Book Review: Paolina Bonaparte by Antonio Spinosa

Pauline Bonaparte is a very fascinating and controversial historical figure. Napoleon’s favourite sister was charming, clever, insatiable, wild, dissolute and had lots of lovers. But she was also very loyal to her brother. When Napoleon fell, all the siblings he had placed on the thrones of one European country or another abandoned him. It was Pauline, the only one he hadn’t given a crown to, who stood by him and tried to help him in any way she could.

Spinosa manages to remain objective and, although it is clear Pauline fascinates him, he portrays her as a real woman, with both good qualities and faults. He sets the record straight on rumours that still circulated about Pauline and shares little-known facts and anedoctes from her life. He also examines her relationships with men and argues that she wasn’t as cold-hearted and really cared about some of her lovers, such as Freron, more than people think. But the main focus of the book is about the relationship between Pauline and her brother Napoleon. He describes how close they were, from their first meeting when Pauline was 6 (Napoleon was already away from home studying and joining the army when Pauline was born) to their deaths.

While I find their relationship interesting (one of the main reasons why I read this book was because I wanted to know more about it), I also often felt that this book is more about Napoleon, his life and his political career, than it is about Pauline. For a big chunk of the book, she seemed to stay in the background and, once I finished reading it, I was left a bit disappointed. I’ve learned lots about the political situation of France at the time, Napoleon and his sister, but who Pauline really was still eludes me. Spinosa carefully details her life, but the reader can’t say she knows Pauline better after finishing the book than when he/she started it. It is still a very interesting read though and it flows really easily thanks to the straightforward, straight-to-the-point style of writing and Spinosa’s shrewd insights.

Paolina Bonaparte by Antonio Spinosa is an interesting read. Pauline is portrayed as a real woman with both good qualities and faults. Spinosa examines her life in detail, focusing on her relationships with men and her brother Napoleon in particular. Napoleon’s life and political career are extensively talked about in the book and at times I felt the book was more about him than his sister. Written in a straightforward and shrewd way, the reader will come away knowing a lot more facts about Pauline and the time she lived in, but very little about this woman’s personality and who she really was.

Available at:, abebooks

Rating: 3.5/5

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