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This is the incredible rise and unbelievable fall of a woman whose energy and ambition is often overshadowed by Napoleon's military might. In this triumphant biography, Kate Williams tells Josephine's searing story, of sexual obsession, politics and surviving as a woman in a man's world.Abandoned in Paris by her aristocratic husband, Josephine's future did not look promisiThis is the incredible rise and unbelievable fall of a woman whose energy and ambition is often overshadowed by Napoleon's military might. In this triumphant biography, Kate Williams tells Josephine's searing story, of sexual obsession, politics and surviving as a woman in a man's world.Abandoned in Paris by her aristocratic husband, Josephine's future did not look promising. But while her friends and contemporaries were sent to the guillotine during the Terror that followed the Revolution, she survived prison and emerged as the doyenne of a wildly debauched party scene, surprising everybody when she encouraged the advances of a short, marginalised Corsican soldier, six years her junior.Josephine, the fabulous hostess and skilled diplomat, was the perfect consort to the ambitious but obnoxious Napoleon. With her by his side, he became the greatest man in Europe, the Supreme Emperor; and she amassed a jewellery box with more diamonds than Marie Antoinette's. But as his fame grew, Napoleon became increasingly obsessed with his need for an heir and irritated with Josephine's extravagant spending. The woman who had enchanted France became desperate and jealous. Until, a divorcee aged forty-seven, she was forced to watch from the sidelines as Napoleon and his young bride produced a child....

Title : Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte
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ISBN : 9780345522832
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte Reviews

  • karen
    2018-11-15 03:11

    HAPPY BASTILLE DAY, FRENCHIES!!!She chose the symbol of the swan, graceful on the surface but scrabbling hard underwater.this is pretty much just a straight-up biography of josephine bonaparte. i don't read a lot of biographies, but sometimes i have to read things outside of my comfort zone, and this is what happens. it's not at all bad, but i never thought i would be reading one on josephine, and the things i knew about her life before i read this are as follows:she was frenchshe was married to napoleonthey had a tempestuous relationship with bunches of sexturns out, she was actually from martinique, and was not the gorgeous and glamorous sexpot "they" usually depict her as being; in fact, she was a little odd-looking but she could eventually afford wonderful artists to depict her more charitably. and she knew very well the fine female art of sartorial camouflage - buying 900 gowns a year during the height of her wealth and power. but she came from much more humble beginnings, growing up on a sugar plantation that was destroyed by a hurricane, compromising her family's wealth and her prospects. she got pushed into a loveless, arranged marriage to alexandre de beauharnais at sixteen, after her 12-year-old sister, and first choice, died. and then - BOOM - reign of terror hits - her husband's head is cut off, and she's imprisoned. she's released, and here's where it gets interesting. apparently, there was a great romantic allure to those who had been imprisoned. the french, right???this is where i discovered the baron de frenilly, who is the kind of guy i would want to hang out with, all glib and offhand observations"It was the height of good manners to be ruined, to have been suspected, persecuted, and, above all, imprisoned."and"People greatly regretted that they had not been guillotined.and"It is impossible to die of hunger with more gaiety."were i the kind of person who could be bothered reading books on the computer, i would read his memoirs, but alas, i am not.so josephine finds herself in demand, with all the glamor her imprisonment has bestowed, and suddenly she's having all these wild parties - let's call them elegant orgies - where she meets napoleon and he becomes sexually obsessed with her, and eventually, they get married.it's not a romance of the ages - they both take lovers - her first affair occurs during the first year of their marriage - they're both erratic and ambitious, but they keep circling each other and winding up in the bedroom, despite napoleon's family's disgust and the fact that although she managed two children with her beheaded husband (before he was beheaded), josephine never gives napoleon the son he needs.and then this:Marie was the first of Napoleon's mistresses whom he was sure had been entirely faithful to him. Unlike Eleonore Denuelle, she truly loved him; there had been no gentlemen callers in his absences. Napoleon was now certain that he could father a child. Marie's pregnancy secured his lasting affection for her and meant the end of her three-year period as his mistress."Naturally I would prefer to have my mistress crowned, but I must be allied with sovereigns." He left Vienna resolved to divorce his wife and find a royal to marry.hooray! now that he knows his juice is potent, it's away with the wife and the first women who has ever been faithful to him because - HEIR!!! see ya, suckers! napoleon is such a dick. but so is she, and this isn't the story of a woman wronged, this is the story of what happened when two kind of shitty and ambitious people met, had great sex, clung to each other in some prototypical new adult romance relationship, grew to unprecedented power together and one time almost got blown up.i love how devoted she was to her beloved chateau de malmaison, and her roses, and that she had animals running everywhere, like an orangutan and swans, and i kind of didn't love that napoleon would shoot them when he was in a mood.if you're interested in josephine at all, this seems to be a pretty comprehensive biography, although i am certianly no authority on what makes a good biography.

