The best introduction to the changing images of Napoleon in historiography since 1815 remains Pieter Geyl’s classic, Napoleon: For and Against, first published in English translation in 1949 . Ranging from the earliest apologists and critics of the emperor to the interwar writers of this century, it offered much the finest synthesis of earlier interpretations of Napoleon’s achievement. The author’s very personal experience of the Second World War and analogies with another conquest of western Europe and failed invasion of Russia gave his account a tendentious quality of unusual interest. If its comparison with Hitler’s Reich made Napoleon’s impact on Europe appear altogether less vile and destructive for the subjugated peoples, Geyl nevertheless admitted that his sympathies lay ‘with the against rather than with the for category’. All the major themes of Napoleonic historiography, of both the real and the legendary emperor, came into his focus. He set out skilfully whatever good or bad Napoleon had done, or had been thought to have done. He was thoroughly at home with the polemical as well as the scholarly literature on the subject, and his book not surprisingly found its way into subsequent paperback editions.
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