Close this search box.

321: Napoleon with Louis Sarkozy

Historians weren’t there, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know the true story about one of the most documented people in all of human history. Let’s put Napoleon’s new film to the test with Louis Sarkozy, historian and author of “Napoleon’s Library.” Join us as we dissect the movie’s portrayal, separate fact from fiction, and uncover the real Napoleon.

Louis' Historical Grade: D-

What’s your historical grade for the movie?

Learn about the real Napoleon

Listen to the audio version​

Did you enjoy this episode? Help support the next one!

Buy me a coffeeBuy me a coffee

Disclaimer: Dan LeFebvre and/or Based on a True Story may earn commissions from qualifying purchases through our links on this page.


Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

Dan LeFebvre  02:02

One thing I like to do before digging into some of the details of the movie is to take a step back and look at it from an overall perspective. So if you were to give Ridley Scott’s Napoleon a letter grade for its historical accuracy, what would it get?


Louis Sarkozy  02:18

D minus. Not great, but it’s not a fail. Well, I guess it’s a fail because D minus is a failing grade, but I’m not giving it the lowest possible grade because he still picked a pretty cool subject.


Dan LeFebvre  02:31

Okay, that’s fair.


Louis Sarkozy  02:35

That’s like getting your name right on the SATs. That’s it, you get you get 400 points, and the rest is gone.


Dan LeFebvre  02:41

He got Napoleon, the name, right.


Louis Sarkozy  02:43

That’s right. You got the name, right. Yeah, that’s it.


Dan LeFebvre  02:47

Speaking of Napoleon, early in the movie, we see a young captain Napoleon at that time Toulon on December 16 1793, according to the movie, and he’s leading the French and defeating British fort and destroying British ships in the harbor. For his actions. Napoleon is then promoted to Brigadier General, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems kind of like it’s jumping from Captain to brigadier general. And since we know movies can accelerate timelines. This sequence just had me wondering if maybe the movie was using this battle as kind of token excuse for showing Napoleon’s rise in the ranks. How did the battle at Toulon really impact Napoleon’s military career?


Louis Sarkozy  03:25

Well, actually, this is one of the cases where the movies actually pretty right. It was a sort of shattering rise to the top he was an incredibly young Gen, although not the youngest, there were others. And this is mostly due to the fact that most professional military officers of the French army had fled because most were aristocrats. And as you know, the opening stages of the French Revolution essentially was a hunt. For aristocrats a lot of them lost their heads a lot were imprisoned lost or their land. So there was something we call the Emmy gaseum, where 1000s 10s of 1000s of aristocrats fled the country. So there was a very dire need for professional officers, and Napoleon because of his performance at too low, which was sublime, but also because he had sort of very intelligently displayed his loyalty to the revolution, a couple of weeks or months before he had published a very short tract called Lupita Beaucaire. Where it’s a fictional tract where a young soldier very thinly disguised as Napoleon is with his charisma. And his intelligence sort of convinces three royalists, really, that the revolution is here to stay, and he had managed to publish that tract and so what did it say? It told the revolutionary authorities, okay, this guy’s a loyalist, and in a revolutionary stage, when you were hunting aristocrats, there was a dearth of professional officers. He was a professional soldier. He had been to multiple military schools. He was trained as an artillery to tenants. He published that track, we knew he was lawyers, and he performed that to law. This was all that The military and civilian authorities needed and they were like, Okay, this kid, we need an NCO he was given the posts of general. Do you


Dan LeFebvre  05:07

think Napoleon knew that? And he was kind of using that to help him rise in the ranks like he publishing that tract and kind of helping his case?


Louis Sarkozy  05:15

Yeah. 100% Absolutely. And this is something that Bonaparte cysts usually have trouble reckoning with. But something that most serious historians are convinced with it very early on in his life, he’s consumed by ambition. And he knew perfectly well I mean, he when he moved from Corsica, where he was born, which was just annexed to the French crown, in fact, a year before his birth, so he was not French. I mean, he just legally he was French, but it was just a year old. He detested the French, because they had invaded his homeland. He writes, you know, the French are vomit thrown upon our shores, he writes a fantastic revenge fantasy, where an outrage Corsican father, upon seeing the murder and rape of his daughters at the hands of French soldiers, goes on a rampage, murdering French soldiers, and he hates the French. And yet he makes a conscious decision to serve in the French army. Because he knows that opportunities in France and not in Corsica, he did try to make a name for himself in Corsica and politics, and made a Bongo out the whole thing, his villa sacked, his family is forced to flee and he completely, you know, mess the whole thing up. And so very consciously, he makes a decision. He’s like, okay, the revolution cleared the table for me, or for people like me. And there’s opportunity here, I’m going to make a name of myself here, he tries to do it with writing doesn’t work out, although as the track shows, there was definitely some material that he could use. But then he decides to make a name for himself militarily, and then, you know, history picks up on him, and destiny, you know, molds him to the man he became. That’s,


Dan LeFebvre  06:50

that’s fascinating. It’s definitely not something that I got from the movie, because it’s it seems like he’s relying on his military strategy and military skill, which I’m not saying, you know, anything negative about that. But what you’re saying what that tract, it sounds like, from early on, he knew about this, like a bigger picture, like more than just the military strategy, but he was playing a lot of the politics too.


Louis Sarkozy  07:13

He was a very gifted politician from the beginning. And in fact, his political evolution is just as fascinating because he really goes from a devoted revolutionary until he grabs power, and then he becomes sort of the forces of conservatism. So he completely flips. And this This is very evident in something I covered in my book on his readings, where as a young guy, he was a fan of Georgia console, who is sort of the prototypical revolutionary philosopher. He adores Rousseau. He reads them, ad nauseam. He plagiarizes them, he writes, basically copying everything also. And then when he grabs power, a couple years later, he visits who says to him, the men who had been such an influence on him. And you know, he says to the groundskeeper, who was bewildered to hear this, he says, you know, you know, history will tell whether it would have been better whether that men or I should never have been born. So he completely doesn’t want ad on the Huso. And it just sort of tracks perfectly is evolution from the, you know, absolute revolutionary, to the absolute reactionary, conservative, it’s, it’s a fascinating political journey. Wow.


Dan LeFebvre  08:17

Yeah. Again, it’s just him having a much bigger picture even almost sounds like in the timeline of things to have knowing like, Okay, this is what I’m doing now, but maybe thinking a few steps ahead of everybody else.


Louis Sarkozy  08:30

Absolutely, no, he was an absolute visionary. And he knew not only in his sort of ambitious calculation, but also in his view, as a statesman as a reformer. He knew when he needed to be revolutionary, and then he also knew, and in fact, ended all the negative aspects of the revolution. He ended the civil wars, he ended the mass beheadings, he ended the terror. He said, You know, we, we must end the novel of the revolution and beginning its history. So he kept all the good aspects of the revolution, sort of the equality before the law, the end of the privileges, the religious freedom, and he ended all of the the nonsensical, or just purely genocidal aspects of the revolution. So in a way, he’s, he’s the child of the revolution, and it’s perfected. He’s the man who brings it and cements it, and keeps all the legacies up to today, but getting rid of the nonsense like the cult of the Supreme Being and the 10 day calendar, and he gets rid of all the nonsense and keeps a really good advances.


Dan LeFebvre  09:30

Got if we go back to the movie after too long in the movie, it shows two events that seem to be important, but the movie rushes by them so quickly, I kind of had a hard time falling just how significant they were to the overall story, when referring to the end of the reign of terror, which the movie shows is July 27 1794, where, again, the movie shows like 41,500 prisoners think and then quickly after that, it’s followed by the Royalist insurrection on October 5 1795. So over a year later, but that’s only the Like 15 minutes of screen time, so it doesn’t really explain much of what’s going on. Can you fill in some more context around how these events fit into the bigger picture of the French Revolution?


Louis Sarkozy  10:09

Yeah, absolutely. And by the way, just on the movie critic side, I couldn’t agree more. And that was the first impression I had. Was it my god, this is so fast. I mean, you don’t I mean, you would have to be perfectly familiar with the story of the revolution and the polling to get anything that was my impression, at least, if I never read or maybe, you know, learn about Napoleon in school once or twice, and I went to see the movie, I would be completely lost. But so yeah, so the the grand terror, as we call it, which is basically not exactly this, but basically, in order to short and simple story coalescence with the reign of Maximilien Robespierre, which was this fanatical Jacobin. And who I mean, its peak, revolutionary peak fanaticism, we’re getting everybody there’s no milk in the media. And so he himself falls prey to that, after a while, thanks to some political machinations from the other side. And even from some of his allies, he gets guillotine. And after that, there’s sort of a big sigh it especially in Paris, but in all cities, and people say maybe okay, we should, you know, chill with the mass guillotines, and the executions, and the hunt for constant enemies and demons. And so there’s there’s a bit of a, of a calmer, revolutionary government that installs itself but by no means does this mean an end to social, political and economic tensions in the country. And this is reflected a year later by a mass royalist uprising. So there’s a famous quote, you know, which says, nowhere as an endangered regime more in danger than when it’s trying to reform itself. So it wasn’t exactly trying to reform itself. But I think, you know, going from absolute repression, to sort of letting go, it sort of lets these dissenters elements surge back up to the surface. And that’s what we see with the Royalist insurrection in Paris. And then, while it’s a perfect storm, Napoleon who had published revolutionary track to it perform so at a too long, who is in need of a job, and an assignment suddenly gets the opportunity to defend the revolutionary government. I mean, this is something you see at that episode in Napoleon’s life, but in so many other episodes, you know, it’s like the perfect storms for his ascension. The man is exceptional, there is no doubt again, the military genius, the political acumen, the energy, the hard work ethic, the great allies, etc. But also, the environment is so perfect for a man of his abilities that the situation is so well suited to a man like him. I mean, it really is, like the first phrase of that wonderful series of novels about the about Philip Liddell, like what the hell do you think it’s called? You know, the first quote is, history is a novel that has been, and it’s like, you could take all the Hollywood screenwriters in the world, and they couldn’t write a better build up than what actually happened in the early in the late 1700s. And early 1800s, when Napoleon, so yeah, royalist insurrection, he saved the government. And then, you know, his career completely takes off after


