Napoleon in Egypt
By Paul Strathern
(Bantam, Hardcover, 9780553806786, 496pp.)
Publication Date: October 21, 2008
List Price: $30.00*
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“Europe is a molehill….”
Everything here is worn out…tiny Europe has not enough to offer.
We must set off for the Orient; that is where all the greatest glory is to be achieved.” —Napoleon
Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt was the first Western attack in modern times on a Middle Eastern country. In this remarkably rich and eminently readable historical account, acclaimed author Paul Strathern reconstructs a mission of conquest inspired by glory, executed in haste, and bound for disaster.
In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte, only twenty-eight, mounted the most audacious military campaign of his already spectacular career. With 335 ships, 40,000 soldiers, and a collection of scholars, artists, scientists, and inventors, he set sail for Egypt to establish an Eastern empire in emulation of Alexander the Great. Like everything Napoleon ever attempted, it was a plan marked by unquenchable ambition, heroic romanticism, and not a little madness.
Napoleon saw himself as a liberator, freeing the Egyptians from the oppression of their Mameluke overlords. But while Napoleon thought his army would be welcomed as heroes, he tragically misunderstood Muslim culture and grossly overestimated the “gratitude” he could expect from those he’d come to save. Instead Napoleon and his men would face a grim war of attrition against an ad hoc army of Muslims led by the feared Murad Bey. Marching across seemingly endless deserts in the shadow of the pyramids, suffering extremes of heat and thirst, and pushed to the limits of human endurance, they would be plagued by mirages, suicides, and the constant threat of ambush. A crusade begun in honor and intended for glory would degenerate toward chaos and atrocity.
But Napoleon’s grand failure in Egypt also yielded vast treasures of knowledge about a culture largely lost to the West, and through the recovery of artifacts like the Rosetta Stone, it prepared the way for the translation of hieroglyphics and modern Egyptology. And it tempered the complex leader who believed it his destiny to conquer the world.
A story of war, adventure, politics, and a clash of cultures, Paul Strathern’s Napoleon in Egypt is history at once relevant and impossible to put down.
Paul Strathern studied philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin. He has lectured in philosophy and mathematics and is a Somerset Maugham Prize–winning novelist. He is the bestselling author of several books of nonfiction, including the series Philosophers in 90 Minutes and The Big Idea: Scientists Who Changed the World.
“A compelling narrative of an epic collision between two civilizations…. Evok[ing] the incredible hardships endured by French soldiers in an unforgiving land. At the same time, he offers a poignant view of a Muslim society overwhelmed by invaders. … Strathern’s skillful use of memoir and other primary sources brings to life one of the most fascinating campaigns in military history.”—Library Journal, starred review
“In between the battle scenes, Strathern paints a portrait of Napoleon the man, sketching his humiliation over wife Josephine’s infidelities and his implausibly lofty ideals, which spawned a generation of Romantic artists.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Paul Strathern’s enthralling description of this bizarre imperial adventure reads like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness….As a piece of storytelling, it is a masterpiece.” —Daily Telegraph
“As a stirring narrative of doomed military endeavour, [Strathern’s] book could hardly be bettered.” —Sunday Times
“Ambitious and wonderfully detailed saga...Strathern admirably balances the various legacies of the expedition while keeping the focus on its military character.” —Financial Times Magazine
“Those looking for an exciting, comprehensive narrative history of the whole expedition are advised to hunt down [this book].” —Tom Reiss, author of The Orientalist
“Very entertaining and well-written book. Strathern is very careful about his sources . . . so that a finely balanced picture emerges.” —Times Literary Supplement
“A well-written, fast-paced narrative . . . This book is a welcome and readable addition to the ever-growing library of books about this French colossus.” —BBC History Magazine
“[Strathern] has written a stirring narrative of the Egyptian adventure, which simultaneously demonstrates how Napoleon’s experiences in Egypt foreshadowed many aspects of his later rule in France.…This is popular narrative history at its best.” — Independent
”Superb . . . Strathern tells the appalling tale of the forced marches across endless deserts . . . with commendable gusto.” —Sunday Telegraph
"Illuiminating.... Napoleon in Egypt is undoubtedly the finest account of the Savants and their contribution to the fields of archaeology, ancient history, and botany to date.... A necessary addition to any Napoleonic shelf."—Christian Science Monitor