  • Marita
    2018-12-10 02:04

    Rose, fondly known as Yeyette, had a long standing wish to go to France. It seemed like an impossible dream to fifteen year old Rose who was living in Martinique. But then young Alexandre required a wife and desired her to be Creole. Alexandre was the son of Aunt Edmée's lover, and that family lived in Paris. And so Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie left Martinique for France to marry Alexandre de Beauharnais. Who would have thought that one day this plump, gauche girl with the bad teeth would be the elegant, loved Empress Joséphine of France?This detailed and well-written biography of Joséphine (as she was later known) starts with her life in Martinique. It tells of the terrible conditions of the slaves in the plantations and describes a devastating hurricane which wreaked havoc in 1766 when Rose, as she was then, was a little girl. In September 1779 she left Martinique for France accompanied by her father and her maid Euphémie.The next phase of her life was as wife of Alexandre. It was not an ideal marriage, but they produced two offspring, Eugène and Hortense. Then came the Revolution in 1789 (Marie-Antoinette was but seven years older than Rose), soon followed by the Terror with a capital T. Alexandre lost his head, but Rose managed to survive - only just.Enter the young Corsican, Napoleone di Buonaparte (his name was originally Italian and the family Italian speaking). At this stage Rose was a friend and mistress of Paul Barras, an important politician, and it was he who suggested to the young Buonaparte that he (Napoleone) marry Rose. They did in fact marry, and the groom insisted that they change their names. He became Napoléon Bonaparte and she his Joséphine. In fact, the entire Buonaparte family adopted French names. But oh, what an odious family! They were the in-laws from hell who spent much time and effort trying to get rid of Joséphine whom they detested. They were all for feathering their own nests and threw some spectacular tantrums in the process.The biography details Joséphine's life with Napoléon, during which he wrote her hundreds of love letters. However, he was extremely tyrannical but she somehow managed to manage, soothe and calm him. I learnt a great deal about Napoléon in this book - not only about his military achievements, but also about his character. My personal opinion? He may have been a brilliant military strategist, but to me he seems to have been thoroughly obnoxious. Joséphine had her faults in that she was unfaithful and a spendthrift, but she also had many good qualities and was loved not only by Napoléon, but also by the populace.There are some wonderful details of the beautiful home that Joséphine created at Malmaison. She was very interested in botany and created a spectacular garden and a menagerie. She imported plants and animals from around the world. An agent was even sent to far away Australia to add to the collection, and visitors marvelled at kangaroos hopping about the grounds. She added a theatre and also an art gallery. Wonderful works of art were displayed but alas, most of them were pilfered by Napoléon in the course of his military conquests. Napoléon became First Consul and then Emperor of France. In almost no time at all the lessons of the Revolution were forgotten and here were the Emperor and the Empress emulating the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Vast amounts of money were spent on decorating their palace at the Tuilleries as well as on clothing and jewels for the Empress Joséphine. There was however a very large fly in the ointment, and this led to the loving couple being divorced. The portly middle aged Napoléon gained a very young Hapsburg bride in the process, but somehow things went downhill for both him and Joséphine after their divorce.Napoléon opted for the bee as his symbol, whilst Joséphine selected the swan. I find that quite amusing as Napoléon seemed always to be busy and angrily buzzing about. Joséphine on the other hand was, as the author puts it, like a magnificent swan seemingly floating on the water but paddling frantically below the surface to stay afloat.I read this interestesting book immediately after reading Josephine B Trilogy, a novel which covers the same ground and is historically accurate for the most part. I recommend it as supplementary reading.