Dan LeFebvre  13:09

that. So that’s a really great point, because it’s something that I didn’t even think about as I was watching the movie. It’s a movie called Impala. And it’s about Napoleon. So you kind of assume that he’s behind, at least behind a lot of the things that are going on. But there is a much bigger picture and you kind of get a taste with those couple little events. But because it doesn’t really show very much you don’t you don’t know that there’s this bigger environment that is helping Napoleon’s rise. And he’s taking advantage of it, of course, but you know, there’s this much bigger picture that you just get, hence, his


Louis Sarkozy  13:42

first, his first the first half of his life. He’s essentially the luckiest man on earth. I mean, in listen, if all these opportunities fell on somebody else, we probably would never have heard of him. I mean, he was an exceptional, I’m happy to talk more about his his qualities, but he was he was a bizarrely talented man. In fact, he was a bizarre man and in so many respects, but you’re absolutely right. It’s the revolution clear the table for him. He positioned himself smartly but without key allies, without key events unfolding the way that they did without him being in certain if he was not at the head of the artillery in too low. If if you know, thanks to the track, he’d been posted somewhere else if he was sent to the Von D, which was a raging civil war that’s not at all covered in the movie, but very dirty war between royalists royalist insurrection and the revolutionary governments if he had been sent there, which, in fact, there were plans to send him there at some time. His reputation would not at all have been untarnished, he probably would have been tarnished, as an absolute you know, anti royalist scum and would have an alienated the entire right of the spectrum. But in fact, no he refuses to go there and he stalls or he you know, his assignment changes and again, he gets lucky And he gets off sort of the glamorous assignments and is able to continue his rights.


Dan LeFebvre  15:03

How well do you think Joaquin Phoenix just kind of overall, portrayed Napoleon on screen because he does kind of seem bizarre in the movie, there are some scenes where it’s just kind of seems, he seems awkward, I guess would be the word I’d use.


Louis Sarkozy  15:15

He was awkward. He was incredibly awkward, but not in the way Phoenix portrayed him. I speak like I knew the guy I didn’t know he just left, you know, we had dinner together. But know that he, I mean, the good thing about him and the era is that we have so many sources. I mean, we we are drowning in material. I mean, a waiter who served him wine once wrote a memoir. I mean, we have we have it, he’s the guy who’s had most material written on him in the history of mankind, right? It’s about a book and a half a day, every day since his death in 1821. Right. So it’s it’s absurd that the bibliography, so we know a lot of what he was like, but we’re never really able to pierce the inner shell, but Phoenix himself plays him as awkward which he was, but doesn’t portray at all the intense emotionality of the character. And that’s somebody that everybody who met Napoleon immediately saw. He was a Mediterranean. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, he was prone to incredible bouts of anger. He was prone to intense expressions of love, as is evident in his letters to Josephine. He could scold and humiliate. And then the next second, he could inspire and push people to follow into lead to me, this is a man who quite directly inspired an entire generation. People were awed by him when he walked into a room. His charisma was electrifying people rushed to their deaths, you know, following a simple a simple gesture of his hand or when he was an extraordinary man, he must have been extraordinary to see a lot of people talk about his eyes, blue gray eyes, they see his stories, his style was he would walk into a gala or dinner or something. And he would walk to like very energetic sort of fast paced short steps towards the person of interest. And you would bombard them with questions staring at them in the eye. So he would walk up to a chemist and talk about this reaction and that element and that reaction, he would walk to a mathematician and talk about that equation, and this equation, you would not to, to a theatre writer to producer, and you would talk about that player, this player Conejo. As you know Voltaire, he would walk up to a politician and talk about taxes, he would walk up to the founder of a girl school and talk about the new regulations that were needed for the Girls School and then leave. And all this happened in 30 minutes. Right. So he was incredible energy, incredible charisma, incredible breadth of mind. This is a fear theoretician of theater. This man is an expert in military and politics, a fan of philosophy, somebody who read intensely on a variety of different subjects who impressed good to the greatest living philosopher of the time, probably the greatest living, the greatest German philosopher of all time, he impressed Gupta with his philosophical and theatrical and literary knowledge. He impressed chemists and mathematicians with his knowledge, he impressed poets. I mean, he was an incredible man. And I thought Phoenix did not capture that sort of it factor. We got some of the awkwardness, we didn’t get any of the emotionality, I think Phoenix cries sort of pathetic, a nice tissue, like twice in the movie, we get the entire sort of cold accent of his relationship, nothing of the passion, nothing, nothing, we get sort of, we see a sort of a toxic relationship with a fight all the time. And then we get the intense sex, which doesn’t seem to me to serve a particular purpose with the script, or the character building, but nonetheless, is in the movie, but we don’t get any of the sort of almost childlike love that he had for that for that first woman for Josephine. So I thought he played him very poorly. And in fact, even Phoenix himself, it said, when he got on set, I didn’t know how to play him. He himself admitted that there was almost no research done. And when asked after the movie came out, you know, how research was, Mr. Scott said, you know, I don’t really read historians because they weren’t in there. Well, that’s, that’s, that’s good, Mr. Scott, that’s really communicating your your just in depth, knowledge of history, geography with that statement, you know, especially, I mean, as a Frenchman, anybody could say this, but as a Frenchman, especially, we have historians, who dedicate you know, 50 years to the study of one set of papers, who study once one character, you know, the sub the system to the secretary. We have people devoted their lives to the study of one battle. And when you when you combine all of that knowledge acquired by literal historical geniuses, you know, both dead and alive. We know we know I mean, this this is a science right? It’s not can gesture without antiquarian is of the 19th century, who Barrow through archeological digs and ruining them in the process like this is a very serious discipline. These are very serious and smart people who do extraordinary work, who use evidence based reasoning, but also archaeological evidence. We know right and so from for Mr. Scott to be so condescending and dismissive of history as a whole, is quite scandalous in my opinion. It’s one thing to say this, and I’m making a movie, not a documentary, perfectly fine thing to say, for a director. It’s quite another to say historiography does not exist, which is essentially what you’re saying. And that’s what the scandal is, in my opinion, especially


Dan LeFebvre  20:36

for somebody like Napoleon, who, as you, as you pointed out, like, there’s so much information on him, that it’s, there’s so much like, and there’s really no excuse.


Louis Sarkozy  20:47

There’s so much and listen, we’re not talking about ancient history here. This was yesterday morning. This is literally yesterday morning. I mean, this is where he’s 20 years away from the photography. But we’re 20 years away from having a picture of him. So if you’re talking about Julius Caesar, and then again, again, that’s a bad example, because we have an abundance of sources for the Romans. But if you’re talking about King Arthur, or some Anglo Saxon king of the seventh century, then yes, then you have an argument, we have a real problem with sources. And listen, I’ve read the venerable bead and the Anglo Saxon historians are gonna call me here, but I’ve read the venerable B. But apart from bead, who do you have, I mean, we have a you know, we have some coins, and within some buildings, but we you know, apart from bead, you know, we don’t have much, but with him, we have exactly what a judge would look for when doing a conviction or an intelligence agent would have when trying to establish scenario, we have 1000s of independent sources, from people with differing interests. And we have them over decades. And we have them in letters, and we have them in paintings and in private papers, we have papers that were supposed to be burned, and that weren’t. We have testimony we have, we have everything. I mean, we know a whole lot about the first French Empire and about Napoleon. If we go


Dan LeFebvre  22:00

back to the movie, Napoleon talks about following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great’s and Caesar to liberate Egypt. It says in July of 1798, he talks about commanding like 40,000 Men, he’s already conquered Italy, something that we don’t see again, it kind of skips over that. And according to the movie, his plan is to attack England through their eastern empire, we see a brief scene with Napoleon soldiers lined up against Egyptian soldiers. There’s a single volley of cannon fire stones crumble from the pyramid behind the Egyptian soldiers. And there’s one soldier on horseback, I’m assuming is the Egyptian military leader falls off his horse seems to die, nobody else but just him. And then there’s one round of shots, Napoleon walks away. So I again, I get the sense that there’s just a lot that we’re not getting from the movie. You know, it talks about conquering Italy, we don’t see any of that, even after the fighting that we do see in the movie, Napoleon’s there for a single volley of artillery from the cannons. And then he just walks away as if they went to Egypt just for that one round. Right. So, again, I’m gonna ask you again, can you fill in some historical context around this campaign that we’re seeing in the movie


