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Napoleon and the British

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Napoleon and the British
By Stuart Semmel. (New Haven and London, Yale University Press: 2004. Pg. xii, 354. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-300-09001-3.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - February 8, 2005

Napoleon Bonaparte had a distinct and long-lasting impact on the British People, and the British psyche. In Napoleon and the British, Stuart Semmel takes an innovative look at just how Napoleon impacted all aspects of British society, and how he influenced British religious and political thinking. For many in Britain, Napoleon was a revered icon, for others he was the epitome of evil. Within the pages of this book, Semmel provides a comprehensive overview of the various feelings Napoleon engendered, and why he evoked so many different sentiments.

Using a range of sources from popular sonnets and novels to political tracts and journalistic reports, Semmel paints a detailed and riveting portrait of British society and how it was influenced by the 'image' of Napoleon and how the British used Napoleon as a stepping stone to start discussions on social and political interests within their own country. Napoleon and the British is a social history of Britain during the period from 1796-1855. Semmel concentrates almost solely on the public view of Napoleon, rather than the actual 'historical' events that he was most closely associated with. His research, and this book, is focused primarily on how contemporary British political writers and creative writers reflected the public's varied opinions in regard to Napoleon, and how these opinions changed over time.

Semmel is an assistant professor of history at the University of Delaware, and the breadth of his research into the British press and political pamphleteering is extensive. His offers insights into the development of British identity during this period, and he shows how the cultural perceptions of Napoleon where used for propaganda purposes by the British government - and British radicals. This text is presented in a chronological fashion, with a few chapters organized along thematic lines. Semmel has included copious endnotes and a detailed bibliography provide much fodder for further study on this subject. This book is suited for use as a supplemental reading text in a variety of courses, including courses on 19th-century British Social History, History of Journalism, and classes on Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon and the British will also fascinate the general reader interested in the Napoleonic period.

Related Reviews:

The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook, Edited by Philip G. Dwyer and Peter McPhee
An anthology of primary texts, translated into English, on the French Revolution and Napoleon

The Great Mutiny: India 1857, by Christopher Hibbert.
In 1857, three regiments of Indian troops mutinied, sparking a revolt that resulted in the slaughter of countless British residents in India. In turn, the British launched massive revenge attacks that slaughtered countless Indians. In this book, Hibbert chronicles the causes of the mutiny, the course it took, and its aftermath.

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