Making the best, worst, or, almost universally, some mix of good and bad choices that define oneself over a lifetime is something everyone does. Yet those who actually deeply understand themselves are rare. Doing so requires the learning and application of both will and skill; most people lack the inclination and time to do so. Instead, most people create a persona or mask that they present not just to the world but to themselves. They fervently believe that persona—composed of a handful of genuine characteristics distorted by wishes and fears—is their true self. But it is merely a caricature that shields them from the much more complex, ambiguous, and evolving self that they really are.
Which brings us to Napoleon Bonaparte. As he rose through the ranks of first military and then political power, the choices he made affected the lives of ever more people. In exile on Saint Helena, his dictated memoirs are filled with justifications, celebrations, and regrets for the choices he made.
So, just who was Napoleon? How did he get to be the way he was? How did he change over time? And how did all that affect his diplomacy?
Napoleon Bonaparte was among those individuals who eventually adopted an ever more obsessively clear vision of who he thought he was and what more he might become. He believed that he was a child of “destiny,” that somehow, for unknown and mysterious reasons, he was destined to do great things. That
belief animated his reactions to a succession of astonishing opportunities that arose before him throughout most of his life.
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