Louis Sarkozy  23:04

with absolute pleasure? So the Egyptian expedition, you know, I like my friends and I, we often ask this question like it, listen, if you could take a walk one afternoon, anywhere on Earth, and at any period, you know, what, what would it be right? And for the longest time, I mean, I’m obsessed with ancient Rome. It’s always been in a row, right. But the Egyptian expedition has crept up on my list more and more, just because of the unbelievable nature of that events. I mean, because, yes, it’s an amazing military expedition. Yes, it’s a horrendous colonial venture. Yes, it’s the largest Mediterranean fleets that was ever assembled. But he also brings 200 sculptors, poets, balloonists, chemists, cartographers engineers, songwriters, I mean, he brings the fame the seven, the seven which would most closely translate to the the knowledgeable ones. We don’t call them scientists because you know, modern science didn’t really exist yet. It would be wrong to help but he brings wildlife experts and botanists and people explained in agriculture. And he creates the institute he this sort of intellectual powerhouse, combining all of the intellectual capital of France to try to unlock Egypt, intellectually, culturally, artistically. So that’s just the short answer as to why I think it’s a super cool episode and why the movie should definitely have paid more attention to it. Now, why did it happen? Well, we have indeed a lasting animosity between France and England. And we also have the impossibility of invading England because the Royal Navy absolutely controlled the channel. And it was completely unrealistic to attempt to invade England through the channel. I mean, it just would have been disaster for French arms. So you attempt to find ways to erode English power elsewhere. One protect Really interesting idea was to go to the eastern Mediterranean first to conquer the island of Malta still held at that time by the Knights of St. John, and to establish a French naval base in eastern Mediterranean to attempt to challenge British feats. And then you take Egypt which is still officially ruled by the Ottomans, but in reality is ruled by the slave caste of the Mamelukes, just right for the plunder in a way, and you threatened the British trading routes to the eastern Mediterranean and through Egypt to India. And you also, and this was pure delusion, tried to make the Ottomans acquiesce to conquest. Bring them a little closer to France and impossibly together threaten British India. That’s the official idea. The unofficial idea is listen, this guy Napoleon is incredibly popular. He is young, he is oozing with ambition, he has just conquered Italy. In fact, maybe it’s best that we don’t keep him around our unstable regime, when we particularly fearful of a coup. So the government’s like so he dreams so that’s the official reason I gave you Napoleon who has been reading Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great’s since he was a kid and is obsessed with their achievements. And both of them conquered Egypt, you know, says this wonderful phrase, Europe is about a molehill. All the great reputations are built in Asia, dreams of adventure, so he wants to go. And then the regime’s like, well, that’s perfect for us, we’re getting rid of an ambitious and general young Gen. If he fails, his reputation will be sufficiently tarnished, and he’ll be brought back into the fold. And if he’s successful, we just gained Egypt, for France. So it’s sort of a win win for everybody. And so he sets off with the military with the fleet and with and this is purely a Napoleonic, unique Napoleonic addition with the 207. And so there is what ends up being the Egyptian campaign, the country falls relatively quickly. They try to turn it into a French colony, these efforts are doomed to fail. And within a couple years, everything collapses. But militarily, everything collapses. And you know, the French be back in retreat. So the French fleet has lost that denial. It’s a catastrophe militarily, but culturally, it is the veritable unlocking of Egypt. Egypt had been an unknown quantity since Roman times. It had been just a subject of fantasies, people thought monsters live there. I mean, and by bringing these people, they unearth the Rosetta Stone, which leads to the discovery of the hieroglyphs. And which leads to the literal creation of the science of Egyptology. They dig up hundreds of temples and statues, they figure out if you can grow beer and wine in Egypt. They translate old Arabic documents, they set great scientific experiments where they even invite the locals and local intellectuals to try to see I mean, they they create the first democratic assembly in the history of the African continent. They print the first documents on the African continent, the history of the African courts, so that yet you have this efflorescence of of intellectualism and culturalism. It’s sort of the it’s the ultimate enlightenment experience. It’s rife with racial prejudices, and of course, but this almost doesn’t matter compared to the the heavyweight nature of the discoveries that would be meant there. So you have this extraordinary series of events, they create the SDT D SIB disorder, the intellectual center in what was the old harem of the Mamluk Sultan. So in a place where untold and ungodly things happen now you have sort of awkward, you know, nerds in their heavy wool frock coats talking about the flight potential of hostages. I mean, it’s absurd. I mean, the fact that this happened in the great Cairo revolt, they’re besieged the you know, these are not military men, they, you know, they have they have sextons and compasses and they’re measuring, you know, the insects and they’re going crazy because they found a new lizard, and they’re being besieged. And so they defend themselves throwing tools and stones and mirrors to try to stop the, you know, the underage Gyptian mod from breaking in. I mean, it’s an exceptional, exceptional moment. And of course, the impact is massive because it literally creates archeology, it creates Egyptology and it kick starts about two centuries of what is called the Egypt Romania, which is a fascination with all things Egyptian which persists to this day. The first great mummy novels, and feral novels date from the decades after the expedition, the fascination with the pyramids, date from this the reason we have an obelisk and in Paris on a pretty famous square, the reason we have a pyramid, the reason there is even buildings in the United States and all over Europe, which are built in the Egyptian style. I mean, it started the fascination with the lotus flower with Egyptian styles of hair with Egyptian perfumes. I mean, it kickstarts two centuries of fascination with all things Orient. So this is something that would have been unthinkable if it was somebody other than Napoleon conquering it. So this is the military aspects would have been the same the same man who was in charge of the expedition, but the intellectual and cultural aspects is something distinct, distinctly Napoleonic.


Dan LeFebvre  30:11

When you mentioned the mummy, I was thinking, maybe that’s why that there was a scene in the movie where we see Napoleon, you know, looking at a mummy, maybe that was just, again, blowing by very, very quickly in as far as movie seems to be doing a lot of that. But maybe that’s what they were trying to kind of give a nod to that that cultural side showing Napoleon with the mummy?


Louis Sarkozy  30:31

I hope you’re right. I don’t think so. I don’t think there was ambushed on the scene of the movie with the mummy is the exact copy of a famous painting. Literally, you supersede them. And it’s the exact same thing. You see the seven in the back of the scene with umbrellas. They don’t say a word. And in fact, yeah, he opens the mummy and the thing falls over. He spends five minutes in Egypt in the movie, and then he needs I hope that that, you know, this is really the ambition that Scott had to draw attention to the cultural aspects. But I you know, I’m not to convey the intellectual capital of the rest of the movie, this would be some sort of overreach,


Dan LeFebvre  31:10

fair point, fair point. But you mentioned him leaving Egypt and I didn’t mention this earlier. You You mentioned her a little bit. But before the Egyptian cap campaign, we see Napoleon marrying a woman named Josephine. And it was through her letters to Napoleon that we hear talking about following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and in Caesar, but then news reaches Napoleon of Josephine’s infidelity. And so he decides to leave his troops and return to France was that the real reason that Napoleon returned to France,


Louis Sarkozy  31:39

complete and utter nonsense or the total garbage? Absolutely. I mean, nobody has even argued this in once. And God knows there’s been some pretty weird theories about Napoleon know, he leaves Egypt because it’s going badly, militarily. He has been defeated during the Palestinian campaign. He probably feels that he’s losing his grip on the country. And he knows he needs to get back to France because there’s about to be a big change. The government is as fragile as ever, the economy is in tatters. Austria is again on the offensive, all his gains in Italy, are lost. And he knows that the government cannot survive. And so he senses opportunity with that sort of prophetic radar that he had for our political opportunity. And he rushes back in order to take power. And there’s something that needs to be absolutely clear to your listeners. Nope. To Napoleon, his religion, his obsession was politics. That is his entire life read everything is he there’s a biography of Charles de Gaulle that came out a couple years ago, the first phrase is all great men are crazy, right, and it fits perfectly with the pony. He would subordinate his health, his wife, his children, everything is sacrificed at the altar of politics, of political expediency, of better controlling public opinion, or of making his country more powerful or more predominance. In Europe, everything is sacrificed at that altar. No, he doesn’t leave because Josephine cheats on a he leaves because there’s political opportunity, because he doesn’t want to be away when there’s a big change. Because, you know, as these people who would live through evolution knew, you could be in the highest regards and regarded as a great close ally to the government, and there’s a change and you’re getting the next day. I mean, this was an extraordinarily unstable and terrifying time. So you had to be close to the center of power and big changes were there. He probably already knew that his time was near. And in fact, it proved to be so he comes back from Egypt, he abandons the army completely, leaves them to their fate. Leaves secretly gets to France and you know, a couple of months later would end up taking power. So clearly it was, it was a calculated and successful gamble for him. Not the most honorable thing to do, considering the filibuster,


Dan LeFebvre  33:58

and completely not what the movie shows.


Louis Sarkozy  34:01

And come in Kenya. Right, he left because Josephine is like, this is this is so absurd. I understand making a movie focusing on his relationship to Josephine that is a perfectly fine angle. In fact, it’s very interesting couple not at all this sort of power couple portrayed in the popular imagination, but fascinating couple very touching very human story between the two of them. Also, she a very fascinating character, but to warp, something so close to the actual man like that. In the effort to produce a rather mediocre movie I thought was inexcusable. You can take all the liberties you want if you make a great movie, that is the ultimate hall pass. Like you make a great movie, I put him you know, fighting aliens, like I don’t care as long as it’s a good movie. But if you’re going to sacrifice truth and historical truth, you better have a good reason and it better be the result of a good movie you can’t sacrifice Strewth and then make a mediocre movie. That’s that’s inexcusable.


Dan LeFebvre  35:03

What says you talked about the change in power there. According to the movie, if, when he returns to France and appalling returns to France, as a politician there who asks, for Napoleon support to help a coup d’etat to keep France from returning to monarchy, and there’s a montage of shots with soldiers, we can assume they’re under Napoleon’s command, because he kind of seems to be the military guy, as far as the movie is concerned. And the soldiers are forcing a bunch of politicians to resign leads to an emergency session in the assembly on November 9 1799, to try and pass a resolution that establishes three consoles, there’s general Bonaparte citizen, CES and Roger Coe, according to the movie. And then at first, the politicians oppose this idea. And they literally attack Napoleon, he runs away until he meets up with soldiers under his command just outside the building, and then he returns with the soldiers. The rifles are pointing at the politicians and Napoleon’s like, I guess it’s time to vote, is that an accurate depiction of how Napoleon became first council? So


Louis Sarkozy  36:05

full disclosure, I thought that was one of the only good scenes not in terms of historical accuracy, I thought it was I thought the scene when he comes back in and all the counselors of the 500 are surrounded by sort of, he’s like a, you know, out of breath is actually both of those funny, that’s


Dan LeFebvre  36:21

what you’re saying about like, okay, you can you can sacrifice historical if you make a good movie, well, okay, that’s a good scene.


