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Napoleon in Egypt /
Paul Strathern.
Bantam Books trade paperback ed.
New York, N.Y. : Bantam Books, 2009.
480 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps, ports. (some col.) ; 21 cm.
9780553385243 (pbk.)
More Details
New York, N.Y. : Bantam Books, 2009.
9780553385243 (pbk.)
contents note
Prologue: The song of departure -- The origins of the Egyptian campaign -- "The liberator of Italy" -- The cream of France -- Outward bound -- "A conquest which will change the world" -- The March on Cairo -- The Battle of the Pyramids -- Cairo -- "Josephine! ... And I am 600 leagues away!" -- The Battle of the Nile -- "We are now obliged to accomplish great things" -- The institute of Egypt -- Life in exile -- The perils of diplomacy -- Insurrection -- Love and dreams -- A Suez adventure -- Pursuit into Upper Egypt -- Into the unknown -- A turn for the worse -- The Syrian Campaign -- The Siege of Acre -- The Battle of Mount Tabor -- "That man made me lose my destiny" -- The retreat from Acre -- Sensational discoveries -- The decision of a lifetime -- An abandoned army -- Aftermath.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [429]-460) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Chapter One

The Origins of the Egyptian Campaign

Since earliest times, Egypt had been a source of wonder to the European eye. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus, visiting the country in the mid fifth century BC, encountered the following scene: "During the flooding of the Nile only the towns are visible, rising above the surface of the water like the scattered islands of the Aegean Sea. While the inundation continues, boats no longer keep to the channels and rivers, but sail across the fields and plains. On a journey far inland you can even sail past the pyramids." Less than two centuries later, the Macedonian Greek Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, completing this task in a matter of months, but remaining long enough to found the city of Alexandria, whose site he selected in 331 BC at what was then the western mouth of the Nile delta. After this, in what appeared to be a characteristic act of hubris, but was in fact an attempt to win over the local priesthood, Alexander sacrificed to the sacred bull Apis and had himself crowned pharaoh. He then set off east on his campaign of conquest against the Persians, during which he planted the seeds of Greek culture across a great swath of Asia. Eight years later, having extended his conquests to the limits of the known world, Alexander died after a drinking bout in Babylon, and his body was brought back to Alexandria to be buried in a magnificent tomb, made of gold and glass, whose site has since been lost.

In Roman times, Egypt would become the granary of the Mediterranean world, providing over a third of the grain supplies for the entire Roman Empire. During the first century BC Alexandria would become the focus of stirring events which changed the fate of that empire, when the charms of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, proved irresistible first to Julius Caesar and then to Mark Antony, while rivalry between these two ambitious men plunged the Roman Empire into civil war.

Under the Greeks, and then the Romans, Alexandria would become the intellectual capital of the Western world, the city that produced Euclid and educated Archimedes, its celebrated library a repository of all knowledge. It was here that Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth and its distance from the sun. For the latter, he used the known fact that on a certain day the sun could be seen at the foot of a deep well in Aswan 500 miles to the south, and was thus directly overhead. He then measured the length of the shadow cast by a pole in Alexandria, and thus the angle of the sun's rays there; using trigonometry, he then calculated the distance of the sun within around 5 percent of the accepted modern figure. Such was the reach and achievement of Alexandrian learning at its prime. When its library burned down in two disastrous fires, the last of which was started by zealot Christians in AD 391, the ancient world lost over half a million scrolls, and with these as much as a quarter of the knowledge and cultural heritage of Western civilization vanished forever.

French interest in Egypt began with the Seventh Crusade in the thirteenth century, led by Louis IX (who partly on account of this became known as St. Louis). In 1248 the king and over 30,000 men disembarked from 100 ships near Damietta on the Nile delta. Here they encountered the full might of the Mameluke cavalry, which inflicted on them a crushing defeat, capturing Louis and holding him to ransom.

The Mameluke cavalry was arguably the greatest war machine of the period, certainly superior to any European militia. In 1260, just ten years after the debacle of the Seventh Crusade, the Mameluke cavalry would encounter the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan's successor at the Battle of Ayn Jalut, just north of Jerusalem. Here they put the Mongol cavalry to flight, thus destroying for the first time the myth of their invincibility. Had the Mamelukes lost this battle, the Mongols could have pres

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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2008-08-18:
In 1797, eight years after the French Revolution, an obscure general, Napoleon Bonaparte, became a national hero after a brilliant campaign in Italy. Equally impressed with his own genius, he formed the idea of conquering Egypt and, like his idol, Alexander, marching on to India. Nonfiction author and award-winning novelist Strathern (Big Idea: Scientists Who Changed the World) turns up plenty of surprises in an enthralling history of the first of Napoleon's world-class debacles. With extraordinary logistical skill and luck, Napoleon led 40,000 men and hundreds of ships across the Mediterranean to Alexandria in 1798. Defeating local armies and occupying the capital, Cairo, proved easy, but difficulties arose despite genuine efforts to replace a corrupt government with French ideals of freedom and justice. A nasty insurgency developed; Admiral Nelson destroyed Napoleon's fleet; and the British also frustrated his invasion of Palestine. Abandoning his tattered army after a year under brutal desert conditions, Napoleon returned to France, pronouncing the invasion an unqualified success. Stories of powerful men making disastrous decisions have an endless fascination, and Strathern makes the most of it in this entertaining account. Illus., maps. (Oct. 21) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Appeared in Library Journal on 2008-09-15:
Here is a compelling narrative of an epic collision between two civilizations. In May 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte launched his ill-fated invasion of Egypt. Among his 40,000 invading troops (the Army of the Orient) was a small group of French scholars whom Napoleon included in the expedition for the sole purpose of examining all aspects of Egyptian culture. Although the French fought magnificently, the ravages of disease and British naval power brought them to their knees--but not before Napoleon's "savants" unveiled the grandeur of an ancient civilization and changed forever perceptions of the history of humankind. In this riveting account of that colossal campaign, British writer and philosopher Strathern ("Philosophers in 90 Minutes" series) evokes the incredible hardships endured by French soldiers in an unforgiving land. At the same time, he offers a poignant view of a Muslim society overwhelmed by invaders who brought death and destruction in the name of brotherhood and equality. Strathern's skillful use of memoir and other primary sources brings to life one of the most fascinating campaigns in military history. Libraries that have already purchased Juan Cole's Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East should still consider this more cohesive and less didactic account of a long-ignored Napoleonic misadventure. Specialists should also be intrigued by Strathern's analysis of the complex motives for France's invasion of Egypt. Highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.--Jim Doyle, Rome, GA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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