Napoleon

My favorite Napoleon film is Abel Gance's silent Napoleon, by a long way! My favorite fictions are the Conan Doyle Brigadier Gerard stories—they got me hooked when I was a young lad—and Stendhal's novels The Charterhouse of Parma and Scarlet and Black. One of the first biographies of Napoleon I ever read—and still love, even if the history isn't “professional”—was Emil Ludwig's Napoleon. Even in English translation (he wrote in German) it is lyrical. Most of the best lives of Napoleon are in French, so I'll skip them here, but Andrew Roberts’ Napoleon: A Life is a good read. Steven Englund's Napoleon: A Political Life is very intelligent and perceptive. Pieter Geyl's Napoleon: For and Against is in all our DNA–as is Tolstoy's War & Peace, in a very different way. Of the may recent books, Patrice Gueniffey's Bonaparte is thoughtful, if very Francocentric; Ambrogio Caiani's To Kidnap a Pope is a marvelous account of one cause celebre, and Alan Forrest's Napoleon's Men, a sensitive social history of the army. David Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon is showing its age, but has yet to be beaten!

Originally Appeared on GQ