Louis Sarkozy  36:28

And by the way, that’s it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close to what actually happened. So he goes back from Egypt, the guy who was an obsessive letter writer throughout his entire life, Napoleon, who at some points, you know, averages over 20 letters a day. When he comes back from Egypt from the Egyptian return to the coup, there’s two letters that survived. So this was a very tense, very secretive, very scheming time when people maneuver, and it’s, as one historian has said, you know, it was a time in Paris where on almost every streets there was a had a carriage stashed somewhere ready to be ready to take off any moment. Yeah, so it really went everybody had a stash carriage somewhere in case their little plan didn’t work out and yet to bounce fast. And that was very much the case with with the Polian. So he comes back. He he sorts, he evaluates all of the different crews that are being planned, and wants to pick probably the best one we most of what I’m saying is conjecture, because so little sources survive from this particular period because everything was burned. But he is approached by saints, who is one of the directors and says is looking for sword. He’s looking for a military man. And Napoleon is by far the most popular military man, he comes back to Egypt. And people think it’s a triumph. And you know, he’s so great at propaganda already, he brings back a unit of Mamluks, who is he has enlisted. And they all were, you know, turbans and curved swords and the French people, you know, drink it all up. So he’s super popular. He’s recruited as a sword and very quickly out maneuvers. The two other conspirators also enlist Of course, tallyho, and fu che into the coup. So this is really the most powerful candidate now to replace the government. They do the coup of these people who may have 18 by mail. And it’s completely true that he almost messes the whole thing up. He’s overexcited, he’s freaked out, he hasn’t slept, and everything’s going too slow for Him. And He barges in to there’s two assemblies. There’s a council of the Asians and the Council of the 500 there was a bicameral you know, sort of upper lower chamber. And the idea was okay, we’re going to prompt some of the directors who are like the Presidents there’s a council of directors to resign, causing a constitutional crisis. And then we’re going to spirit away the two chambers into Chateau away from Paris where we can better control them, surround them with loyal soldiers, force them to declare the Constitution void. issue and new constitution electing us three consoles. And then you know, that’s it, we have power. The problem is they mischaracterize the, the passiveness that they mischaracterized the number of alliances they had in the two chambers. They miss judge the mood of the chambers. He barges into one chamber the speech doesn’t go too well. He sort of scares a lot of people, but it’s still a friendly chamber but he leaves he sort of buoyed by success. He enters the other chamber, where it’s much more hostile to him than he thinks. And he starts spouting nonsense. The God of victory marches with me and stands on my show some garbage as as if he was speaking to his granite ears, and they completely erupt. They call him a traitor, which was a very serious thing to be called. In the Revolutionary era. You’re called treated by the Assembly. Chances are you know your head will be disconnected. Fairly soon after that. He freaks out he doubles down. And this is when the famous mobbing scene happens now, true to their propaganda the Bonaparte’s for a long time has said that they pulled out knives that they tried to kill him. We don’t think so. We think he was scuffed up a little bit. And he’s very quickly Spirited Away by two of his grenadier ears which enter and save him. He goes outside where his brother Lucia, who was head of the other chamber, who’s head of the chamber, excuse me, was there. Lucia does sort of a wonderful little theatrical coup in front of all the constants. In front of all the the, the soldiers, he pulls out a knife and says, If my brother threatens France, you know, or something along those lines, you know, I’ll kill him myself. That’s enough for the soldiers, right? And then he tells the soldiers, I barge in and dispel these, these miscreants and the in the bargain, they clear out everybody. And a couple of hours later, they assemble the loyal ones, they vote constitution is overruled, they’re not in power. So he did almost mess it up. And he did panic. He probably had either fainted or an epileptic crisis. Maybe he was epileptic, we’re not so sure, maybe he was. He definitely lost his nerve. And it was almost a catastrophe. But it worked out. It worked out and he ends up being named as one of the three consoles. And very quickly at maneuvers to to other consoles, with his energy, his work ethic is alliances, his political acumen and his power, his military power and, you know, ends up being nominated as first console and then console for life. And then, you know, some years later, Emperor. So that’s, that’s really the power grab.


Dan LeFebvre  41:32

I’m curious what you’re talking about how he he almost messed it up. And this aspect, at least according to the timeline of the movie, it almost seems to be like this is kind of the first foray into politics for him. Was that was Do you think that’s why he was kind of messed up going in there giving this political speech that you mentioned you might work for is going to do is might work for, you know, in the military, but it’s not really working for politicians. And he had to turn around really fast and figure out how to deal with politics. And


Louis Sarkozy  42:04

in the end, it’s a military coup d’etat, because the political side failed. So you have I think you’re right. I think there’s definitely something there. I think he had been so used to being you know, having his orders followed, to having dealt with military men, and the simplicity that is inherent in that. And then he goes to this council of lawyers, as he calls them, and completely messes it up and is, is not able to adjust at all and treats them like soldiers and almost pays the price. And then the end is rescued by soldiers. So there is a sense in which it’s a military coup d’etat. It does not end up being a military dictatorship at all. The Napoleonic regime is not and militaristic regime at all. It is one filled with war, but soldiers end up playing no part in the political process. There’s elections, there’s referendums, there’s public opinion. I mean, it’s not a you know, the soldiers take no parts, but it’s very much a military, which which puts him into power. Now, it’s true, he was extraordinarily popular. So this is, this is not something that was rejected by the French people. It’s not sort of a nefarious power grab against the will of the French, the French came out of almost a decade, of even more than a decade of revolution, counter revolution, instability, war, mass, murders, mass terror, what was needed was stability. What was needed was order, and a return to order. And he brought that he exactly brought that so in many ways, it was the best possible thing that could have happened for France for him to to be able to squeeze the limits of constitutionality, shall we say, in the most in the most diplomatic way possible, and to take power? Well,


Dan LeFebvre  43:40

it sounds like it’s kind of a testament to how quickly he learned if, if he kind of failed on the political side turn into a military coup d’etat. And then very quickly overpowered politically hit the other two consoles to kind of take the power there. It sounds like he learned really fast how to work with politicians.


Louis Sarkozy  44:01

He did. And the truth is that when he was in the right frame of mind, he was a fantastic politician. When he when he knew how to talk and behave and calm himself down and not be overwritten by his emotions he was, he also learned a lot about politics, not only in these few months, but by reading. He read deeply in political philosophy deeply in politics deeply about the reign of previous ministers. And so he quite literally gives himself a crash course in the same way that he gave himself a crash course in military matters or in philosophy, philosophy matters. So his readings definitely helped him out there. And then eventually, he would end up being, you know, probably the the greatest reformer and statesman nominee in French history, but in probably world history, the first few years of his reign. I mean, it is it’s him. Maybe 15 or 20 of his civil advisors completely create a modern state. I mean, in within two years, I mean, They, they create all of the institutions which survived to this day like, well, they conclude can say data. They build the sewers and the bridges. They built the they reformed the legal and the Civil Code. They I mean, they do everything they create, they birth a modern state, within, you know, 24 months, and it’s just him calling the shots, right? It’s not I mean, it, the revolution was sort of the epitome of the council. Tyranny where everybody, we have an idea credits to council and then we do committees and subcommittees and everybody discusses it, and then we come up with, you know, some mildewed report and nobody does anything. him it’s not that at all. Him, He steers the ship and sets the course and we’re going and you might not like the destination, but we’re going there. I mean, the Civil Code, people say, Oh, but you know, many people wanted to do civil code before him and yeah, and where’s their civil code? Nowhere. I mean, he said, these people down in the room and said, Listen, you’re gonna get this done, and you’re gonna get it done now, and I’m not unlocking the doors until you do, and they got it done. And it’s the same thing for the creation of all the institutions which survived to this day. I mean, France, the friends that he created modern France, essentially is birthed in the first few years of his reign. I mean, he creates the whole thing. So he was by no means a soldier in a politician’s garb. He was an exceptional statesman and politician, at least in the beginning, because then then then, you know, the second half of the reign we can talk about and things start to change.


Dan LeFebvre  46:23

Now, before we get to that, that I wanted to ask because there’s another example of the movies timeline moving really fast that out about 10 minutes of screen time between that vote that makes Napoleon the first console in 1799. And we see a Minister of Foreign Affairs man named Halloran suggest that Napoleon take the title of Victorious console or king, and in the movie, Napoleon just kind of laughs at this, but then we see him being coronated as emperor of France in December 2 1804. How did the movie portray the historical events surrounding Napoleon’s rise or change from first console to Emperor? I thought badly.


