What Did I Learn From Napoleon This Week? Part 3

My mind was a tad weary of hearing about Napoleonic France after two weeks of Napoleon The Great, so I started last week by switching to journalist Jon Ronson's 2015 book So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

This non-fiction book had caught my eye because it delved into a topic I've been fascinated and horrified by in the time I used to use Twitter - the mob-like pile-ons of real people in the court of social media. Ronson's book looks at a number of infamous Twitter shamings, linking the phenomena back to the practice of stocks in the town square, multiplied exponentially by the psychological maelstrom that is social media.

I enjoyed Ronson's writing style. He was feeding me fragments of stories, forcing me to piece together the opinions myself. In the six years since 2015 I feel like witch hunts on social media have only intensified. And occasionally this is justified, like when no other avenue exists for politicians or police to be called out for abusing their power. But mostly it's disconcerting. The one conclusion that stuck with me from the book was that, even when they are getting people fired or driving them to suicide, those doing the shaming believe they are doing something good. That just made me feel worse.

The book was definitely thought provoking and insightful, and worth a read.

Speaking of those who believe they are doing good, Napoleon spent the rest of the week trying to reform Europe. Britain was his primary antagonist, and his solution to that was war against Russia, Austria and Portugal. He was also excommunicated by the Pope.
I did like that whenever another country signed a peace treaty with France, Napoleon would force the country's leader to promise eternal friendship with him as part of the deal.

Napoleon was very successful during this phase of his life, which has made me think about success as well.

One attribute regarding success he demonstrated was in recognising success, both his own and others. This was more than just (over-exaggerated) letters about battles. He commissioned a lot of paintings to capture significant moments and achievements. He was also dutiful in awarding medals on the battlefield - along with generous pensions - for all soldiers who demonstrated service, courage, or perhaps just had a cool last name...

Much of Napoleon's military and tactical success came from being a man of the men. This was unlike the generals and leaders in the opposing coalition armies. He wasn't afraid to have a ten minute power nap among the conscripts.
I learnt a lot about Napoleonic era battle mechanics this week - infantry, calvary and artillery. It is a bit more complicated than rolling 3 or 2 dice and draws going to the defender. The logic behind the big groups of dudes lining up and shooting at each other makes sense when you understand that communications across a hundred thousand men has to be done by word of mouth, or perhaps drumbeat and bugle. Also if you're in a long, wide line it means less people get hit by the same cannonball than if you were in a long column.

Armies did employ skirmisher divisions, and these men would run ahead of the big line of dudes to generally duke it out with the enemies' skirmishers coming the other way.

These battles tended to happen in whatever open farmland there was between cities, with small, quaint towns and villages becoming fighting hot spots and places to rest.
Rivers and hills dictated a lot of strategy, and given this was Europe there was a lot of those.

Napoleon was also a victim of success. Particularly after Austerlitz where, despite the victory, the Russian and Austrian empires learnt far more from the battle than Napoleon. Lessons which would lead to French overconfidence, and improved coalition tactics, in future battles. Also, Napoleon was so pumped after this victory that he tried to invent a saint in the Roman Catholic canon named after himself. This wasn't popular, and may have been part of why he was eventually excommunicated.

Napoleon also tried to solve real life murder mysteries that happened in Paris while he was on campaign. The book did not confirm if he did solve any of these.

Napoleon was not successful in the first decade of the 19th Century in finding a strategy to weaken England. The blockade and trade shenanigans that occurred during this time led to Napoleon's scientists successfully cultivating and developing a process to refine sugar from beets. His attempts to make cotton from thistles, and convert people from coffee to hickory, were less fruitful.