  • Matt
    2018-12-09 10:08

    It cannot be said enough; strong women come in all shapes and forms. Kate Williams proves this in her thorough biography of Josephine Bonaparte, who is the latest in my list of subjects as I continue my journey over this two month period. Married to the (in)famous French general and Emperor, Josephine's life proved to be packed full of interesting stories, offset with much angst and derision. Williams brings much of this to life in this piece that touches on a number of historic events, which provides a firm backdrop for the reader to better understand this life. Williams keeps the reader engaged and offers enough tidbits that the narrative flows with ease until the climax of Bonaparte's life, letting the story tell itself at key moments. Curious readers will surely find something herein to keep them engaged, if only to shake their heads at Josephine's choices.Born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie on the island of Martinique, she found herself a member of a rich and highly prosperous white Creole family. The price and plentifulness of sugarcane in the region helped elevate their wealth, which was eventually dashed by numerous strong and destructive hurricanes. Marie found herself growing up with all the luxuries that life could provide on this small island, though the ability to forge a lasting aristocracy amongst such a small population soon left the family to look elsewhere. An aunt had arranged the marriage of Marie's sister, Catherine, to the son of the Vicomte de Beauharnais, which would take the young girl to France and place her in a position of some esteem. However, Catherine's death at the age of twelve left a vacancy and Marie saw her chance to leave the island and enter French aristocracy. Marie sailed for France, where she would meet and soon marry Alexandre. As with many aristocratic unions, it was good on paper, but the marriage saw Marie abused and troubled. The two children she bore Alexandre, Eugène and Hortense, proved to be the happiest part of her union, which was further troubled as the Revolution gained momentum and the de Beauharnais name became part of the old aristocracy that the people sought to abolish. Williams explores how Marie was able to see the classes crumble around her while the people sought to remove the aristocratic hierarchy and bring those accountable to bear for their crimes. Alexandre was taken into custody by the Committee of Public Safety during the infamous Reign of Terror. Marie was subsequently jailed as well, finding herself isolated from her children and left to fend for herself. Alexandre's execution left Marie without a husband and forced to raise two children alone. Williams assures the reader that Marie did not pine too long. She was known for her romantic and sexual dalliances with men of power, having had affairs with those who found themselves on the right side of the revolutionary forces. These affairs helped portray Marie as a woman willing to do what it took to rise above the fray, which she did, leaving her more than ready when she encountered the young Napoléon Bonaparte, six years her junior. Already a man of much military prowess before meeting Josephine (who changed her name to something more regal than Marie by this time), Napoléon Bonaparte was said to be her one true love. As Williams explores this couple, their pairing seemed anything but smooth or filled with romance. The narrative explores the vignette of Napoléon refusing a formal and religious ceremony, turning instead to a civil union that might not even have been legal. Napoléon reminded his wife repeatedly of how he could dissolve their union as simply as it came together, a telltale sign that this was a power move more than anything else. Both Josephine and Napoléon had countless affairs and turned to specific lovers for periods of time, as if to compete with one another for the honour. Additionally, Josephine's two children were at an age when they could consciously judge their step-father, who was brutal and focussed on his territorial acquisitions rather than fostering a cohesive unit. With the French Revolution complete and a power vacuum present, Napoléon sought to fill it and lead the country into the 19th century. He took the French military to the far reaches of Europe to create an empire all his own and drummed up support to do so. Josephine stayed behind and showed her support by turning to lovers, one of whom almost cost Josephine her marriage. Still, as Napoléon gained in power, Joisephine basked in it and gladly became Empress of France when the chance arose. Thinking back to her youth and the premonitions of a fortune teller on Martinique, Josephine prepared for the luxuries bestowed upon her. This fame and relative fortune did not quell the ongoing love triangle (or even trapezoid) with Napoléon, as Williams recounts the continual strain of Josephine not bearing her husband a child. Napoléon was determined to have an heir and sought his step-daughter, Hortense, to agree to a union 'for France'. What muddied the waters even more was Hortense's marriage to Louis Bonaparte, brother to Napoléon. As Emperor and Empress continued to live in ever-distancing spheres, an heir was not forthcoming (rumours abounded as to the father of Hortense's son) and Napoléon continued to see the affections of others. Finally, in 1810, the Bonapartes divorced and Napoléon turned to a member of the Austrian Royal Family. Josephine remained an anchor for the Emperor, who wrote to her and kept her safely supported with money and lodging. When she entered the waning weeks of life, medical doctors diagnosed it as pneumonia but others wondered if Josephine might have succumbed to the angst and pain of losing her husband forever. Her death touched many and while Napoléon was eventually banished from France, he continued to hold her close to his heart. A woman whose power came more from her husband than her own doing, Josephine's lasting impression might offer historians an out to promote her to a position of ongoing importance.I chose Josephine Bonaparte not only because it was a buddy read, but also because I wanted to learn a great deal about this woman, whose past remained a mystery. Kate Williams does a wonderful job in laying the groundwork for this most interesting woman, from a childhood in the far off islands and capturing a perspective during the French Revolution. Williams' attention to detail was great and her development of Josephine's character was superb, though towards the latter half of the book, things became too diluted. I found the narrative straying into a history of Napoléon and his conquests, rather than life through the eyes of his wife. While I agree that there are times that women become secondary to their husbands in history's documentation (and it is for this reason that it takes a special woman to shake off said shackles and rise above), it seemed as though Williams wanted to regale the reader with aspects that did not directly involve Josephine. Additionally, even in the epilogue, Williams refers to the Napoléon-Josephine relationship as one of the great loves in history. I found it to be stilted and more in line with two teenagers who continually toss themselves at one another, commit some relationship faux pas, and then dash off in the other direction until the next cycle commences. It is true that Josephine's ancestry proved to be rich in European leaders, though her own power seemed to have been muted. Williams chose well to offer up a strong narrative, though I might have been wrong to call her a 'powerful woman in history' in the sense of control and independent victory. Kudos, Madam Williams for an enthralling piece about a woman whose life might have been defined by her choice of spouses. I learned much and am happy to come away with a deeper knowledge of the woman, the era, and all there is to know about the Bonaparte dynasty. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com

  • Diane
    2018-12-04 05:29

    I thought this book was fascinating. Before reading it I knew little about Josephine, Napoleon's first wife, and now she seems as real as a fierce, spunky aunt.This book covers Josephine's childhood, her first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais, her imprisonment during the French Revolution, her tumultuous relationship and marriage with Napoleon, her experience as Empress of France, her obsession with creating a beautiful garden at Château de Malmaison, and her life after the "Little Corporal" left her. Josephine lived an incredible life, rising from a humble childhood in Martinique to great power and glory. She experienced the highs and lows of rule and the pains of exile. Her tastes set the trends for art, fashion, gardening, and decoration, and her manner as a consort became seen as the ideal ... Most of all, Napoleon and Josephine's romance is celebrated as one for the ages, a coup de foudre both mysterious and passioante. Although they were married only fourteen years, they shaped each other's legacies, and theirs is one of the great love stories of history. Napoleon needed Josephine to spin him from general to politican, to smooth his way, to charm his opposition. She threw in her lot with him, gambling that he would lift himself beyond mere military glory. She won her bet, and yet it came at a price. Marriage to him was exhausting, and she had to pretend she was someone she was not for much of her life. Kate Williams did an excellent job weaving together the stories, quotes and historical details from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Her narrative is well-written and engaging. I frequently paused while reading to share stories of Josephine and Napoleon with friends -- that's how conversational this book is. I would recommend it to fans of history, and those interested in biographies of powerful women.Favorite Quotes"But underneath all the sparkling conversation, the cheering, and the caps of liberty, the truth was that France was bankrupt. Unrest continued to surge; the crowds were prowling and angry, unwilling to wait much longer for the bread they had been promised."[on the French Revolution] "The city had become a terrible, ghoulish place, as ravaged and sick as if it had been hit by the Black Death. People denounced employees, neighbors, friends, and lovers and were constantly afraid of being accused of treason, plotting or antirepublican feeling. Almost the entire company of the Comédie Française was imprisoned for suspicious behavior. Mothers were dragged to the guillotine from childbed, while men and women were so eager to save their skins that they cheered the deaths of their loved ones.""Napoleon was a tough, assertive, aggressive child, intelligent and with a temper that always threatened to boil over at any provocation. At the age of seven, he was sent to a Jesuit school where he learned to read, write and add, as well as a little Latin and ancient history. He spent his time there destroying his surroundings, pulling out the stuffing from chairs, scratching tables, and tearing leaves off plants.""When General Bonaparte fell in love with Mme. de Beauharnais, it was love in all the power and strength of the term," said his friend Auguste de Marmont. "It was apparently his first passion and he felt it with all the vigor of his nature." "Josephine had become a woman who did not have the luxury of believing in love. To her, romance and sex were a path to status and security, the bargains that a woman had to make to survive. Over the years she had learned charm and sophistication, while forgoing her excitement, her joy in the new, and her desire to lose herself to another. She had not been looking to fall in love but for a man to support her and her children. Napoleon interested her and she loved him, in her way, but she no longer believed that passion could change her life.""Napoleon loved people to be in debt, since it was a way of keeping them in a state of dependence, but Josephine went too far: She was addicted to shopping. Having lost so much in the Terror, she was always afraid of being deprived again. She was also looking for control and security and a way to forge an identity separate from Napoleon's demands. She simply could not stop buying things she did not need.""My garden is the most beautiful thing in the world," Josephine said in 1813. Malmaison was a fiefdom of rare and exotic plants, many grown for the first time in Europe, some of which are now common in our gardens, including cactuses, rhododendrons, tulips, dahlias, and double jacinths. "There are so many rare plants from all parts of the world, that one might believe oneself to be in the tropics," pronounced Comtesse Potocka. "I am not like other men, and the ordinary laws of morality and rules of propriety do not apply to me," Napoleon vaunted. Like tyrants throughout history, he imposed morality on the people while using his own position to pursue his sexual desires.