Louis Sarkozy  47:00

I thought badly. This is something that is really is a fundamental key for the entire Napoleonic era, is the quest for legitimacy. Napoleon’s obsession, going back to politics was to establish his legitimacy. He always said, you know, the Bourbons, the French kings that came before him had 1000 years on the throne. That’s their legitimacy. He says, I don’t I that’s why he kept always seeking victorious battles. Good, because that’s what he thought he had a battlefield legitimacy, always the need to win. That’s what reaffirmed his right to sit on the throne because he was a low Corsican, noble, I mean, it’s it clearly he’s very insecure. There’s great psychological work that could be down here. Mr. Freud had probably a lot to say about, you know, the complex of a low Nobel suddenly thrust upon one of the most prestigious thrones in all of European history. So when he’s console, clearly the title probably can’t stick long. And there is a lot of thought as to should he declare himself king. The problem is that there was still a pretender to the French kingship man named Louis the 18th, who still very much claiming he is the king, I’ll be it’s an exile. And so they did not want to sort of one assume a title that would automatically be contested. And two, they did not want to completely alienate the revolutionary left. So what one of the great projects of Napoleon is to reconcile the country after a decade of revolution? So how do you reconcile the reactionary royalists, right? And the revolutionary left what he called the two nobility is the old nobility, and the nobility of the revolution. People who despise each other had murdered each other, quite literally, in war, civil and, you know, military and you know, assassinations and executions for a decade. So in order to marry them, they say, Okay, how about we declare him emperor, but not, not a traditional title as sort of a subsequent sort of a not king, but emperor, it’s rather he’s an emperor of the French Republic. He’s not emperor of France, of France, he’s emperor of the French. And you know, it’s actually quite meaningful subtilty because the idea is, we are keeping the Republican platform. He is the protector of the French Republic, he’s emperor of the French Republic. So it’s we’re going back to ancient Rome, is is the idea and we’re marrying the two legitimacy we’re marrying the two nobility is the revolutionary left, we’re keeping the Republic we’re keeping all the good sides of the Republic. But we’re also bringing the right along, saying listen, we care about you. We care about your claims for legitimacy and order. So we’re establishing hereditary monarchy, he’s going to be an emperor, etc. This is a new dynasty, but it’s a dynasty of the French Republic. So again, it was ultimately an answer. cessful attempt, but it worked for 15 years, and worked pretty damn well for 15 years. And it could really have worked fully, completely had some crucial mistakes not been made later on. But that’s really the consideration and tallyho In fact, it’s his idea Tony Hawk, who’s a genius. I mean, this is one of the things that one of my friends said about Napoleon, you know, yes, he’s a star. But around him, there are planets. And this is true. This was very golden generation, which came about in France in the early 1800s. The people would have the revolution and the people who survived, and the people who were still in power by the time Napoleon came around, where people have breathtaking acumen and intelligence and culture. These were extraordinary people from foodshed, Thalia, ha ha, they are combat serious. I mean, these are extraordinary people. And the military minds were extraordinary to the Navy, the mule, ha, the devil, the sous chef, so you really have a golden generation of people here. And they create this project, and they tend to this project in this regime. And it gives us one of the best stories in human history. I’ll be a short one. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  51:02

And we’ve seen talking about the people around him, or the movie, it shows some of them, but it doesn’t really focus on them a lot. But But what was there as a point where they kind of recognize that Napoleon was the one too, for lack of a better way to say it latch on to and be like, Okay, this is the guy that can actually lead us. Because, like, you’re saying, like, he was just, you know, from course, a guy who wasn’t, you know, traditionally, you know, have this dynasty of, you know, French monarchs or, you know, any sort of royal blood or any sort of legitimacy that goes back many, many years. So was there a point kind of flipped where everybody ran was like, Okay, this is who we’re going with? Yeah,


Louis Sarkozy  51:45

he seduces everybody. He absolutely does. I mean, by his work, by his energy, by his military victories, by his dedication, by his acumen, by his decisiveness by his vision, he seduces almost everybody. There’s this amazing quote by Tony Hoare, who was famously probably one of the greatest wit, in the history of mankind. And he says, you know, just as he just as Napoleon took power, he says, if he survives a year, he will go for. It turns out, that’s exactly right. I mean, if the first year is when it’s most precarious, and then if he survives, then he went for it. No, he and this is a theme that keeps going back even to his time at the first Italian campaign, he arrives, his name general, he’s a 20, something year old kid. He literally got it because of politically, he was an ally. He also did great at too long, but you know, it doesn’t it’s not particularly worthy as a single event to put you in charge of one of the greatest armies, and he defeated the Royalist revolt, he writes there, and all of his subordinates are more experienced than him. And so they all despise him in the beginning, and in a matter of weeks, he wins all of them over by his company, his energy, drive and dedication, his willingness to ask questions, his his absolute porous nature in terms of taking in new knowledge that he constantly seeping. Like he there’s a quote, you know, like, he walked into the cartographers office. And he asked a million questions over like three hours. And the photographer was shocked, because it’s like, this is all information that he should have known. Right? And that other generals would never have asked because they knew they should know this. And so they would have persisted in their ignorance, because they didn’t want to sacrifice you know, a pride or an image. He didn’t care he’s like, no, no, I need to get this done. Right. So so he wins everybody over he completely reforms the army of Italy. It was a you know, poverty stricken army morale stricken army, he dispensed this lawyer regimens. He he kicks away. Bad colonels. He requisitions buttons and socks and boots things soldiers actually care about. They’re not glamorous, but that actually make armies fight. He creates a new arm of the artillery, he requisitions horses, he completely revamped the logistical contracts, he reorganizes everything. And this is all in three weeks. And everybody’s like, Oh, god, okay, this this guy’s serious. This is this is this is somebody. I mean, this is not just a political appointee. And then the proof is in the pudding because they go on to humble, probably Europe’s oldest and most prestigious monarchy. When a series of completely unexpected victories, the French Republic waited, you know, basically was expecting nothing from the Italian friends and and forced the Austrian monarchy to sign a peace treaty a couple Some months later. So so this is this is clearly somebody who was capable of seducing either military or politicians around them. And that’s pretty much what he does almost almost single handedly.


Dan LeFebvre  54:41

If we go back into the movie, after Napoleon is emperor, we see him on the battlefield again. And this time he’s against two other emperors. On the other side, there’s sorry, Alexander the first of Russia and Francis of Austria. And this is at Austerlitz and December 2 1805, or as the movie points out the one year anniversary of Napoleon coordination. It’s better called and Napoleon’s strategy seems to be to lower in the Russian and Austrian forces, and his strategy seems to work according to the movie, they rush the French forces on the open ground, they’re completely unaware that Napoleon has cavalry waiting on high ground watching the whole time. And then after a while the pulling in orders to Calvary to join the battle below. They overrun the enemy, forcing them to retreat, but then pulling in orders the cannons opened fire on the retreating soldiers and there’s turns out this is actually a huge lake and they all fall into the icy waters. Is that how their French defeated the alliance of Russian and Austrian forces at Austerlitz? No,


Louis Sarkozy  55:36

no, no, this is this is absolute nonsense. And the true story is of course much more interesting and much cooler much cooler than then the Hollywood cheap,


Dan LeFebvre  55:49

but it was bitter cold how much


Louis Sarkozy  55:55

I’m gonna have to end it here as we all gained 10 pounds for just from hearing. I respect the good fun once in a while. I have to say, No, the battle is not at all like that. The Polian picks his ground very carefully, Napoleon spots that there is an elevated plateau in today the Czech Republic and instead of obeying the like number two number three rule of war which is always assume the high ground he gives up the high ground and push it positions his troops in the in the in the valley below the plateau, which is called the pratten Heights. His enemies the Austrians and the Russians think this is a terrible blunder immediately occupy the heights, the price and heights. And so you can imagine these two armies facing each other one is on an elevated bluff, fairly steep, and the other is in the valley below. Napoleon purposefully makes his right wing look extraordinarily weak. And he fakes he pump fakes he sends delegates delegates to negotiate peace, as if he did not want to fight the battle as if he felt weaker, as if he was numerically inferior. So he manages to convince in a brilliant feats of military deception, his enemies that he does not want to fight the battle he also feigns a retreat. As an OH GOD, they’ve got the high ground I gotta get out of here. All of this pushes his enemies to descend from the high ground and attack the supposedly weak right wing, which is exactly what Napoleon wanted. To make a long story short as the Austro Russian army descends on the weak French right wing reinforces arrive immediately, the right wing stiffens, and he launches a perfectly timed counter attack right in the middle, which cuts the enemy army into there is the reserves left on top and the rest which are descending the slope are uncircumcised by the middle thrust and completely destroyed. And the top guard is the reserve, including the Russian guard has finished off on the top now that the terrain advantage is nullified. So it is the absolute masterpiece of his military career. Everything that he expected was going to happen happened. It is the perfect example of his genius. And the the lake episode is pretty contentious, because we don’t actually know what happened. He certainly for example, like we never found any musket balls or uniforms at the bottom of the lake, no weapons, etc. archeological digs have been on there and there’s nothing at the bottom of the lake. And you would expect at least some some stuff to remain. We do have sources mentioning it. The problem is Napoleon quickly picked up on it and it’s propaganda churned it out, you know, ad nauseam. So we don’t know. But it probably happened, listen, but if it did happen, we’re talking about you know, like 1010 Guy is drowning in a lake. And some ricochets which made the the ice break this this is not the reason why he won the battle. It was in fact that the whole episode happened a couple of hours after the battle was already won. So it’s a completely it’s a complete sideshow. It’s a sideshow of a sideshow. And it’s completely insignificant as to the actual outcome of the battle, which was won by that brilliant deception. And then the middle thrust, which was the tactical maneuver of the century, it


Dan LeFebvre  59:22

sounds like they just completely underestimated him, even though he had these successful campaigns in Italy and Egypt. Were they not aware of his military genius at that point, or were they just under estimating him kind of similar to because you’re talking about earlier him? When he was much younger, he had to win people over in within the French army. And, you know, obviously being different countries. He’s not winning them over. So maybe they’re just still under estimating him what was his perception like outside of France that he was able to have them underestimated like that to take advantage of it?


