Local author reveals Napoleon's human side

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Author Tom Barden

Local history teacher and International Napoleonic Fellow Thomas M. Barden’s new book, “Napoleon’s Purgatory: The Unseen Humanity of the ‘Corsican Ogre’ in Fatal Exile,” was released by Vernon Press Feb. 16. The book portrays the human side of Napoleon as revealed by those who lived with him in exile on the island of St. Helena. It debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Napoleonic War History book list, reaching the Best Sellers Top 10 List for the same Amazon category through its first week of publication.

Napoleon’s Purgatory includes a forward by internationally recognized Napoleonic scholar J. David Markham who writes, “Napoleon’s time on St. Helena provides a fascinating look into the nature of Napoleon, and Barden gives us excellent insight into that nature.”

Through the diaries and journals of the Emperor’s servants, generals, and companions come the stories of Napoleon’s tender love for children, his captivating sense of humor, his eternal love for Josephine, and his agonizing death.

“Most historical works on Napoleon focus on his military conquests and political career, choosing to end his story with his defeat at Waterloo. I wanted to understand who he was as a human being. By focusing on his time in exile to St. Helena, and examining the memoirs of those who were with him, I discovered his true humanity,” says Barden.

The book describes how he was sent by the British to the remote island of St. Helena after his escape from Elba and his defeat at Waterloo. What followed were 6 excruciating years of loneliness and depression, mixed with frolicking play with the island’s children, a battle of wills with his British captor, an exploration of his lapsed Catholic faith, and the complex relationship with the members of his entourage. While many considered Napoleon Bonaparte the “Corsican Ogre” for the wars he waged across Europe, he was anything but during his exile on St. Helena.

Barden says this time in exile was akin to Purgatory for Napoleon. His humanity, suffering, joy in the laughter of children, and longing for Josephine are captured vividly in this work through the eyes of those who were there.

In his review, Prof. David W. King, Emeritus Director of the SUNY Professional Science Master’s Consortium, writes “For anyone interested in Napoleon, the book makes fascinating reading and offers a counter perspective to the common perceptions of Napoleon’s life and character.”

“Researching about the humanity of Napoleon on St. Helena has been a labor of love for me for over 25 years,” Barden adds, “I began reading and researching this topic at 14 years old and spent every spare moment I could find continuing my work in the hopes of one day finishing a well sourced and documented book. At the age of 42, I have finally achieved that goal and I am very proud of the result.”

Barden is a historian and Napoleonic scholar who has spent the last 20 years researching and lecturing on the exile of the great French general and emperor. He is a fellow of the International Napoleonic Society and has taught history at the high school and university levels in upstate New York. Mr. Barden and his wife reside in Penn Yan with their two children. He teaches at Marcus Whitman Central School.

“Napoleon’s Purgatory” is available locally at Longs Cards & Books. Look for a book signing with the author in the coming weeks