From CNN’s official royal historian, a highly praised young author with a doctorate from Oxford University, comes the extraordinary rags-to-riches story of the woman who conquered Napoleon’s heart—and with it, an empire.
Their love was legendary, their ambition flagrant and unashamed. Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, came to power during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of France. The story of the Corsican soldier’s incredible rise has been well documented. Now, in this spellbinding, luminous account, Kate Williams draws back the curtain on the woman who beguiled him: her humble origins, her exorbitant appetites, and the tragic turn of events that led to her undoing.
Born Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie on the Caribbean island of Martinique, the woman Napoleon would later call Josephine was the ultimate survivor. She endured a loveless marriage to a French aristocrat—executed during the Reign of Terror—then barely escaped the guillotine blade herself. Her near-death experience only fueled Josephine’s ambition and heightened her determination to find a man who could finance and sustain her. Though no classic beauty, she quickly developed a reputation as one of the most desirable women on the continent.
In 1795, she met Napoleon. The attraction was mutual, immediate, and intense. Theirs was an often-tumultuous union, roiled by their pursuit of other lovers but intensely focused on power and success. Josephine was Napoleon’s perfect consort and the object of national fascination. Together they conquered Europe. Their extravagance was unprecedented, even by the standards of Versailles. But she could not produce an heir. Sexual obsession brought them together, but cold biological truth tore them apart.
Gripping in its immediacy, captivating in its detail, Ambition and Desire is a true tale of desire, heartbreak, and revolutionary turmoil, engagingly written by one of England’s most praised young historians. Kate Williams’s searing portrait of this alluring and complex woman will finally elevate Josephine Bonaparte to the historical prominence she deserves.
Kate Williams fell in love with the eighteenth century while studying for her B.A. at Oxford University, and went on to earn an M.A. from the University of London and a D.Phil. in history from Oxford University. A lecturer and TV consultant in addition to being CNN’s royal historian, she has hosted several documentaries on British television and appears regularly on both American and British networks. Williams is the author of two previous biographies, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton and Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch, as well as a novel, The Pleasures of Men. Her articles and essays have been published in a wide range of books and journals. Kate Williams lives in London.
“Though the romance of Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte is known by many, Williams combs through their history in her riveting account of their 14-year marriage…[she] perfectly illustrates all that was bizarre and maddening about French life during [their] reign.”
“Williams, author of Becoming Queen Victoria and England’s Mistress, plucks another fascinating female dynamo from the annals of history, vividly detailing the life of Josephine Bonaparte. An in-depth portrait of the substantive woman behind the throne.”
“An intelligent and entertaining biography of ‘the Empress whom France never forgot.’ As Williams ably shows, beneath the lust for power and prominence [Napoleon and Josephine] shared, a remarkably durable passion bound them together to the end.”
“A sparkling account of this most fallible and endearing of women.”
“A whirlwind tour of French history.”
“Reading [Ambition and Desire] is like watching Silk Stockings, the 1957 Hollywood masterpiece with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. The book flows and jumps, taking the reader by the hand through tormented times in French history without ever letting you go or losing itself in the intricacies of French politics.”
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