Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Five best books on adventurers

Richard Mason was born in South Africa in 1978 and lives in New York City. His first novel, The Drowning People, published when he was twenty-one and still a student at Oxford, sold more than a million copies worldwide and won Italy’s Grinzane Cavour Prize for Best First Novel. He is also the author of Natural Elements, which was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the best books of 2009 and longlisted for the IMPAC Prize and the Sunday Times Literary Award. History of a Pleasure Seeker is his fourth novel.

For the Wall Street Journal, Mason named a five best list of books about adventurers, including:
Napoleon and Josephine
by Evangeline Bruce (1995)

Evangeline Bruce is that rare being: a superb historian with the gifts of a great novelist. Her study of Napoleon and Josephine and their "improbable marriage" takes you through the sometimes perplexing series of revolutions that engulfed France in the years following 1789. The cast of characters is vast; their motives highly complex. Bruce writes with such vivid erudition that each of these people steps from the page, wholly human. It is a long book, but I was gripped from the very first paragraph. I learned that Josephine's first husband, the Vicomte de Beauharnais, was one of the signatories on the death warrant of Louis XVI; that after the Terror, surviving French aristocrats dealt with their trauma by throwing bals des victimes, at which those who had lost family members to the guillotine (Beauharnais was among the executed) were entitled to wear red velvet ribbons at their throats. Josephine wielded such social clout in Paris that when she and Napoleon married in 1795—he was a well-known general but had not yet seized power—it was a big step up for him. Josephine helped Napoleon on his rise to rule much of Europe; she watched his fall, too, and mourned for him in his disgrace, even though they had divorced when she was unable to produce an heir. This is a brilliant work of history and an enduring portrait of two lovers whose adventurous lives defined an age.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue