Terence Blacker, The Independent

There is nothing new in the eagerness of politicians to exploit literature for their own ends. Indeed a particularly extreme case has been examined by Andy Martin in his fascinating new book, Napoleon the Novelist. The political and military carreer of Napoleon, Martin argues, was largely shaped by his thwarted ambitions as a visionary, thinker and writer of fiction. On his campaigns he was accompanied by a “bibliothèque portative” consisting of 1,000 volumes.

The focus of his expedition into Egypt was the creation of a French-led intellectual and artistic renaissance of the ancient culture, to which purpose he took with him a Commission des Sciences et des Arts, a sort of moving quango of 167 artists, writers and scientists. The entire campaign, according to Martin, was “an overtly literary phenomenon, an exercise in the epic, with a French audience, an intellectual fantasy that acquired some bayonets.”

From London Review of Books

‘Martin provides an entertaining tour of Napoleonic obsessions, pausing on the way to take in Boswell’s An Account of Corsica, Kundera’s Immortality, Simon Leys’s La Mort de Napoléon, the invention of the semaphore telegraph and various other tangential matters’