Louis Sarkozy  59:59

Well, it’s it’s a very interesting Question. The Austrians, especially for his entire reign, were like this guy is going to collapse anymore. And it sort of makes sense because, as you know, Kissinger has written, you know, in his book on on Castle, Ryan Metternich. I think he writes brilliantly about the Habsburg Monarchy, and about Austria in the 19th century. This is the ultimate conservative power. It’s the oldest and most prestigious monarchy. It’s not a nation. It’s an amalgamation of Czechs, and Karats, and Italians and Germans and Hungarians, they, so they don’t rely on any nationalism, they’re only kept together by the Crown. That’s it. If the crown goes, everything goes, the, in fact, did as the First World War will show us a century later. So sort of bred into the Austrian psyche, is the impossibility to recognize a revolutionary authority. It’s a contradiction in terms, they, by definition, they can’t understand that this guy who’s the product of a revolution will survive. And so they keep saying, you know, one great defeat, and he’s over, and he wins and one great defeat, and he’s done, and he wins and one great defeat, and he’s, they go to war with him four times, five times. And they lose the first four. Right? So clearly, and they keep saying, you know, this is it, you know, he’s going to collapse, you know, we know his power base is not strong, and they keep misjudging the revolution. And in fact, today, they still misjudged the revolution. I mean, Austria, the obstacles obviously don’t exist anymore. But my point is just that they never realized that the revolution was here to stay, and they still think that it’s gonna it’s gonna go away today, right? Like, these are this, like, you know, in the US, we talked about conservatives and liberals. You don’t know these conservatives. I mean, this is this is imagine conservatism, with a millennia behind it, and millennia of certainty, right? Like, these are people of condition, as we said, back in the day, back in the actual day, or back in the day of condition, meaning Hi born noble born, these are people who have been governing for 1000 years. To them. What happened a century ago is common is current events, right? So, so the persistent key misjudged them, the Russian view is a bit different. That Tsar quite admired him in the beginning that saw himself as Kissinger points out was somewhat of a revolutionary himself. And so that SAR at least before it’s sort of the 1811 1812 turnaround, admires him a lot. And that’s part of the reason why there’ll be a Hypo schmo and a detente between France and Russia, a little later on in the reign. But there’s there’s more underestimation from the Austrian side, the Russians. You know, Alexander’s like, thinks himself a great military genius, and so doesn’t listen to his generals, especially the very wise or the one I could choose off, who’s like, don’t get don’t go down. I don’t know why. But this is you know, KATUSA very prescient of mind says, I don’t think you know, let’s wait for reinforcements, whatever. And Alexander’s like are you kidding? You know, we have the high ground let’s attack right now this mother, Russia, whatever, and they get, you know, their teeth kicked in. So, yeah, definitely some some underestimation going on. And at the end of the reign, they beat him, quite literally, because they recognize his genius and they say, okay, when he’s there, we don’t find him. We only find the marshals. We only find this is how they went the 1813 campaign of Germany every time he’s there, we retreat. They it’s okay, clearly this guy, and every time he’s there, they retreat and every time there’s a lone Marshal, they hammer him and they win the battle.


Dan LeFebvre  1:03:44

You mentioned Alexander, the Tsar of Russia. And according to the movie after Auschwitz, Napoleon signs a treaty of Tilsit in July of 1807, and with Alexander, and they kind of bond over their shared hatred of Britain. But before long, Napoleon leads a combined force from France, Austria, Italy, Germany and Poland into Russia. Because, as the movie puts it, Alexander forces Napoleon to invade Russia by opening its ports to England while taxing the French. And before long, they make it into Moscow. It’s completely empty. No one’s there. Napoleon wakes up one morning and then finds the city is engulfed in flames. And then faced with bitter cold just around the corner, Napoleon decides to leave Russia. And this is just another example of how the movie seems to be so sped up in the timeline, because there’s only about 10 minutes of screen time between a treaty between France and Russia until Napoleon then invades Russia. So what were the actual events leading up to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia?


Louis Sarkozy  1:04:38

It’s funny when I watched a movie for the second time in North Carolina with a buddy of mine there, he had to take a call. I forget exactly when he walked up, but I think it was right before the treaty. And he came back in 10 minutes later and said what I missed I said, well well adjusted Few things, just a few things he had missed, you know, everything from the posh mall after the battle Friedman, the Treaty of Tilsit, his second marriage, the birth of the Son, the Russian campaign and the failure of the campaign and the retreat. And what is clear, I understand you’re trying to cram some information in this movie, but this is this a bit too much. No. So the Russian campaign is, in reality, probably the greatest military disaster in history of mankind. It was at that time the greatest army ever assembled in world history. Five or 600,000 men, it is unbelievably large and diverse. And Napoleon goes to war and this is eerily eerily reminiscent of some of our current conflicts without any wargames. There is no wargames. He goes to war, because he wants a quick battle. And he thinks that that will push the Russians to negotiate. But there’s no there’s no war objective. He doesn’t want a province where he doesn’t want a particular treaty. He just wants to humble them, which is absurd. And so he wants to fight a battle, which he says within 30 days of the border, beat the Russian army and then retreat, he never intended to go to Moscow. He never intended to have any sort of lasting occupation. But he gets drawn in by the genius of the Russian defenders, who know exactly what he’s like who know what he wants, and who Lorem in progressively. It’s true that the continental system itself disaster and debacle was a was a large reason. But this was not a warning. This is this is a caprice it’s a tantrum and to expect Russia to stop trade for no gain with what was its largest trade partner Britain was absurd. And sort of goes back to the the ultimate Metternich conclusion which is that any international system, which relies on coercion is bound to fail. What you need is to is to uphold people’s interest and and really insight them into your system. The course of continental system was never bound to work and it highlights the points ignorance of many things. Financial and economics, something he never really grasped so so he goes to Russia with no warrants with the largest army ever assembled with reluctant allies, the Austrians and the Prussians which each have a core in his army. He gets drawn in because they refuse to fight large battle. Eventually they do fight about all right at the gates of Moscow because Russian Morales is suffering. It’s a complete scorched earth policy and they say listen, we can’t give up Moscow without a fight. The Prestige bill will be too much so they create a series of formidable defenses and they fight what the Russians call the Battle of Borodino and what the French call the Battle of the must Cova the burden of being the village Muskoka being the river and it’s one of the worst battles to have witnessed or participated in in well history. The casualty count is the equivalent of having a fully loaded 787. Crash killing everyone on board every five minutes for 10 hours. It is a nightmare, right? It is cataclysmic. Napoleon is no longer the energetic, tactical genius of his younger years. He is established obese, little lazier, and instead opts instead of the great maneuvers and the great turning of the enemy’s flank that characterized his earlier campaigns and his earlier successes, he opts for incredibly costly frontal assaults, because he is more and more convinced that his troops are unbeatable that he is unbeatable, and that the Russians are just a paper house and if you kick in the door, everything will collapse. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth he is shocked to hear at the low number of prisoners taken halfway through the battle. A very clear sign of the enemy’s resolve much more of them are willing to die than rather than than to be captured completely miscalculates everything. The Russians were positioned on the series of great readouts, which switched hands I mean, some of them 20 times during the day with attack and counter attack and counter attack. It is murderous and disgusting and the the at the end of the battle, you got a French corps commander who says he could walk the entire length of the five or six mile battlefield just stepping on corpses without stepping on the ground. And so it’s a tactical stalemate. It’s a draw, because the French losses are bordering on unacceptable But they hold the field. In the Russians retreated, which is commonly attributed to whoever won is whoever held the field but which gave rise to this funny turn of phrase. Since this draws a stalemate, you can say that the Russians won the Battle of Borodino and the French won the battle of the Moscow. It’s a funny way to turn the thing but they do find it, and Napoleon enters Moscow a couple of weeks later, he is completely deluded themselves into believing that the Tsar will accept a peace offer. He sends representative to St. Petersburg to try to get the tsar to negotiate he waits weeks in Moscow, As winter approaches, believing that the Tsar would negotiate and sue for peace. At the same time that Tsar in St. Petersburg has turned into some sort of religious fundamentalist and has sworn a holy war upon the French so not exactly in the mood to negotiate. And two or three or four weeks into Moscow. There is a reconstituted Russian army that suddenly surrounds the town and a little attack, little ambush on one of them. Your house forces suddenly stings Napoleon into action. He’s like, Oh, God, I’ve been here for months, and the peace offer is not coming. And so begins the infamous retreat. Now, it’s very heavily emphasized for good reason, because the optics of it are barely believable. But in truth, the war was already lost, then, and much more soldiers died on the way to Moscow then on the way back, especially typhus, typhus wiped out to the French army in the summer when they were getting there rather than on the way back so what first is a heavenly laden and disorderly or heavenly dated an orderly retreat becomes a complete rout. Mob discipline breaks down. Weather turns catastrophic. Of course, it’s of course, it’s the coldest winter in however long. Of course, rivers that should have been frozen solid, hence easy to pass for some reason or torrents of ice and water. I mean, Murphy’s Law, everything that could have gone wrong goes wrong. They lose shoes. They’re walking barefoot, it’s negative 40 degrees Celsius. There’s bands of marauding Cossacks, anybody tries to go get water or forage for food, they get spirit to death. People die on on in droves, and the proudest and most beautiful and most numerous army in the world had ever seen and entered Russia with 600,000 men. I think 20 or 30,000 people make it out. So out of every 12 soldier that entered Russia with the army to come back to France, two out of 12 Seven die of disease or whether I think to die as a result of wounds. And I think three are taking, I think three are taking captured. So it is it is just an orgy of death and slaughter and suffering. It is absolutely catastrophic. And the Empire never recovers from that mortal blow. The cavalry even four years later, they lost hundreds of 1000s of horses. And four years later, I’m sorry, two years later, Napoleon wins more battles, he’s unable to achieve decisive victories because he has no cavalry to pursue. So the and the dearth of the future French armies of noncommissioned officers, these experienced soldiers and CADRE has, who has any military men will tell you are the backbone of any force, they all lay in the frozen Russian step. And future battles will be fought with boys as young as 15 or 14. So it’s, it’s it’s, it’s catastrophic. And it’s very much the beginning of the end. So and it’s it’s, it’s somebody who has spent quite some time with Napoleon. It is unbelievable. That that he could have done something like that. It’s just it’s against so many of its Maxim’s of his own actions. And it just makes you want to bang bang your head against a hard place somewhere. It’s it’s incomprehensible is the word incomprehensible. In


Dan LeFebvre  1:14:19

the movie, we see, I think, it talks about the 600,000 men and then he returns with something like 40,000 men according to the movie. Yes. And that’s in December of 1812. And we see that when he gets back then he faces basically the the ramifications of that he has this political enemy that starts to come in now with the the French Council agrees to an order by the Allied coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia and England in the order to exile Napoleon to and that’s how he gets exiled to the tiny island of Elba. Mediterranean.


