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The Black Room at Longwood: Napoleon's Exile on Saint Helena

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Like his subject, Napoleon, author Jean-Paul Kauffmann has experienced captivity, as a three-year hostage in Beirut. He brings his insider's knowledge to this moving account of the most famous French soldier's last years in seclusion on a tropical island. After his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was exiled and imprisoned by the British on the island of St. Helena. He Like his subject, Napoleon, author Jean-Paul Kauffmann has experienced captivity, as a three-year hostage in Beirut. He brings his insider's knowledge to this moving account of the most famous French soldier's last years in seclusion on a tropical island. After his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was exiled and imprisoned by the British on the island of St. Helena. He became increasingly withdrawn, surviving on a diet of memories that he recounted to the few people around him. But the book -- part history, part travelogue -- portrays the leader as a prisoner also of his mind, poisoned by nostalgia for his triumphs and grief over his defeats. "A haunting, unforgettable book....Kauffmann captures the desolate atmosphere of Napoleon's last home with evocative precision." -- Boston Globe


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Like his subject, Napoleon, author Jean-Paul Kauffmann has experienced captivity, as a three-year hostage in Beirut. He brings his insider's knowledge to this moving account of the most famous French soldier's last years in seclusion on a tropical island. After his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was exiled and imprisoned by the British on the island of St. Helena. He Like his subject, Napoleon, author Jean-Paul Kauffmann has experienced captivity, as a three-year hostage in Beirut. He brings his insider's knowledge to this moving account of the most famous French soldier's last years in seclusion on a tropical island. After his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was exiled and imprisoned by the British on the island of St. Helena. He became increasingly withdrawn, surviving on a diet of memories that he recounted to the few people around him. But the book -- part history, part travelogue -- portrays the leader as a prisoner also of his mind, poisoned by nostalgia for his triumphs and grief over his defeats. "A haunting, unforgettable book....Kauffmann captures the desolate atmosphere of Napoleon's last home with evocative precision." -- Boston Globe

30 review for The Black Room at Longwood: Napoleon's Exile on Saint Helena

  1. 4 out of 5

    Idees Livres Mandarine

    Un très belle découverte que ce livre ! Essai historique ? carnet de voyage ? un peu des deux en fait ... c'est une immersion totale dans cette ile de Saint Hélène et une formidable visite guidée de Longwood house , tous nos sens sont en éveil : la vue, les sensations, les bruits et surtout les odeurs. Et parallèlement à cette visite, l'auteur nous rappelle quelques moments clé de ce séjour en exil de Napoléon. Cette lecture étonnante par son format atypique m'a énormément plu, et j'ai aimé acco Un très belle découverte que ce livre ! Essai historique ? carnet de voyage ? un peu des deux en fait ... c'est une immersion totale dans cette ile de Saint Hélène et une formidable visite guidée de Longwood house , tous nos sens sont en éveil : la vue, les sensations, les bruits et surtout les odeurs. Et parallèlement à cette visite, l'auteur nous rappelle quelques moments clé de ce séjour en exil de Napoléon. Cette lecture étonnante par son format atypique m'a énormément plu, et j'ai aimé accompagner l'auteur dans son voyage. j'ai eu l'impression d'avoir approché un peu l'Histoire ...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    I knew nothing about Napoleon's last years. I'd visited his tomb and other important places in France, but I was woefully ignorant about his years in exile. I was surprised to learn that on our around-the-world cruise, we'd stop at Saint Helena and could tour the home where he lived and died as a prisoner of the British. This was a fascinating, well-written account of those years. I REALLY look forward to seeing Longwood. I knew nothing about Napoleon's last years. I'd visited his tomb and other important places in France, but I was woefully ignorant about his years in exile. I was surprised to learn that on our around-the-world cruise, we'd stop at Saint Helena and could tour the home where he lived and died as a prisoner of the British. This was a fascinating, well-written account of those years. I REALLY look forward to seeing Longwood.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chloe

    Acheté lors de l'exposition sur Napoléon au palais des beaux-arts d'Arras, j'ai dévoré ce livre en 48 heures. Je partage avec Kauffmann cette vision romantique de l'Histoire, pas toujours avouable mais que j'aime cultiver, qui invite à s'attarder davantage sur l'odeur d'une eau de Cologne ou l'ombre d'une persienne, que sur les traités politiques et manœuvres militaires... Napoléon est un personnage éminemment ambigu, à la fois éblouissant et tyrannique, grandiose et terre-à-terre, et le récit d Acheté lors de l'exposition sur Napoléon au palais des beaux-arts d'Arras, j'ai dévoré ce livre en 48 heures. Je partage avec Kauffmann cette vision romantique de l'Histoire, pas toujours avouable mais que j'aime cultiver, qui invite à s'attarder davantage sur l'odeur d'une eau de Cologne ou l'ombre d'une persienne, que sur les traités politiques et manœuvres militaires... Napoléon est un personnage éminemment ambigu, à la fois éblouissant et tyrannique, grandiose et terre-à-terre, et le récit de ses dernières années à Sainte-Hélène en brosse un portrait encore un peu plus complexe, nuancé, attachant. On referme ce livre avec l'envie d'inaugurer l'aéroport nouvellement construit sur l'île, et d'aller sentir les immortelles dans les allées de Longwood...

