Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte

Written by Kate Williams
Review by Janice Parker

Kate Williams, royal correspondent for CNN, has followed up her 2008 biography of Queen Victoria with a well-researched, heavily detailed biography of Josephine Bonaparte, a woman both ambitious and exposed in equal measures. Born Marie-Josephe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie on the island of Martinique, Josephine soon began cultivating the complex, sometimes dangerous relationships which would ultimately allow her to claim the title, Empress of France.

From her first loveless marriage to the dashing Alexandre de Beauharnais, she came to understand both the importance of power and the sometimes unpleasant steps necessary to attain it.  When she narrowly escaped with her head during the French Revolution (a privilege not afforded to her husband) she emerged from the Bastille unwilling to leave her fate solely in the hands of others.  The following year, 1795, she met Napoleon Bonaparte.

Williams has included an extensive amount of biographical information not just of  Josephine but also of Napoleon, and it is through this that Williams clearly demonstrates the passionate, often tumultuous but always fascinating relationship which allowed them, for a time, to conquer not only France but all of Europe.