Napoleon: Saint, Sinner or Both?
Robert Gildea examines the enduring and divisive debate surrounding the reputation of the French emperor who anticipated the best and the worst of the 20th century.
Seventy years ago, interned by the Germans in Buchenwald concentration camp, the Dutch professor Peter Geyl tried out on the inmates his view that the place of Napoleon in history should be reconsidered in the light of Hitler’s tyranny. Although Napoleon was not the author of genocide and was wedded to equality and the rights of man, Geyl nevertheless thought that Napoleon was responsible for murder and massacre on a grand scale. These ideas were subsequently developed in Napoleon For and Against (1949), in which he demonstrated how French historians were divided over what the great man stood for.