  4. 5 out of 5

    N

    Another in my epic "Buy a Book Written/Set in the Country You're Visiting While You're Visiting It" series. Sort of. Bought this in a bookstore near Trinity College in Dublin a week after visiting Paris. Read it on the flight back to Rome, OVER France, so it basically fits. Anyway, Kauffman's tour through Napoleon's last residence is a beautiful meditation on solitude. Another in my epic "Buy a Book Written/Set in the Country You're Visiting While You're Visiting It" series. Sort of. Bought this in a bookstore near Trinity College in Dublin a week after visiting Paris. Read it on the flight back to Rome, OVER France, so it basically fits. Anyway, Kauffman's tour through Napoleon's last residence is a beautiful meditation on solitude.

  5. 5 out of 5

    J.C.

    part travel memoir, part historical biography. an interesting (although a bit to long) profile of an island, its natives and its most famous prisoner/resident ever to reside there.

  6. 4 out of 5

    William

    Overbearing melancholy permeates this book and its characters like the strange smell of anti-termite chemicals and humidity permeate the house itself. This is an intricately woven tale of one man’s historical search for Napoleon in exile. Because Kauffman is French, used French primary sources, and wrote in French there is an authenticity another could not achieve. Nothing appears to be lost in the translation into English. This book begins as a depressing description of a tortured man in an opp Overbearing melancholy permeates this book and its characters like the strange smell of anti-termite chemicals and humidity permeate the house itself. This is an intricately woven tale of one man’s historical search for Napoleon in exile. Because Kauffman is French, used French primary sources, and wrote in French there is an authenticity another could not achieve. Nothing appears to be lost in the translation into English. This book begins as a depressing description of a tortured man in an oppressive place run by hateful jailers, a sort of purgatory awaiting apotheosis. I resisted buying this reduced priced book for the longest time for that simple reason but spurred by a last chance to purchase I did so. I am glad I did as it reveals much about Napoleon’s last years, which are missing from the general military history books with which I am familiar. The book maintains the melancholy theme but picks up the pace as Kauffman reveals the people he interviewed and the places he visited in preparation for his visit to St. Helena. I found his description of visit with a local military historian and tour guide at the Eylau battlefield very interesting and certainly relatable. That Kauffman connects the significance of Eylau (the first evidence that Napoleon could be beaten) and St Helena (ruminating endlessly over failure and downfall) most insightful. Kauffman weaves parallel narratives of his visit and tour of the house and island, his discussions with the contemporary caretakers and visitors, his preparatory research, connections to the artwork illustrated, and a running account of Napoleon’s captivity based on the diaries of his companions. The overall effect is brilliant in a sad way. Did I mention that Kauffmann was held captive for three years in Beirut by Shiite jihadis? This book will push me into finally reading Chandler’s massive “The Campaigns of Napoleon” which has occupied my bookshelf unopened for too long.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pascale

    Nobody comes to Saint-Helena by accident, except sailors in distress. Saint-Helena does not have an airport (or at least didn't in 1997) and is an expensive and complicated destination to reach. Small and sparsely populated, it doesn't offer any conventional tourist attraction except for the house where Napoleon spent the last 5 years of his life. And yet Kauffmann begins his account of his visit there with: " Je n'ai jamais éprouvé d'inclination pour Napoléon." Own it, mate! Not only did Kauffm Nobody comes to Saint-Helena by accident, except sailors in distress. Saint-Helena does not have an airport (or at least didn't in 1997) and is an expensive and complicated destination to reach. Small and sparsely populated, it doesn't offer any conventional tourist attraction except for the house where Napoleon spent the last 5 years of his life. And yet Kauffmann begins his account of his visit there with: " Je n'ai jamais éprouvé d'inclination pour Napoléon." Own it, mate! Not only did Kauffmann go out of his way to immerse himself in the atmosphere of Napoleon's place of exile, but it turns out that prior to this trip he had visited many other battle sites and museums connected with the emperor, from Russia to Havana. Interspersed with descriptions of the island and Napoleon's modest residence, nearly destroyed many times over by dampness and termites, this book offers a wealth of factoids and amusing vignettes involving the French consul, his unpredictable father and 2 eccentric widows. The climate of Saint-Helena is so strange that the astronomer Edmund Halley spent a couple of years there to study it. Hundreds of Boer POW were parked there, and many of them died of typhoid. Napoleon had a very acute sense of smell, which was very unfortunate for him when cooped up in Longwood, a former farm in a particularly insalubrious part of the island. Kauffmann is also fascinated by portraits of the emperor and the bizarre fact that in spite of crucial discrepancies between them, they all unmistakably represent the same man. To me this was an enjoyable read, but if you truly have zero inclination for Napoleon, I wouldn't recommend it...

