It's well known that Napoleon Bonaparte had a huge appetite for power: Christopher Hibbert's Napoleon: His Wives and Women reminds us of his great ardour for the opposite sex as well. Twice-married (to Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796, and to Marie Louise of Austria in 1811) Napoleon was also a serial philanderer, rarely without a lover until ill and apparently impotent in exile at the end of his life. This is the latest in a long line of Hibbert's "personal histories" of (mostly) 19th-century famous figures. He displays, once more, his skill at getting beneath the skin of his subjects and in this case revealing the moody temperament and possessive libido of the French conqueror.
Hibbert accounts for not only Napoleon's mistresses and marriages, but also his formative relationship with his mother and with his sisters, and he also describes the many women (from maids to society hostesses) who came into Napoleon's orbit, as confidants, carers and commentators. This is a compendious account of Napoleon's private life (much of which was inevitably public too), underpinned by a secure hold on the military history of the first empire. What it all adds up to, that is, what part all these women played in the rise and fall of Napoleon, Hibbert seems reluctant to say, eschewing both psychological and sexual speculation. At the end of this poised and highly readable study, we are left only with Napoleon's somewhat jaundiced and weary conclusion that women "belong to the highest bidder". --Miles Taylor [via]