  • Jaylia3
    2018-11-20 04:03

    Well documented with footnotes and a bibliography, Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte still manages to be accessible and highly engaging. Any biography of Josephine will necessarily include Napoleon, and theirs is an eye-popping story of poverty, passion, politics, ego, ostentation, and power. A naive immigrant from the Caribbean when she landed in France, Josephine became in turn a spurned wife, a notorious high society vamp, a hero of the French Revolution, the bride of a little known Corsican military man, and a shopaholic empress who nevertheless acted as a humanizing force on her increasingly self-obsessed husband. Though he came to power in the wake of the Revolution, Napoleon’s thirst for pomp, acclaim, territory, and wealth drove him to out-Bourbon Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. This is a fascinating, instructive history with all the natural appeal of gossip.

  • Negin
    2018-12-10 03:14

    I enjoyed learning about Josephine, Napoleon, as well as the history of France during that period. Before reading this, I really didn’t know much about Josephine at all, other than the fact that she was born in Martinique, not that far from where we live. Our local museum claims to have her bathtub, but I have my doubts as to whether that tub was really hers! Josephine was a survivor. Her first marriage was simply dreadful. Her marriage to Napoleon was doomed most especially when she was unable to bear his child. Mind you, I would think that any marriage to either of them would likely be doomed. Oftentimes, this book got far more detailed than I would have liked. I can’t say that I loved it or would recommend it. I most enjoyed reading the parts about her love for Chateau de Malmaison. Bonaparte and Josephine by Lionel Peraux:She loved botany and collecting rare animals. One of my favorite descriptions:“Her most cherished animal was a female orangutan possessed of a remarkably sweet nature. The little lady strolled about the house fully dressed, and when anyone approached her, she pulled her coat over her legs and would ‘assume a modest, decent air to welcome the visitor.’ She always ate at the table, using a knife and fork, and was particularly fond of nibbling on turnips. After dinner, she loved to cover her head with a napkin and then pull funny faces. When she fell ill and was put to bed, she lay with the cover drawn up to her chin and her arms outside it, completely hidden by the sleeves of the dressing gown. If anyone she knew came into the room, she greeted him with an appealing look, shaking her head gently and pressing his hand affectionately.”

  • Sherwood Smith
    2018-12-12 06:19

    Though it was readable, I'm glad I picked it up used. Williams seems to be churning out popular biographies by the cartload, which might explain a sort of blithe disregard for truth. There were plenty of solid statistics, but those can be got from any of a number of secondary sources (some of which appear on the bibliography for this). I'd hoped to find more about Josephine's remarkable ability to take Emma Hamilton's revolutionary change in women's fashion and social intercourse and make it not only elegant but the leading look for all Europe, but it wasn't about that.In the acknowledgements Williams talks about the many hours she spent reading letters and memoirs. Admirable indeed, but there is no hint in this work how extremely unreliable a lot of these memoirs are, some of them (like Madame Remusat's) published eighty years after the fact, by a grandson aware of his family's position. Laure Junot's engaging memoir reads like a novel (as it should, much of the truth having been so highly polished it's scarcely recognizable) and even moreso, Bourienne's not even remotely objective memoir, as well as some others, entire conversations assiduously presented as if they had really happened.Also, there are many "insights" into Bonaparte's thinking as well as Josephine's that haven't the vestige of support. The view of Talleyrand here is little short of ludicrous, for instance her blithe claim that Josephine had a hold over him (132), or that Josephine, in fact, had any influence whatsoever with Talleyrand's actions. The motivations attributed to him were so off I was sure I was reading a novel set in an alternate universe.But the descriptions of the history of Malmaison were detailed and absorbing, as well as the glimpses of Paris at the end of the Terror and at the start of the Directoire, demonstrating how someone like Napoleon could take control in the first place. All in all a pleasant read, little new.

