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Vienna, 1814
How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna
David King
read on December 1, 2015

We had a trip planned to go to Vienna in December, and this book had been on my list for a while. Our trip was a good opportunity to bring this to the top. I didn't have many expectations going into this book at all. I knew very little, in fact borderline zero, Germanic history pre-WWI. I knew some French history, but had a really large hole in between the French Revolution and WWI. I think everyone in the world has heard of Napoleon, but honestly I didn't really know when we was alive, and what the consequences of his empire/actions were. Lastly, I had known that the century or so before WWI was actually quite peaceful, relative to general European history, and I wanted to know why.

This book didn't really answer any of those questions.

1814 is primarily a book about people. It's about the dignitaries, plenipotentiaries, kings, and emperors who attended the conference, as well as their staffs, mistresses, etc. It was definitely an interesting read, and provided just enough background for me to get a grasp on what was happening, but didn't dig into the historical context or consequences of the conference nearly as much as I would have liked. Instead, the author focused on the individuals, their motivations, their accomplishments, their frustrations.

For me, the most interesting parts were the side chapters covering Napoleon. Shortly before the conference at the end of the Napoleonic wars, he lost and was exiled to Elba, a very nice island right off the coast of northern Italy. He was greeted their as an emperor, and for several months ruled his Elban subjects from the 19th century equivalent of a conference room. It was not the digs he was used to. It was interesting to read about his time there, and his eventual frustration and return to the mainland. The French people were still generally loyal to Napoleon after he lost the wars, and did not like the Bourbon dynasty which replaced him. When he returned from Elba, he threw a giant wrench into the Vienna conference, and created a schism in France. Eventually he gained enough power and influence (quickly) to lead an army and march on the British and Prussians that he had previously lost to. Famously, in Waterloo Belgium, he suffered a terrible military defeat and was almost himself captured. When it was clear that he no longer had an army, and only had dwindling power, he attempted to flee to America. The British caught him and exiled him to Helena, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, where he died years later.

Author Bio:

David King is the bestselling author of Death in the City of Light , Vienna 1814, and Finding Atlantis. His books have been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club, the History Book Club, the Military Book Club, the Mystery Guild, and the Quality Paperback Book Club. They have been named to several prominent lists of the best nonfiction books of the year and translated into more than a dozen languages. Most recently, Death in the City of Light has been featured on the homepage of Yahoo, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS News, and the Today Show at msnbc.com A Fulbright Scholar with a master’s degree from Cambridge University, King taught European history at the University of Kentucky before becoming a full-time writer. He has been honored as a Fellow of the American-Scandinavian Foundation, a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society, and an inductee into his high school’s Hall of Fame. King’s books have been read widely from university students to the President of the United States. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his wife and children.