Tabloid journalism, not history
June 21, 2003
Paul Johnson’s Napoleon, in the Penguin Lives series, is a poor introduction to Napoleon; however it might serve as an introduction to Paul Johnson.
In this book Johnson writes, not as an historian, but as a right-wing tabloid journalist. If you like reading off-the-wall conspiracy theories about communists, fascists and liberals you will love this book. If you are looking for a book that has even the vaguest sense of the life of Napoleon you will have to look elsewhere.
This short book could be read in one sitting but is not worth the time. There are no footnotes, almost certainly because he did not consult any source material to write the book. The few details he actually provides about the man are full of countless factual errors and wild distortions. There are no maps—geography is irrelevant to this story.
What could have been an interesting point-of-view, had it been supported by facts, is turned into an outrageous thesis defended by hearsay. These are the same problems that Paul Johnson has brought to a wide variety of topics in his other books (Modern Times, History of Christianity, History of the Jews, History of the American People, Intellectuals). This is what happens when one uses an anti-intellectual approach to writing “history.”