  • CynthiaA
    2018-12-05 02:16

    I received this book for free from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for my review. I am going to be nit picky with this review. I will start with the positive. It was an easy read that entertained. In particular I enjoyed the chapter on Malmaison which was full of vivid descriptions. I have added Malmaison to my wish list of places to visit the next time I am in Paris. But. To be honest, I expected a more balanced account from a writer with a background like Kate Williams. This book, purported to be a bio, reads more like a tell-all expose. The author's bias is blatantly obvious, and she chooses to present the nefarious, the scandalous, the underbelly of Josephine's relationship with Napoleon. Previous readers have commented on the "well researched" use of footnotes and a bibliography, but I would suggest that neither of these tools ensure that the story told within is accurate or without bias. I am not a Josephine expert. Far from it. But I have an interest in French history, and have done a bit of reading on that subject. Obviously, Josephine and Napoleon play an integral role in that history. Williams version of their roles and actions focuses predominantly on the negative. A cursory glance through her bibliography shows a reliance on memoirs and letters with limited use of academically respected resources.That issue aside, Williams does not tell her account in a chronological fashion, which isn't a problem in and of itself. It's just that there aren't enough dates in the text to explain what is happening when. She uses dated references such as "two weeks later" without a previous date reference, so the reader doesn't know "two weeks later than what?". She often places dates like "On August 5th" without giving a year, which I find careless and so easy to fix. Then, there are times when the author refers to certain events that actually happened chronologically prior to events that are explained in previous pages. But the absence of dated references means that most readers won't be aware of this, and it may result in a different interpretation of the significance of the event. Mostly, I was put off by the gossipy tone and assumed motives that Williams assigns to Josephine, Napoleon and others without any documentation whatsoever. Williams makes Josephine look conniving and selfish and Napoleon is portrayed as boorish and easily tricked. Throughout the book there are statements like "Josephine was outraged." Hortense was shocked." "Napoleon was duped." Statements such as these pepper each page, and are rarely backed up by any documented proof. Maybe Napoleon was duped...but I am not taking Kate Williams word for it.

  • Lucie Novak
    2018-12-07 06:02

    This was the first time ever that I listened to an audiobook. It came handy in my pre-Christmas cooking frenzy. I like the novelty of an audiobook.I can listen to it while cooking or ironing.This book about Josephine Bonaparte was fascinating. Somehow, I never knew much about Bonaparte or her. For a Philistine like me, fiction always works better for my history education.I was surprised by a lot of things. About Bonaparte- how he almost became a novelist, his intelligence, his insecurities, and total pragmatic and amoral values .He is not a likeable man, but this book somehow transformed him in my eyes from a pompous little man to somebody who really was quite an interesting character. Flawed, pompous, arrogant, self centred, but also brilliant in many ways.It was fun to observe Josephine ‘s transformation from plump naïve colonial to a sophisticated, and sexually alluring and experienced Parisian. The interesting learning curve and how it happened. And see how badly women were treated, and how they coped with wit and manipulation. And the open monetary rewards for sexual favours. The book talks about sex, and it is all written in a slightly sarcastic, clever way. Josephine is an interesting character, too.The horrors of the revolution did not surprise me too much. What surprised me was how loose the morals were in the “Thermidor” era- after Robespierre death. Parties with orgies, women stripping in public, completely, and all those lovers. It was interesting and reminded me of Catherine Millet.I found the fact that on paper women had no power, but in real life, they often did, fascinating.The book touched on women's rights. To my surprise, Napoleon made changes in the laws that turned women into helpless almost minors, their fathers or husbands completely in charge of their fate.A man could divorce a wife for infidelity. A wife could only divorce her husband on grounds of infidelity if he brought his lover to live in the same household as his wife! Of course, there are still a lot of double standards ( just read my book), but I am definitely glad I was borne in the 20th century! There were many other things that surprised me. The fact that Josephine Bonaparte was spending money on luxuries in a way that makes her predecessor Marie Antoinette look almost modest. Her attitude to animals and plants. AT her palace at Malmaison, she had the first zebra in Europe, and a female orangutan that slept in a bed and ate with knife and fork. Her interest in horticulture, importing plants. Her kindness to others, disgraced aristocrats, poor people. She was a reckless spendthrift, but also a generous donor. And despite her frequent infidelities, a true love for Napoleon.It was fun cooking and being transported into France in the 18th and early 19th century while still using all those modern gadgets in my kitchen!

  • Tony Riches
    2018-11-20 02:02

    I can’t remember ever approaching a historical biography knowing less about the subject. In fact, what I knew about Josephine could fit comfortably on the back of a postcard and would include the immortal lines ’Not tonight, Josephine.’ This meant Josephine, the new book from Kate Williams, historian and award winning author of England’s Mistress, a biography of Emma Hamilton, was a revelation with every page.Arriving in pre-revolutionary France from Martinique, the young Josephine was almost illiterate and her front teeth were black from her father’s sugar cane plantation. This book tells the amazing story of how she prospered to became an Empress and one of the most powerful and influential women in Europe.Kate Williams take us through an often harrowing yet very readable account of the French revolution and its aftermath. It seems something of a miracle that Josephine survived the revolution at all, to meet the anti-hero of the book Napoleon Bonaparte. Inevitable her story then becomes his. Through painstaking study of the many preserved letters between them, Kate tells a very personal and compelling story of how they fell in love and conquered Europe together.Their later life was marked by astounding extravagance. While Napoleon’s soldiers were starving on the Russian Front, forced to eat rats (and each other, apparently) Josephine was being forced by Napoleon to never wear the same dress twice. (In one year she bought nine-hundred dresses, five times as many as the unfortunate Queen Marie Antoinette.)I was fascinated by Josephine’s home at Malmaison, (now a Museum) where she had at one time twenty ladies in waiting and over a hundred servants. Among the many surprising facts Kate uncovers is that Josephine was a talented botanist, introducing many exotic species, now well known, for the first time to Europe. She also collected rare animals, including an Orangutang which she dressed in clothes for the delight of her many visitors.The picture of Josephine which emerges is of an incredibly resourceful woman, capable of whatever she set her mind to. There is no question Napoleon would not have achieved so much without her skill at charming those he so casually upset. I am also convinced that he would have returned to her after his exile on Elba.A real page turner, Josephine is everything I hoped it would be and has renewed my interest in this fascinating period of history. Highly recommended. P.S. I checked The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations attributes the phrase ‘Not tonight Josephine’ originates from a popular song from 1911 composed by Seymour Furth and sung by Ada Jones and Billy Murray.