Louis Sarkozy  1:14:54

Yeah, so so there’s some chapters that were skipped there movie so he comes back Yeah, of course, in the interest of, you know, cramming everything into a four hour movie they skip, it’s funny, but it’s an interesting challenge, you know, to try to put 20 years into two and a half hours or three hours. I thought that was when I saw the trailer, you know, a couple years ago last year, whenever it came out, I was like, okay, that’s the challenge that they have. I think they failed. But listen, it’s I’m not saying every subsequent movie with a similar challenge will also fail. But so he comes back from Russia. Suddenly, his youthful energy and dedication is back, he reconstitutes an army. And now he tries to save Germany, which was completely since his reign in the French orbit. And he there’s the campaign of Germany in 1813, he loses that another catastrophic defeat the Battle of Leipzig, the Battle of the nations, another orgy of mistakes, but still not as bad as Russia, but he loses that he’s too outnumbered, etc. And then there’s the 1814 campaign for France. And that’s the first time since the revolution that France has been invaded. And then he loses that as well, despite, you know, being his last truly genius campaign. He has some stunning victories. He’s crushingly outnumbered. But he has a wonderful, wonderful series of victories. But still, the odds are two greats. And then he abdicates. So there’s two campaigns that the movie misses, there’s the German campaign and the French campaign in between 18 For Russia, and the the first application


Dan LeFebvre  1:16:20

I was gonna say, because in the movie, it was really interesting to me that they talked about like, throughout the entire thing. It’s okay. They’re fighting against the English and they’re far eastern empire and all this and then, okay, now the English are part of this coalition, that they’ve decided to exile Napoleon and it’s like, okay, you’re obviously skipping over a few things here.


Louis Sarkozy  1:16:41

Yes. Yeah, quite a few things. Indeed. That’s why I think perhaps, the story of Napoleon is best told in a TV show medium, it would make like listen, you similar sort of budget, very, very high budget, similar levels of stars and popular Hollywood icons. And you make two or three seasons. That’s, that’s, that’s the greatest show in history. And listen, it’s the greatest show in history, because it’s the most amazing story, probably in history. I mean, it’s barely believable. I mean, the episodes of this, that from the Russian campaign to the intellectual efflorescence of the Egyptian campaign, just to the fact that this young kid, you know, with a thick accent was Corsican, ends up conquering the world and then and then loses everything, which I mean, the guy dies at 51 Very young. But he conquered the world and lost everything. He’s even unable to talk to his own son at the end. So it’s, it’s everything you want in drama, in violence in a romance. It’s a tragedy that would make the Greeks proud. So I think a TV show would be would be very, very fitting here. And maybe there is a short series coming. So I’ve heard with Mr. Spielberg, apparently, who bought the script from Stanley Kubrick. That was never put the picture here. So we shall see.


Dan LeFebvre  1:18:04

Yeah, we’ll have to have you back on there talking about that. One thing that comes with absolutely when when Napoleon is in Elba, there’s something I have a feeling movie’s gonna get this wrong, too, because the way it shows him escaping from Elba, it’s because he sees that reads a newspaper headline about Tsar Alexander visiting Josephine. So that’s why Napoleon’s like, Okay, I’m done here. And he leaves elbow returns to France, and that he finds Josephine has already fallen sick and dies before he gets there. What was a potential affair between Alexander and Josephine the reason that Napoleon left Elba? No. I was right.


Louis Sarkozy  1:18:44

It’s true that Alexander goes to see her Josephine’s very smart to see him because she knows the winds are changing. And she wants to secure not only her standard of living, but also her kids. So she as the great connoisseur of political relations and sort of, you know, social rise, absolutely goes to see him and uses his mercy to try to secure her future. It’s true. Also, Napoleon was scandalized that that he went to see or he says, you know, what is this, the vanquished go to see the Vanquisher goes to see the vanquishes wives. I mean, this is not very classy, but it’s not at all why he comes back, he comes back, because he senses political opportunity, because he knows the Bourbons are unpopular, because he knows that the British will probably move him somewhere more inaccessible, and that everybody doesn’t really like him so close to French and Italian shores. So he comes back after 10 months, because politics dictated it and not because a romance or a marriage or anything that former lover dictated. It’s him. It’s Politics, Politics, Politics. That’s it. By the


Dan LeFebvre  1:19:58

movie we see Napoleon rich earn to Paris and the French people seem to welcome him with open arms. The rest of the world, however, doesn’t seem to be happy with him pulling return. There’s a Congress of Vienna and March of 1815, a new coalition of forces led by the Duke of Wellington are tasked with defeating Napoleon once and for all. And there’s a scene in the movie where Napoleon’s he’s talking strategy with his officer, he’s talking about having having 125,000 men against a total of 500,000 men. But his enemies aren’t a single force yet, so Napoleon’s plan, according to the movie is to try to defeat his enemies before they can unite. And the best place to do that seems to be near a place called Waterloo. So we see in the movie on June 18 1815, it’s a rainy day Napoleon’s across from Wellington and Battlefield. And even though Napoleon wants to wait for the ground to dry, he’s forced to launch the attack, because some of his scouts find that bluecurve soldiers are close to uniting with Wellington’s forces. So the battle starts. Before long, it seems pretty obvious things aren’t going well for the French and then Luca and his Prussian forces show up join the battle. And Napoleon finally admits defeat. How well did the movie do portraying the Battle of Waterloo?


Louis Sarkozy  1:21:07

Very badly. So just a quick note, the 100 days, which is what we call the return from Elba, to the Battle of Waterloo, basically about 100 days is unbelievable. Beautiful, in terms of the legend, absolutely catastrophic for France. And I don’t think and in fact, I think we know that the French people did not welcome him back with open arms the army did. The army was almost his most was always his his most loyal constituency. For the French people. It’s a very uncertain time, and everybody is sort of on the fence waiting to see how events play out. He arrives back in Paris in the middle of the night. It’s true. There’s a lot of old loyalists were there to welcome him. It’s very moving, very emotional scene. But you know, he, you know, asked a lot of people to be there that say, Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sick or have a medical reason or I’m not feeling well, and everybody wants to see where things are gonna go. So it’s a very ambitious time. But it’s very true. Everybody at the Congress of Vienna, Austria, Prussia, Russia and England, and also Sweden and Spain, say, Okay, we put our differences together, we put our differences apart, sorry, we stick together. We’ll figure out how to reorganize Europe afterwards. The number one issue is defeating him and they assemble massive forces everywhere. And it’s true that there is the British and Prussian force that is in Belgium, and Napoleon, always looking for the next victory. The next gain and legitimacy says I need a victory. Now everything is shaky. He is no longer at all as popular as before. He doesn’t have as many allies, his own regime and political alliances. Both his right and left threatened him everything is his victory. And he attacks. The Waterloo campaign begins. He wins victory but not decisive won because of lack of cavalry at Catawba. He wins a victory it’s ghetto ma it gets Omaha is where he beats Wellington and he wins a victory at Lee against blue her and the Prussian both the British and the Prussian forces are defeated but not destroyed. And then he turns again to face the English he’s convinced the English are a bad army Wellington is a seat boy general he called him completely underestimated him. Wellington had chosen his ground very well. The hills of massage on just south of Brussels. Perfectly defensible position he Garrison’s three farmhouses will go normal as something populates with elite units. And the entire gamble of Napoleon is that he wants to defeat Wellington before blue her arrives. So he sends the right wing of his army under a guy called Goshi. To pursue the Prussians and pushes orders are at all costs prevent them from linking up with Wellington. Napoleon can defeat each army single handedly, but if they combine then it’s very very unlikely. So he says to Hoshi, chase them and make sure they don’t reunite with anything he turns to face. Wellington in Los Angeles, the battle begins and this is a cacophony of errors. As you point out, he waits for the ground to dry. If you had told the 27 year old Napoleon one morning of a decisive battle, let’s wait for the ground the ground to dry he would have you would have clawed your throat out. I mean, it’s this this was absolutely against everything he stood for, in terms of speed and decisiveness and surprise, he was known to attack even before the sun rose. So clearly there’s something wrong there. he’s sick, he’s old, he’s obese. He’s probably already demoralized, and he waits for the ground to dry. The reason given was that cannonballs ricochet when the ground is dry, hence maximizing their chances of inflicting casualties when the ground is smooth and wet, they burrow in the earth and they don’t Ricochet and they don’t hit as many people hardly a reason to delay a battle, especially one that depends so much on speed when you’re trying to prevent enemies from linking up. But there’s many other mistakes here again, dismisses the ideas of grand movement are encirclement of going against the British of turning their flank he wants frontal attack, which is disastrous against discipline line infantry. He tries to take the farmhouses, he takes Google Home, I think, way too late and the others never. And, you know, he’s basically completely defeated, and fatally the Prussians arrive, just as cushy had failed to pin them. And he himself had been pinned at a place called whatever blew her links up with Wellington, around a village called plot Anwar surrounds the French force. And as fate would have it, that movement of troops when the Prussians arrive is pretty much at exactly the same time as the famed Imperial Guard and the elite units of the French army is defeated. And the combined blow of the guard retreating. And the Prussian encircling is too much for the French army which completely disintegrates. And and that’s the end, it’s the ultimate, cataclysmic end. And it’s a it’s a total disaster, not only for Napoleon, but for France. Before the 100 days, the first abdication, mainly thanks to tiny home, France and negotiated probably one of the most beneficial peace treaties in the history, no, or very little debt to paid no occupation of her territory. And she’s brought back to her 1793 borders, which is just the revolutionary borders, which makes her France a little larger than she is today. So it’s not at all a punitive treaty. When Napoleon comes back, and is again defeated at Waterloo, then it’s a punitive treaty. There’s a huge war indemnity that’s imposed on France. I think it’s something 20% of GDP for a number of years. There is occupation of the territory. The Duke of Wellington essentially governs France for a number of years Prussians sack, a number of palaces they, you know, destroy French towns. I mean, there’s revanche ism the Prussians, particularly remembering the 1806 1807 campaign, where they were devastated by France. And we all know the Germans, not to be the most peaceful, loving people in history, especially the Prussians, and far away from their current, shall we say, lukewarm attitude towards warfare. Back then, Prussia was very much a militaristic nation hatched from a cannonball, as Napoleon settlers, as Voltaire put it a little better. Some nations have an army, Prussia has an army that has a state. And so they live up to that horrid reputation. And so France is is even smaller, almost dismembered and suffers a great deal and arguably never recovers. 1870s another catastrophe and 1914 is a near catastrophe, and we lose an ungodly amount of young men, which sets us up perfectly for the calamitous, 1940. So the 100 days, the Bonapartist love to say that it’s absolutely beautiful. And it is in terms of legend and storytelling. It’s barely believable, the famous moment when Napoleon faces the fifth regiments of the line. And you know, they fall into his arms, etc. It’s a masterstroke of propaganda. It’s a beautiful moment. It’s great and paintings, but it prefaces, you know, absolute national disaster. So that’s that’s the story. I don’t think the movie did a good job of portraying it. This is the combination of the tragedy, and I think it should have been given much more justice. And I think it’s a much more moving story. And it’s a much more tragic one. It’s a much more dramatic one. It’s a much more sad one. In reality, as any Hollywood director or Hollywood writer could produce, and this I have nothing against the profession of, of writers, especially ones employed in Hollywood. But there does seem to be a sort of misplaced arrogance in thinking in looking at the historical record in looking at these events and the Wheel of Fate and the way events turned out and saying I could do better. Let me Let me customize this a little more, right? No, I mean, these are barely believable events. And they if you were to write a script of this period, and give it to somebody who had never heard of Napoleon, right, and he said, Well, let me let me know what you think of this script. I’d be like, okay, clearly it’s amazing, but it’s a bit too much, don’t you think? It’s a bit unbelievable. And yet it happened in Hollywood right to see this and I could do a little better one with my you know, journalism degree from UC Berkeley now. You can’t you can’t do better than then then fate than what actually happened. So I really wished that the this particular episode would be portrayed at least a little more tragic view, or with a little more weight and depth and substance than it actually was.


