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Reviews

  • Glorious . . . Scurr has achieved something remarkable: a completely original book on a completely unoriginal subject. But then she is herself a truly remarkable writer, one of the most gifted non-fiction authors alive

    Simon Schama, Financial Times
  • Ruth Scurr, a politics don at Cambridge University, has ingeniously somehow found an entirely new prism through which to view Napoleon: as a horticulturist . . . an immensely satisfying and captivating book . . . charming and intelligent

    Andrew Roberts, Times Literary Supplement
  • Ruth Scurr's imaginative take on Napoleon's life serves up fascinating insights into the man's behaviour and motivations, as well as an illuminating account of those around him. The gardening angle is fresh and perfectly developed; to garden is to control and manipulate, an empire builder does the same

    Penelope Lively
  • An elegant prose stylist, Scurr is above all a fabulous historian, and a vivid storyteller with a novelist's eye for engaging detail . . . Napoleon emerges not in his warrior guise but in his full humanity . . . History's palimpsest emerges in these pages too, through Scurr's accounts of modern-day places shaped by Napoleon's vision: while his empire is the stuff of history books, his legacy as a landscape genius endures

    Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine
  • Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows is history at its most enjoyable, a discursive ramble along its edges, away from matters of power and into its byways . . . Napoleon is a delight to read and must have been an immense pleasure to research

    Caroline Moorehead, Literary Review
  • Ruth Scurr brings shades of subtlety and nuance to a life well known, telling Napoleon's story through his love of nature and the gardens. A brilliantly original biographer . . . She can write beautifully; and she casts a cold eye on proceedings, unfazed by previous adoration or condemnation of her subject . . . grippingly original

    Paul Lay, The Times
  • Scurr . . . is a mine of information on the Jardin des Plantes, with its hot-houses, museum of natural history and menagerie... [and] introduces an array of naturalists and scientists who provide avenues of arresting detail on usually neglected aspects of the great flourishing that was Napoleonic France . . . a delight to read

    Adam Zamoyski, Daily Telegraph
  • Beautiful . . . It is an adjustment to think of Napoleon as a cultivator rather than as a conqueror, a planter rather than a planner. But such ambivalences are precisely Ms. Scurr's métier . . . The mountain of biographies written about the 'Little Corporal' must, at this point, be higher than the Alps he famously crossed in 1800, but her horticultural angle allows Ms. Scurr to tell the endlessly fascinating story of his life anew: not as a megalomaniac's power-hungry ascent to temporary glory but as the constantly frustrated reaching for the plenitude and happiness that Joséphine's found in her garden

    Christoph Irmscher, Wall Street Journal
  • A pleasure to read. The portrait of Napoleon as scientist, scholar, soldier, savant and grubby-fingered gardener is fresh and tremendously enjoyable. Scurr's sharp perception opens new vistas in the extensive landscape of Napoleon's boundlessly curious mind

    Sue Prideaux, author of I Am Dynamite! A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche
  • If you read just one biography this year, make it Ruth Scurr's brilliant and original exploration of Napoleon's life as an amateur gardener. Everything makes sense once you realise this was a man obsessed with making Nature go his way

    Amanda Foreman

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