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What Did I Learn From Napoleon This Week? Part 2

The last time we (the non-royal we) were reading about Napoleon he was a sexually-awkward, brilliant military strategist who was perfecting his French and avoiding the guillotine in the aftershocks of the French Revolution. Another 12 hours of Napoleon The Great later and he's being coronated as the Emperor of France, trying to wedge a replica crown of King Charlemagne over the top of a replica crown of laurels modelled after Julius Caesar's. In the same amount of time I've managed to rotate my forearm about 95° from my body and picked up half a dozen buckets of leaves.

I think this is the right part to point out that, while I'm interested in Napoleon and I related to him in some ways last week, I don't like Napoleon nor do I necessarily dislike him. He is, from an anthropologist’s perspective, extremely interesting and I judge his actions the same way I do for all historical and contemporary people: Like they’re characters in a prequel, and that morality can’t influence their destinies.

Napoleon spent his mid-twenties and early thirties across all parts of the world - from the Italian alps and Lombardy, to Malta and Alexandria and across the deserts of the Middle East, before eventually returning to France, pulling off coup-ception, rewriting an entire country’s legal system, introducing metric (primarily for commercial reasons), selling a massive chunk of the USA and hanging out with the pope.

Honestly, it makes me question how I have achieved so little in my life in comparison. But perhaps this is simply because I am so isolated, tucked away in between deserts and oceans in Australia, and humans just tend to get more things done when you live near the Mediterranean.

Napoleon’s Rules for success in conflict

Read the map
Bring along some scientists
Keep your pieces close together
Always follow the religion of the country you’re in (if a massive revolution has left your nation without religion, introduce whichever one will benefit you the most politically).
Remember the central position

Ivory Bellrope handles, and how to Negotiate Effectively

Concerned that the interior decorators working to renovate the dead King’s palace were ripping him off, Napoleon asked one for the cost of the ivory handle on a bell rope. He then cut it off and asked an aide to take it into Paris and buy a few more from the shops and to report back the cost. When the aide returned and confirmed the average price was 33% lower, Napoleon simply reduced the amount he paid to the renovators bill by 33%.
Note, you may need to become an emperor and execute a Duke for this to work.

What Did I Learn From Napoleon This Week?

I like delving into historic biopics. The longer they are the better. There are so many things that have happened in human history that are fascinating and a really long book can be the best way to be immersed in the details of these prominent people. And as usual I mainly reflect upon my own life.

I'm currently five hours into Andrew Roberts' 37 hour audiobook Napoleon the Great. I suspect it will be a good way to pass some of the next two weeks. So far I've learned about Napoleon's origins in Corsica and, just like me, his own love of history books. However, at mention of the Ceasars - subject I read about only a few months ago - I felt disappointed that I'd seemingly forgotten so much of what I read in Tom Holland's Rubicon.

Napoleon, I've learned, was a writer. Of letters and poems and short stories. I write, and I write this journal to help me remember the things that happen to me, or that I learn. I have an excellent recall of many specific things in my life, and for that I can thank my journal. So, I've concluded that if I want to retain more memories of important things then I should write them down.

For some reason, Napoleon seems important to me this week. Here is some things I have learned:

Napoleon wasn't French, but as Corsica was governed by French power, he went to a military school in France which led to him joining the French army.

During the French Revolution he took long breaks of paid sick leave and went back to Corsica, which the French army approved because they didn't want to lose any more officers at that time.

Napoleon owned a mulberry tree (a lot, in fact.)

Napoleon's intelligence saw him assigned to the artillery branch because he knew enough mathematics to fire a cannon.

Napoleon wrote a 'History of Corsica' book in his early 20s, and a lot of his maneuvering through noble and political circles seems to have been motivated by trying to get someone to publish it.

His father died at a young age, and Napoleon may have believed he would share a similar affliction and fate, which could explain why he YOLO'd so hard in later life.

He perfected and reused many successful strategies, both on the battlefield and off it. After every success, he demanded more power and threatened to resign if not given to him.

He wrote a lot of letters - something I could maybe do more of?

To my dear, beloved Journal. Tu wouldn't believe the day I've had today...


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