New Books Network

Mark Braude

The Invisible Emperor

Napoleon on Elba from Empire to Exile

Penguin Press 2018

New Books in BiographyNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network August 27, 2019 Roxanne Panchasi

I must’ve been a kid when I first heard the palindrome “Able I was ere I saw Elba”. Napoleon didn’t mean a lot to...

I must’ve been a kid when I first heard the palindrome “Able I was ere I saw Elba”. Napoleon didn’t mean a lot to me at the time. “Elba” meant even less. Decades later, I had learned a little more about Napoleon and his time there, but not that all that much it turns out. And then came Mark Braude’s The Invisible Emperor: Napoleon on Elba from Empire to Exile (Penguin Press, 2018)…

This unexpected and absorbing book delves into the story of Napoleon’s exile on the island of Elba following his abdication in 1814. After his escape and return to France for the “100 Days,” Napoleon was, of course, finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815. The Invisible Emperor explores a period in between the “bigger-ticket” events with which readers may be more familiar, a time and space in which Napoleon was at once out of sight and more in contact with everyday people than perhaps at any other point in his career.

Written in multiple short chapters comprising four parts that follow the seasons of Bonaparte’s ten-month stay on Elba, The Invisible Emperor reconsiders the Napoleonic legend from the point of view of a moment of relative quiet in a modest setting. Carefully researched and a pleasure to read, it challenges aspects of the towering historical figure’s mythology. The space, timeline, and scale of this history may be small, but this is a Napoleon we don’t typically hear about. Presented in a narrative rich with curious details and a surprising intimacy, The Invisible Emperor manages to humanize an epic history and life about which so much has been written over the past two centuries.


Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Her current research focuses on the representation of nuclear weapons and testing in France and its empire since 1945. She lives and reads in Vancouver, Canada. If you have a recent title to suggest, please send an email to: panchasi@sfu.ca.

*The music that opens and closes the podcast is an instrumental version of “Creatures,” a song written and performed by Vancouver artist/musician Casey Wei (“hazy”). To hear more, please visit https://agonyklub.com/.