Biographies & Memoirs

Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte

Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte

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.


Chapter 1. La Pagerie

Chapter 2. Sophistication

Chapter 3. “Beneath All the Sluts in the World”

Chapter 4. Revolution

Chapter 5. “The Height of Good Manners to Be Ruined”

Chapter 6. “What Strange Power You Have over My Heart”

Chapter 7. “The Single Object in My Heart”

Chapter 8. A Million Kisses

Chapter 9. “I Am So Distressed at Being Separated from Him”

Chapter 10. “All I Have Suffered”

Chapter 11. “He Owes Me Everything”

Chapter 12. “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World”

Chapter 13. Scenes with Bonaparte

Chapter 14. “My Stepfather Is a Comet”

Chapter 15. “Your Imperial Majesty”

Chapter 16. “The King of Diamonds”

Chapter 17. “I Have Fulfilled My Destiny”

Chapter 18. “I Wish You Would Be More Reasonable”

Chapter 19. “Cold and Often Embarrassed”

Chapter 20. “Like a Wounded Soldier”

Chapter 21. “More Full of Charm”


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