  8. 4 out of 5

    ℳatthieu

    L'auteur relate son voyage de neuf jours sur l'île de Saint-Hélène. Comme le fait Sylvain Tesson, le présent se mélange au passé. L'ouvrage est très bien écrit et renferme une multitude de détails, de citations concernant la fin de vie de Napoléon 1er. C'est très intéressant mais c'est quand même un peu d'effort de lecture (ce n'est pas un page-turner). Moi qui croyait que « l'authentique eau de Cologne de l'empereur napoléon » n'était un argument marketing... Il me reste encore à vérifier pour l L'auteur relate son voyage de neuf jours sur l'île de Saint-Hélène. Comme le fait Sylvain Tesson, le présent se mélange au passé. L'ouvrage est très bien écrit et renferme une multitude de détails, de citations concernant la fin de vie de Napoléon 1er. C'est très intéressant mais c'est quand même un peu d'effort de lecture (ce n'est pas un page-turner). Moi qui croyait que « l'authentique eau de Cologne de l'empereur napoléon » n'était un argument marketing... Il me reste encore à vérifier pour le gel douche du Che !!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    oliver bjorn

    When I bought this on a whim in a charity shop, I thought it was fiction. To begin, I didn't love it or hate it, I quiet literally have no feelings towards the book other than I thought there were some cool tid-bits of information about a man I really have a lack of historical knowledge on and also the English v French undertones throughout. I learnt that the British haven't changed since 1990 with their superiority of small nations, that we didn't even consider those of St Helena to be British c When I bought this on a whim in a charity shop, I thought it was fiction. To begin, I didn't love it or hate it, I quiet literally have no feelings towards the book other than I thought there were some cool tid-bits of information about a man I really have a lack of historical knowledge on and also the English v French undertones throughout. I learnt that the British haven't changed since 1990 with their superiority of small nations, that we didn't even consider those of St Helena to be British citizens is beyond me. Interesting but average book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    The focus on Napoleon's final six years on St. Helena is quite interesting; the focus on the author's travel, not so much. The focus on Napoleon's final six years on St. Helena is quite interesting; the focus on the author's travel, not so much.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gilles Russeil

    On y croise le fantôme de Napoléon, de sa cour en exil, les habitants et des deux Martineau, gardien du souvenir napoléonien. Agréable et érudit.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Interesting insight into Napoleon’s exile on St Helena. Distant relative worked for British Army’s St Helena Regiment whilst Napoleon was there - before relocating permanently to Australia.

  13. 5 out of 5

    London SE4

    Longwood, on the inhospitable island of St Helena, is the location of Napoleon's final exile, from 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821. Jean-Paul Kauffmann spends nine days on the remote island, retracing Napoleon's last years. His visit to Longwood is a meditation on the past he cannot reach. While absorbing colours, noises, smells and the decaying patina of time, he can only imagine the prisoner's loneliness and the dull captivity. The island is a fascinating and cruel place, with its various la Longwood, on the inhospitable island of St Helena, is the location of Napoleon's final exile, from 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821. Jean-Paul Kauffmann spends nine days on the remote island, retracing Napoleon's last years. His visit to Longwood is a meditation on the past he cannot reach. While absorbing colours, noises, smells and the decaying patina of time, he can only imagine the prisoner's loneliness and the dull captivity. The island is a fascinating and cruel place, with its various landscapes affected by the strangeness of the weather. At Longwwod, Kauffmann tries to capture the melancholy of what remains: the study, the billiard where maps were spread, the small, curtained bed, where the Emperor confined himself in solitude and came to term with his past, the wind and the rising damp. In the end, "you don't visit Longwood; Longwood visits you, as you are irresistibly drawn by the tragic power of the plateau and the house".

  14. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    An interesting blend of travelogue and history with a focus on Napoleon's last days. A captivating writer, Kauffmann might have made the book a bit more concise. In addition, I was distracted by the improbable conversations he has had with others along the way. No one, not even a French intellectual, would be capable of keeping up such a constant repartee over a few contiguous days on a remote island. I became annoyed at what, to me, was obvious fabrication that bordered on ridiculous. Neverthel An interesting blend of travelogue and history with a focus on Napoleon's last days. A captivating writer, Kauffmann might have made the book a bit more concise. In addition, I was distracted by the improbable conversations he has had with others along the way. No one, not even a French intellectual, would be capable of keeping up such a constant repartee over a few contiguous days on a remote island. I became annoyed at what, to me, was obvious fabrication that bordered on ridiculous. Nevertheless, I must admit, I would recommend the book, found it engaging and it has acted as a catalyst for me to explore more about the life of Napoleon. Warning: this book was hard to find!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Frederic

    In exile on tiny, mid Atlantic Saint Helena, surrounded by scheming French sycophants, Napoléon dictated his revisionist memoires , mostly blaming everyone but himself for his downfall. This book is a compelling description of his final years at Longwood, the Saint Helena estate where he lived and eventually died. It is also a contemplation of memory, nostalgia and isolation. Beautifully written.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Boeke

    One of the best books that I've ever read! One of the best books that I've ever read!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Barbmy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Phil C

  19. 5 out of 5

    GKar

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  21. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

  22. 4 out of 5

    Commonreader

  23. 5 out of 5

    Croisillon

  24. 5 out of 5

    DoctorM

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  26. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Higgins

  28. 4 out of 5

    Boris

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yann

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jf Marti

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