Napoleon: The path to power 1769–1799
Bloomsbury, $49.95 hb, 651 pp
Long hair flowing around his face, he grasps his sword firmly in one hand, the regimental banner held high in the other as he strides purposefully onto the bridge, leading his men to victory. It is one of the most familiar portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte, immortalised by the painter Antoine-Jean Gros: an image of courage, of leadership, of calm determination. And it is not quite what happened. The attack on the bridge at Arcola was a dismal failure and ended in an ignominious withdrawal, in the course of which the diminutive Bonaparte fell into a ditch and nearly drowned. It was hardly the stuff of heroic legend.