Napoleon and the Art of Diplomacy by William Nester

NAPOLEON AND THE ART OF DIPLOMACY: How War and Hubris Determined the Rise and Fall of the French Empire by William Nester is not about Napoleon’s diplomacy as art, but more as brute force.

Nester traces Napoleon’s rise to power as a successful general in the mid 1790s to the master of Europe in 1812 and how it all came crashing down in 1814.  Throughout this time, Nester contends that Napoleon wove a web of alliances through treaties and setting relatives on the thrones of various countries.  Many of the alliances were negotiated at the point of a bayonet after Napoleon vanquished the other country.  For example, he coerced some German principalities and others jumped on board on their own when Napoleon dismantled the Holy Roman Empire.

It is hard to judge what the criteria is that Nester uses to evaluate Napoleon’s diplomatic skills.  Based on the strictest definition, Napoleon did conduct diplomacy with other countries because he had relations with them.  However, it is debatable on whether Napoleon’s diplomacy was a skill.  When I think of diplomacy, I think of give and take by two opposing sides.  Napoleon’s diplomacy was normally one-sided that favored the French to the detriment of the other country.  Nester does point this out, but I am not sure you can claim that Napoleon was an artist in this skill (as Nester contends).

With regard to its prose, the book is well-written.  The chapters have a continuous flow that keeps you engaged with each of Napoleon’s moves.  Nester’s inclusion of maps of Napoleon’s reshaping of Europe are particularly helpful.  The maps graphically show how Napoleon reorganized Europe into the continent that we can see today.

Although not a great example of how diplomacy is supposed to work, Nester’s book does show how a megalomaniac reshaped Europe into his own image – not all of it in a bad way.

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