I’m sure I can’t have been the first to find wry amusement in a book about the famously diminutive Napoleon having the subtitle a short introduction. But, as David Bell informs us early on in this enjoyable read, Bonaparte’s physical stature, although somewhat smaller than average for his day, wasn’t quite as short as his British adversaries believed. The misunderstanding was due to a difference between pre-metric British and French units of measure. Napoleon was 5’ 2” in French imperial units, making him 5’ 4” or 5’ 5” in British units.
On a similar vein, I was amused to learn Napoleon actually crossed the Alps on the back of a donkey, rather than on the magnificent stallion depicted in the numerous official commemorative portraits.
There are a number of other unexpectedly amusing anecdotes in this book, which provides a whistle-stop account of Napoleon’s life from his birth in Corsica to his death on a far more remote island in the Atlantic Ocean. Clearly, in what is intended to be a short introduction, many events in Napoleon’s life are either glossed over or omitted completely, but Bell gets the level of detail just about right.