  • Carla Faleiro
    2018-11-29 10:09

    Quem pegar neste livro a pensar que vai ler um romance, desengane-se. Este livro é uma biografia, muito bem escrita e de fácil leitura, sobre a consorte de Napoleão.Muita coisa se desconhece sobre Josefina, as constantes humilhações que sofria às mãos de Napoleão, a vida de luxo, as dividas que não resistia a contrair e os numerosos amantes. Foi uma mulher admirada pelo povo e terrivelmente odiada pela família de Napoleão, esta crioula nascida na Martinica e que detestava qualquer tipo de estudo, venceu por ela mesma e tornou-se numa das mulheres mais conhecidas da história.É toda esta vida que relata o livro de Kate Williams, na minha opinião uma escritora fabulosa.

  • Cynthia
    2018-12-09 02:09

    From the very beginning this beautifully researched and written biography moves along with the tension of a fictional novel. We are plunged into the world of fifteen year old Josephine, as a naive, almost mail-order bride, arriving in the sophisticated Paris she had dreamed about from her home in Martinique.Born Marie-Josephe, and nick-named Yeyette, on the island of Martinique, the woman the world would come to know by the name her future husband would give her, Josephine, begins life as a bit of a wild child. Her family are planters, slave owners, though they are not really very wealthy, and Josephine is allowed a permissive life where she runs with the plantation’s other children, and is depicted as not having had much schooling, or discipline. But she makes up for it when she reaches the shores of France, and marries her first husband, a man who is unimpressed with his not terribly pretty by the day’s standards young bride, and encourages her to improve herself.Kate Williams spices her narrative with interesting facts: We are treated to vivid details of that period of France’s history known as The Terror, and such disturbing images as Marie Antoinette’s head, and headless body, abandoned on the grass beside an open common grave, while Full review can be found here: https://cynthiarobertson.wordpress.co...

  • Cindy
    2018-11-27 07:25

    I thought this was a very readable biography on Josephine's life. Certainly no saint, but the people loved and accepted her. That made all the difference in her life to be able to get away with the things she did. Attaching herself to any powerful man who would give her money: Check. Flaunting her sexual prowess to get said man: Check. Spending incredible amounts of money (900 gowns in one year!): Check. She was certainly a fascinating woman, though I can't say I ever felt that she was happy much of her lift. She and Napoleon had such a tumultuous love that it spins my mind. Though the author insists it was a love for the ages because of their devotion to each other even after separation. If you are interested in learning about Josephine with a nice overview of the times she lived this is a great book to pick up!

  • Jeanette
    2018-12-07 08:28

    Comprehensive, intensely detailed telling of the life of Josephine. It's written within context of every stage of her life and all the tangents of change that brought her to an ability for superior manipulations. Knowing just the prime facts before, I never knew the extreme conditions of her earliest 25 years that so schooled her with drive and skills for what followed. Besides the Napoleon years, it is interesting to read about Martinique and also the myriad of connections and reversals during the Terror years.

  • Keenan Johnston
    2018-11-17 09:21

    "The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte" is a fitting subtitle. "Lowborn" and uneducated, Josephine was initially wed to a man named Alexandre of higher class who was a real jerk and quickly became unimpressed with her, from an intellectual and physical standpoint. Seeking a way out of the marriage, when Josephine gave birth to their first child 2 weeks early, he took it as his opportunity to accuse her of being unfaithful and banished her to prison. While in banishment and without money, Josephine took to prostitution with older men to earn a living. She learned quickly how to attract men with her charisma, dress and makeup. During the French Revolution and after Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were guillotined, Alexandre was sent to prison as a royalist, where Josephine was also forced to join him.Living in rat infested prisons with constant fear of being sent to the guillotine, Josephine once again got creative. Pregnant women were by law not allowed to be hung, so she set out to be impregnated by the wards. While she was unsuccessful in this endeavor, she became so ill that she was spared the guillotine (while her husband Alexandre was not so fortunate).Once released from prison and after recovering, Josephine's promiscuous ways continued. Josephine was often seen as a seductive, shallow and extravagant slut but she certainly wasn't shallow culturally - having good taste in music and the decorative arts. By her mid 30s she was undeniably sexy and had several affairs with French generals. By the time Napoleon noticed her and fell in love, she was far more sexually advanced than her near virginal new husband. She certainly wasn't in love with Napoleon, but by then she herself was beginning to get wrinkles and she had a lot of debt. She married Napoleon for stability and financial security rather than for love. It's hard to hold this against her after what she had been through in prison and afterwards.The day after getting married, Napoleon began his conquests which led to him becoming Emperor. Napoleon and Josephine's relationship was so strange and twisted from the beginning to the end. Napoleon truly loved Josephine, but was devastated to learn that Josephine was having an affair while he was gone. Every time Napoleon would confront her, her charm would bring him back and he would forgive her. Napoleon was easily lovesick, choosing to blind himself from Josephine's lack of mutual respect and admiration for him. As Napoleon acknowledged, his ambition was dual. The challenge of "winning" Josephine's heart was as much a part of his existence as his ambition to conquer Europe. Josephine's infidelity continued throughout their entire marriage. However, Josephine was also jealous and irrational. Napoleon began having affairs which drove Josephine crazy jealous. Napoleon's exploits were fully physical, never out of love, and he never tried to hide them from Josephine.Josephine was the perfect partner for Napoleon. While he was out conquering, the Empress Josephine was truly loved by the citizens of France for her grace and social presence - hosting families and generals for grand parties. She also was a lover of the arts, ushering a renaissance of the arts in France.All would have ended well for Josephine, if it weren't for her inability to produce an heir. She likely became sterile from her illnesses and living conditions while in prison. After years of indecision, Napoleon reluctantly divorced Josephine, realizing the fear that had driven her to exhaustion over last decade. While Napoleon continued to fund her extravagant lifestyle, Josephine passed away shortly after Napoleon's new wife (Marie Louise) produced a baby boy for him. The course of history may be different had Napoleon decided to remain married to Josephine. Upon his own banishment after losing the throne, he had this to say of Josephine:"I think although I love Marie Louise very sincerely that I loved Josephine better. We had risen together and she was a true wife, the wife I had chosen. She was full of grace, graceful even in the way she prepared herself for bed...graceful in undressing herself. I should never have parted from her if she had born me a son. Assuredly but for my marriage with Marie I never should have made war on Russia."

