Napoleon's attack on Egypt in 1798 was the first on a Middle Eastern country by a Western power in modern times. With 335 ships and 40,000 men, it was the largest long-distance seaborne force the world had ever seen. Napoleon's assault was intended to be much more than a colonial adventure, however, for he took with him over one hundred and fifty scientists, mathematicians, artists and writers - a 'Legion of Culture' - with a view to bringing Western civilization to 'backward' Egypt. Ironically, what these intellectuals discovered in Egypt would transform our knowledge of Western civilization and form the basis of Egyptology. But there were also setbacks. Nelson's destruction of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile apparently put an end to Napoleon's secret plans to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and invade India. Napoleon was just twenty-eight when he invaded Egypt and it was an episode which contained in embryo many seminal events of his later career and set the standard for his brilliant, ambitious and ultimately disastrous career.
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(197mm x 128mm x 31mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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US Kirkus Review »
Strathern (James Joyce in 90 Minutes, 2005, etc.) wades into the muddy waters of France's fabled North African campaign in 1798 - 99.It's well established that Napoleon fancied himself a new Alexander the Great, eyes voraciously turned on conquering Egypt and then India, and the author crafts a solid account of the young general's ambitions. Having gained notoriety as the "liberator of Italy," steeped in Constantin Volney's seminal 1787 text Voyage en Egypte et en Syrie and harkening cries by Talleyrand and others to liberate Egypt from the Mamelukes and jump-start French colonial expansion, Napoleon in 1798 ransacked the Vatican's coffers and set out with an armada of 335 ships. The campaign was as much a "civilizing" enterprise as a military venture: The general took along 167 "hand-picked savants" from France. Among them were mathematician Gaspard Monge and chemist Claude-Louis Berthollet, who intended to plant European ideas and extract the essence of Egypt's ancient grandeur. Pursued by Admiral Nelson, however, the general was thwarted at the Battle of the Nile and later at the Siege of Acre; what was planned as a triumphal progress ended with his precipitous flight back to France in 1799. 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. His team of savants spurred the discipline of Egyptology, thanks to painter Vivant Denon's sketches of fabulous ancient ruins and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, among other valuable artifacts.Inserting extracts from diaries and letters, the author does a solid job re-creating Napoleon's "dream of an Oriental empire" without offering many new insights. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Paul Strathern
Paul Strathern studied philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin. He has lectured in philosophy and mathematics. He is a Somerset Maugham prize-winning novelist; the author of two series of books - Philosophers in 90 Minutes and The Big Idea: Scientists who Changed the World; The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance; and, most recently, has written Mendeleyev's Dream (shortlisted for the Aventis Science Book Prize) and Dr. Strangelove's Game: A History of Economic Genius.