No family in history ascended the thrones of Europe so quickly - or were deposed so fast - as the Bonapartes. Like some mafia capo, Napoleon heaped honours and riches on his siblings, giving them the crowns of Spain, Naples, Tuscany, Rome, Holland and Westphalia. In Napoleon's Family Desmond Seward recounts the saga of this extraordinary clan of social-climbing Corsican emigres. Their back-biting and bickering for. honours was incessant, often vicious if deplorably entertaining, a constant embarrassment to their august brother. They had small talent for government and even less for battles, saving all their energies for dissipation. One brother was a drunken wastrel, another a venal womaniser, a third a paranoid depressive. The sisters were notorious for their innumerable lovers - among whom were Metternich and the violinist Paganini - and the emperor himself called them whores.
Napoleon's Family is more than a scandalous family chronicle, however. It offers a penetrating view of the inner Napoleon - a military genius who brought France to the height of glory, a farsighted ruler who initiated social and economic reforms, yet also a man who could not escape from his Corsican background and was unable to control worthless brothers and sisters.
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