Dan LeFebvre  1:30:47

At the very end of the movie. After being defeated at Waterloo. We see Napoleon being exiled again, this time, not anywhere near Europe, to St. Helena, and the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. And the last sequence in the movie seems to show Napoleon kind of accepting his face. And, of course, the movie seems to imply that his reason for escaping exile the last time was because of Josephine, and she’s passed away now. So Napoleon doesn’t try to escape. He lives out the rest of his days at St. Helena until he passes away, still with thoughts of Josephine. Was that a pretty good depiction of the final years and his second exile?


Louis Sarkozy  1:31:21

No. I would have loved to know. The scene on St. Helena in the movies just as fast as all the other scenes. And in reality, he spent six years on scene. Oh,


Dan LeFebvre  1:31:35

wow. Okay, not 10 minutes,


Louis Sarkozy  1:31:36

not 10 minutes, six years. And it’s very it’s a pivotal moment, because that’s what cements his legacy. If he died on the battlefield at Waterloo, he probably would not be as famous as yesterday. But the fact that as he himself recognized, he has to wear what he called the the crown of thorns that England makes me aware that he’s exiled on a remote volcanic rock in the South Atlantic. 1000 miles from any shore is sort of the perfect ending to the tragedy that is his life. And he weaponizes that by writing his final work, in cahoots with the Council of last gases, and they ride the memorial of St. Helena, which is the last Napoleonic battle which the one against posterity, and this is one that Napoleon ultimately wins because he cements in the popular imagination, the Napoleonic legend forever. It’s one of the best sellers of the 19th century it portrays him as he was not at all a liberal, nationalistic, you know, that was, at least what he was not at the end of the reign, maybe a little closer to the beginning. But nonetheless, very few people remember his enemies, everybody remembers him. You show his silhouette to any person in any country on Earth. And they probably you you can go to the the remote valley in Afghanistan, and you’ll probably find people who know Napoleon. I mean, it is unbelievable that the level of impact that the hat, the hands and the waistcoat the image that he has, and that’s mostly due to his life, but also very largely due to that last St. Helena phase. It is also a very sad and tragic phase. He gets to the island. Originally, he lives in a little bungalow, near Jamestown, the city. City, the the Hamlet’s the village, the tent city is a big word. And he’s quite happy there. But very quickly, he’s moved to the mansion, which was being prepared for him. The the Longwood mentioned, by the way, I live on Longwood drive, and not at all, not at all on purpose, the Longwood, I did not buy property, just because you think I wouldn’t be that good, pure coincidence. He lives in our house, which is a good fun house. A pretty house. But, you know, when you were used to the palaces of France, to the stimulation of the courts, to the being the envy of Europe, it’s a hard fall indeed. The climate is horrible, there is mold and rot everywhere, humidity is miserable. There’s rats that knock through his books and etc. And so begins a very slow descent into depression and into disease because he eventually succumbs to the stomach cancer that killed his father, and that was to kill one of his sisters. And so it’s a very tragic period of his life. He reads a lot. He writes it out there, at least originally, at least in the first few years. And it’s the ultimate combination and it’s not you know, him sitting at a table in perfect uniform keeling over, as the movie portrays. It is just stuff, you know, slow descent into hell up until he dies delirious in his bed. It’s true as the movie says that his last words were friends Josephine army. But I think much more interesting because he was completely delirious at that point. Much more interesting is the words that he mentions two or three days before, when he is in another delusional moment, and he tells something along the lines of I give my farmland and Corsica to my son. As if, after all of the titles and all of the crowns and all of the victories, he came back to what he was, which was a low and humble Corsican landowner. And that’s what he at the very end, that’s what he says, you know, and my humble farm goes to my son in Corsica, you know, may he grow it well. So it is a perfect sort of circle, which which comes back at the very end there. And then, yeah, and then it finishes, he dies, time stood still, the clock on the wall is stopped. And it still hasn’t moved. From the moment when they stopped to the needles. They’re in Longwood mentioned. And then legend took over. And the Napoleonic legend is born, the second where Napoleon dies. And that’s why we all know him today, love or hate them.


Dan LeFebvre  1:36:23

I thank you so much for coming on a chat about the Napoleon movie, ultimately, kind of throughout, I felt like the movie was missing a lot. There’s so much more to his life. And there’s covered a lot today. But there’s even more than we could hope to cover in one chat as well. So before I let you go, I want to ask about an aspect. He kind of touched on it there at the end talking about the rats eating these books, but in pulling his love of books, and your new book is called Napoleon’s library, the emperor, his books and their influence on that Napoleonic era, we’ll make sure to add a link to it for listeners to pick up their own copy. But before I let you go, can you share one of your favorite stories from the book as a sneak peek for our listeners who want to learn more about Napoleon?


Louis Sarkozy  1:36:58

Yeah, absolutely. So as you rightfully point out, and thank you for plugging the book. I was not too shameless to do it. But I wanted you to be to be the first one to break the ice. So yeah, so I look at his entire life, everything we’ve covered, but through his love of literature, and books, and the impact that they had on him militarily, politically, but also in his romance and his personal life. And so one particular story that I love, and I find very touching is at the end of his life on St. Helena, he had a lot of trouble getting books. Throughout his life and his reign. Rather, he benefited from Francis immense fiscal and administrative resources. So he built these great libraries and had a steady flow, incoming flow of 1000s and 10s of 1000s of books, but on St. Helena, he really struggles to get books. And so a year after his arrival, he only brought about 580 books from France, which for him is you know, two months worth of reading. And he gets a shipment of books that arrives on the on the frigate HMS New Castle, I think it’s called. And so on New Castle books arrive. And he’s so excited to get these new books that when the boxes come up, he opens and pry them open himself with a hammer and scissors. Now we say this to people today. And it’s okay, he opened the box himself, right. But But back then the hierarchy, right, for the Emperor to open the boxes with a hammer and scissors himself is it simply does not happen, right? It’s unbelievable. So he opens the boxes, he’s so excited, he stays up all night reading his new books. And I think we have not shown in the morning who gets into his room at 6am and finds him on the on the ground and his knees. And this is an old man by now relatively old man, you know, and he you know, with books open everywhere, open on his bed, open on the ground, etc. And he looks at me, he’s like, Oh, I was reading them with my thumb. You know, it says going so fast, you know, page per page, because he was so excited to get to get new new things to read. So I think I think it’s a perfect encapsulation of his fall. It’s very touching and makes him human. But it’s also a good lesson that you know, if the great reformer, the great military man, the great politician, the great amount of energy and action that was Napoleon spent his entire life reading constantly. Then we all could read some more. And you know, next time you know, Sandra from human resources, tells you she wishes she could read more, but she doesn’t have the time. You can you can roll your eyes with a little more confident.


Dan LeFebvre  1:39:32

And your book is a great place to start reading. There you go. Indeed,


Louis Sarkozy  1:39:35

indeed, it’s also it’s a bit of a of a specific subject as books, but it’s very much meant for somebody who has never read anything about Napoleon just as much as it is for the connoisseur. So we tried to strike that balance and you know, hopefully readers will know if we were successful.


Dan LeFebvre  1:39:50

Thank you again so much for your time.


Louis Sarkozy  1:39:52

Thank you, Dan. It was a great pleasure.



Latest episode