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Who Was Napoleon?
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Who Was Napoleon?
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Learn more about Napoleon Bonaparte, the decorated French military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early nineteenth century.Born in the Mediterranean island of Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte...
Learn more about Napoleon Bonaparte, the decorated French military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early nineteenth century.Born in the Mediterranean island of Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte...
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  • Learn more about Napoleon Bonaparte, the decorated French military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early nineteenth century.
    Born in the Mediterranean island of Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte felt like an outsider once his family moved to France. But he found his life's calling after graduating from military school. Napoleon went on to become a brilliant military strategist and the emperor of France. In addition to greatly expanding the French empire, Napoleon also created many laws, which are still encoded in legal systems around the world.

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  • From the book Who Was Napoleon?


    One day early in 1784, a heavy snowstorm covered the grounds of the military school for boys in Brienne, France. There was so much snow that the students couldn't get their usual exercise after class. But fourteen-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte had an idea: snowball fight!

    This being a military school, however, Napoleon wasn't thinking about any ordinary snowball fight. Instead, he wanted the boys to put to use what they had been learning in the classroom. They built forts and dug trenches. On Napoleon's orders, a snowball war began. It lasted two full weeks during the times that the boys weren't in class. Some days, Napoleon commanded one side. Some days, he commanded the other.

    The snowball war wasn't entirely harmless. After a while, small rocks got mixed in with the hard ice. Those snowballs hurt! So the school put an end to it. Napoleon's first "war" was over.

    The teachers weren't happy about their students getting hurt. But they were happy to see Napoleon take charge. Ever since he arrived at the school four years earlier, he had been moody and quiet. He didn't have a lot of friends. But he seemed happy to lead the school's snowball battles.

    Little did his teachers know that Napoleon would go on to become one of the most famous military commanders in the history of the world. He would lead hundreds of thousands of men into battle. And with a combination of courage and strategy, he won most of the battles he fought.

    Napoleon went on to build a vast empire for France. At the height of his career, he ruled over more than seventy million people. To the French people, Napoleon was a good guy. To his enemies, he was not. Late in Napoleon's life, those same enemies defeated him and sent him to live on a tiny island. There, he had plenty of time to talk about his memories.

    "What a novel my life has been!" Napoleon exclaimed one day to the assistant who was writing it all down.

    Napoleon's life had it all: friends and enemies, politics and war, a love story, and so much more. And Napoleon himself—the main character—was famous, clever, and brave. But a novel is a made-up story. Napoleon lived it all for real.


    Chapter 1: Island Beginnings


    Napoleon Bonaparte's life began in Corsica, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. Corsica is about fifty miles west of what is now Italy and one hundred miles southeast of France.

    For almost five hundred years, Corsica had belonged to Genoa, a city that is now part of Italy. But the Corsican people wanted to be free. They often fought with soldiers from Genoa. When the government of Genoa grew tired of the fighting, they sold the island to the French in 1768.

    That upset the Corsicans even more! They didn't believe they should be bought and sold. And so they started fighting the French. But at that time France was one of the most powerful nations in the world. It easily conquered the island.

    When Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August 15, 1769, he automatically became a French citizen. But the influence of hundreds of years of Italian rule on Corsica didn't go away overnight: Napoleon, like most of the people on Corsica, spoke Italian.

    Napoleon's father was named Carlo and his mother was named Letizia. Even though they helped Corsica fight the French before Napoleon's birth, his parents knew there was no use keeping up the fight after the battle was lost. They grew to respect the new French government. Napoleon's father even changed his first name from Carlo to Charles because it sounded less Italian. He changed the family's last name...

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