  • Antenna
    2018-12-10 02:29

    The unsophisticated daughter of a Creole family whose Martinique sugar plantations ran on slave labour, Josephine was shipped to France for what proved a tragic and short-lived arranged marriage. Widowed with two young children in the dangerous and unstable world of the French Revolution, she soon acquired the requisite skills to become the mistress of a succession of wealthy and powerful men, culminating with Napoleon.Her extravagance was shocking in its excess, her behaviour manipulative and devious, perhaps the most appalling example being her eagerness to marry her daughter off to one of Napoleon's least appealing brothers, in an attempt to compensate for her own inability to provide the French leader with a son and heir.Despite all her faults, the author is clearly on Josephine's side, and emphasises the qualities which made her attractive to men and popular with the public: she was graceful, a good listener, and kind to those in trouble. Her main achievements seem to have been providing an attractive figurehead to offset Napoleon's boorish and intimidating image, her public relations role in organising social events and dealing with people, and the private passion for gardens, including, exotic plants, birds and wild animals imported from abroad, which led her to develop the beautiful estate of Malmaison.This is an entertaining biography with some moments of real poignancy, as when, having at last steeled himself to announce his divorce of Josephine, Napoleon still hankers for her company so much that he cannot resist coming over to Malmaison to walk with her in the rain.On the other hand, the somewhat tabloid style and focus on the more sensational aspects of Josephine's life made me wince at times, or feel the need to look to other sources to verify the author's interpretations, particularly of Napoleon. She presents him as a capricious and crude megalomaniac, chronically indecisive at times, but over-prescriptive at others, a shameless sexual predator once success provides the confidence to demand "droits du seigneur". I agree with the reviewer who has criticised the "one-dimensional" portrayal, which gives an inadequate impression and exploration of his greatness.

  • The Just-About-Average Ms M
    2018-11-13 04:32

    Bad writing, bad characterization, bad history, bad research. This book is nothing more than a rushed pop bio on the same level as the fangurl crap being churned out in various suspect genres.What bothers me most here is that some folks who read this book will now believe they know about Josephine because the author has academic credentials. The sad truth is that they have wasted their time and money, and know absolutely nothing about this fascinating woman.I may return to this and add all the things that are historically wrong, to include spurious sources, myths, fabrications, and just plain mistakes. But only if I get bored.And would you believe my review because I have the same academic credentials--an earned doctorate, books and other publications in the academic field--as the author?

  • Summer
    2018-11-14 10:04

    I find the French Revolution/Napoleon's Empire a fascinating time period and thought Josephine Bonaparte would make an interesting lens to view it through. While I enjoyed it as a history book as far as learning more about that time in history, I found its entertainment value somewhat lower. I didn't particularly enjoy Kate Williams writing. It felt to me very "this happened, then this happened, etc." It felt strangely flat and detached. I would like to read more about Josephine but I'm not sure if I would read anything by the same author again.

  • Paul
    2018-11-30 06:03

    Other reviewers warned that it was breezy and gossipy and lacking in scholarly rigor -- I fear they were correct.

  • DeAnna Knippling
    2018-12-12 08:23

    Very dry, but also very...balanced? Nuanced. I came out of this book with a better appreciation of Josephine and Napoleon as humans--and a sense of how very fragile their empire always had been.

  • Bob H
    2018-11-17 09:14

    In this brilliant new biography, taking advantage of newly-available letters and documents of the Napoleonic period, we have a better account of this glittering and sometimes-misunderstood figure. It's told in concise and often-lively prose, and follows Josephine from her beginnings on a sugar plantation on Martinique, through an unhappy young marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais -- ended when he was guillotined during the Terror, and she nearly so. She would go on to some truly dangerous liaisons during the Revolution and end up with an obscure army captain named Bonaparte.It's history from a woman's perspective, a woman who could not direct history but had to navigate marriages, love affairs and court intrigue and disdain, first during the waning days of the Bourbon court, then the salons of a new society whose fashions, fortunes and mores had shifted with the Revolution, and then, finally, in Napoleon's new Empire. We learn that Napoleon and Josephine did have a genuine love, despite his boorish manner and constant philandering. We learn that she would be a genuine asset to Napoleon, forming a new and sparkling court to enhance his status and make up for his humble origins, and that Josephine would be more spendthrift and more jewel-laden than Marie Antoinette. We get a sense of just how much of Josephine's court was under-girded by Napoleon's military looting, and just how much hostility she faced from the Bonaparte family. We learn a lot of things about Napoleon, close up, that his admirers might not like, not the least of which was his carelessness with men's lives and his mistresses' affections -- particularly Marie Walewska, whose sacrifice of herself for Poland was very much misplaced. (This all has the makings of a vivid film or miniseries).In all, we learn just how much cunning, tact, careful histrionics, and taste Josephine had to exert to survive her early years and the stormy period when she was Napoleon's consort. We also learn much about her children, Hortense and Eugene de Beauharnais, and their incorporation into Napoleon's court and life; both would become key to the dynasty then and in the future, surprisingly so. (Eugene seems to have been something of a Galahad, an unfailingly-loyal lieutenant to Napoleon despite his mother's travails and looming divorce). We learn, in a comprehensive epilogue, just what happened to these people through the 19th Century. And it's interesting to see the events of the Napoleonic Wars through her eyes. Even for those who are new to Napoleonic history or these times, it's entertaining and illuminating reading, well worth while.Highest recommendation.

  • Carolyn
    2018-11-12 06:25

    Good book, but there are some faultsInteresting book about this historical figure. The authors epilogue says she wanted to show that Josephine was cunning & shrewd. This did not come across in the book. She stuck me as a woman with many human faults; but who possessed an amazing amount of grace & charm. Sadly, she also came across as ultimately weak. This weakness was not due to the divorce/desertion of Napoleon. She created her own world through lavish spending and the acquirement of objects. She was good at smoothing over her husbands rough edges, she was able to soothe him, but she never was able to council him and seems not to understand enough about the politics of the time to care. (She never learned to read!) If she had been truly cunning or shrewd she would had some control over her life. She would have had more influence in respect to the way her in-laws treated her for example. A cunning woman would have figured a way to sent them back to Corsica within a year or two of the marriage. Instead she cared more about acquiring things to fill a void within herself.She was divorced from reality and was always playing a part. Yes, she was probably a lovely, kind woman; one who loved to shop in order to escape her problems. But when she didn't have a script and a lead role to play she withered.Her relationship with Napoleon was co dependent to the extreme. Did she help pave the way for his success? Definitely. I mean, who doesn't like a good party with a charming, generous hostess?But I would have liked more insight into the how and why's of her behavior. I don't think crying hysterically to get your way counts as cunning, unless manipulation to get your debts paid is considered cunning.

  • Jen
    2018-11-19 07:28

    Sometimes when I don't love a book, I go and read other people's reviews to see if maybe they didn't like the same thing and figured it out for me. Unfortunately, often when you read reviews on a biography, you get things like: "I thought this was a novel, but it's like a textbook." Then they give the book only one star, because not being bad historical fiction is the book's fault.I really find Josephine rather fascinating--not likable, but fascinating. She's raised to such heights and has really limited desire to be there. I think she would have been quite happy just being wealthy and left alone to do nothing. Toward the end of her marriage to NB, she just sounds horribly bored. However, when people don't enjoy reading, I find their boredom unsympathetic--she could have picked up a book or two.The marriage of J&N was more a tale of a complete power shift and how J reinvented herself to fit his ever changing ego.The book is fine, but not definitive. Others have noted historical mistakes and the author sometimes puts feelings into the subject's mouth. This gets increasingly frustrating. It's fine, but I think you'd get more from a really good book on Napoleon.

  • DeB MaRtEnS
    2018-12-02 02:04

    I especially enjoyed reading about Josephine's early years, about which I knew little. Women of those times were at the mercy of the men who fathered or married them, and Josephine was no different. With an indifferent first husband involved with a mistress, Josephine was dropped into a society where infidelity was commonplace and strategic for the women. She learned quickly how to assure her position in the dazzling culture of the time, move safely through the French Revolution, by sheer luck, missed the guillotine by one day within Robespierre's murder and was intentionally introduced to Napoleon by her high placed lover and a general. Fascinating! The biography stagnated a bit, for me, once it became over encumbered with the minute details of Napoleon's military moves and the repetitive pattern of letter writing of each absence, between Napoleon and Josephine. It did, however, show how their relationship shifted towards its eventual divorce. All in all, a solid biography.

  • Joan
    2018-11-30 10:12

    I had wanted to read something about the French revolution and why it turned out so differently from the one in America. I came across this book and I am glad I decided to delve in. While the vast majority of the book is about Josephine, there is much about Napoleon as well. That helped me understand the era and his strong character. What a relationship these two had. I found the book to be well researched and very readable.

  • Cláudia Trindade
    2018-11-27 08:11

    muito bom, valeu a pena.

  • Aidan
    2018-11-19 05:32

    An unbiased but understanding account of a complicated woman whose rise to power was unbelievable even to her. Josephine wore many masks to ensure her survival, and Williams documents them all well.

  • Joy
    2018-11-27 07:23

    Well documented book about Josephine Bonaparte'. I came away feeling like France was a very evil country to live in during Josephine's time period and anyone who survived and has French ancestry should look into where their relatives were living in France to get a true appreciation for them. I learned a lot and I'm grateful I read this book.

  • Champagnesnob
    2018-11-16 10:14

    This was so close to a 5 star review. Until the epilogue. Josephine's grandson marries Grand Duchess Marie, eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1839. Bad research or bad proofing, neither is forgivable. Otherwise a very readable account of a fascinating woman and a toxic relationship.

  • Walrus Bennett
    2018-11-27 08:23

    Magical, full of references and a great way to tumble into History.I felt so part of Josephine's life that I dreamed of the French aristocracy, revolutionaries and courtiers