Napoleon Bonaparte

How to Lead, Succeed & Other Lessons from Napoleon Bonaparte

In one of my favorite books, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill, the author of the book, tells his readers to study great men (or women). To study them intimately. Study them in such depth that we know their routine, even how they think and how they’d react to situations in our own lives. Know them in such a way that we can theoretically go to them for advice. Understand what made them great, even what led to their downfall. Incorporate the good into our lives, and steer clear of the bad.

I’ve started following Mr. Hill’s advice on this matter much more as of late. Most recently I’ve started studying another Napoleon; Bonaparte. A controversial figure. Even a war monger, a killer of thousands, often a cynic, a sexist, and a man only after one thing: power. Nonetheless, an ambitious man born into poverty who accomplished incredible things in his life. A man we can, and will, learn a lot from.

In a time when social, economic, and militaristic stature was as much a birthright as anything. Napoleon rose through the military, due to ambition, hard work, acquired intelligence, and the seizing of opportunity. As I read into more depth about Napoleon and his rise, I find myself admiring the man. I can also see what will eventually lead to his downfall. However, what leads to his ascent, can lead to ours as well.


Originally Nabolione Buonaparte, born on the Italian island of Corsica – his first language was Italian, a fact that I’m including in this article for my Mom, an Italian, so there you go Mom – and born amidst turmoil. His native land in a losing battle to French occupation.

Napoleon grew, oddly enough, to despise France, and had a deep desire to free his Corsica from French rule, even though he was a newborn at the time of this battle for Corsican independence.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Over time this passion would quell, and give rise to a new desire: greatness. He wanted glory. He openly hated the rich who were given their positions in the military, or politics, simply because of their wealth. Their position having nothing to do with knowledge or skill, something that Napoleon resented. He didn’t socialize, instead choosing the comfort of books. This was in part due to the fact that he couldn’t afford to drink and party like the other cadets at his military school.

He had little luck early on in his career. But with the rise of the French Revolution, things began to change. Doors began to open, but would close just as fast as they opened. The turmoil of his country reflected the turmoil in his own life. He’d be given promotions, then a new power would take control, and his career would take ten steps back.

Reading about Napoleon early on, and knowing he eventually achieves greatness, you get the feeling that you’re reading about a young, ambitious man who works his butt off only to slightly improve the status of both his family and himself.

You don’t really get the sense that you’re reading about a man who accomplishes greatness beyond, arguably, any story before him because of his starting point. But things start to change. His fortunes improve dramatically, partially due to timing, but primarily because he does what’s necessary to make them change. His greatness comes from a foundation he started very early on in his life. An insatiable passion for knowledge.

“The word impossible is not in my dictionary.” ~ Napoleon

No Idea is Original. Build Your Own Theories & Views Through Study

There are benefits to very situation. Napoleon didn’t have enough money to drink with his peers in his teen years. He resented them. As such, he didn’t have the desire to drink. His passions lay with acquiring knowledge. He wanted so bad to improve his status, and that of his families, that he did nothing on a day to day basis to take away from that dream.

He also admittedly lusted for books. He was so poor that he’d pass a book store, peer in, and covet them like we might covet the model on the cover of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. But he couldn’t afford to buy them.

I say, No idea is original, because at some point, someone has though what we’re thinking. What books help us do is form our own opinions, but also study the tactics of others, so, when we’re at a crossroads in the future, we can call upon this knowledge base and act accordingly. Napoleon did this as good as anyone has.

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  • turling

    Major Taylor. I stumbled upon him through a friend. Decades before Jackie Robinson.

    • Chad Howse

      I’ll add that to the list man, thanks. Never even heard of him. Intrigued.

  • Zach

    If you are interested in Theodore Roosevelt I strongly recommend The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris. Long reads but required to get the full picture of an incredible human being.

    • Chad Howse

      Thanks Zach, I was going to ask for suggested reads. I just bought a couple books off Amazon, not sure if those were the ones. I’ll have to have a look.

  • Brent Cue

    Congrats on a great article Chad, although I find each of your articles interesting and inspiring, this one definitely hits a cord

    Little known fact about Napoleon was that he was actually taller than most people think. Most records will show that he was 5’2, however this is in ‘french inches’, which when converted to traditional inches is actually 5’7. Small by todays standards, but a solid height back in his day.

    Again, awesome article, hope you’re on your track to smashing out your goals this year ; )

    • Chad Howse

      Hey Brent, thanks man I’m on my way! Hope you are too bro. Thanks for the fact, didn’t know that.

  • Trevor Wilson

    Excellent article. The importance of reading can never be understated. All the world’s knowledge lies right at our fingertips. It would be such a waste to let it slip through.
    As for leadership, I think true leadership comes from those willing to be themselves on the grandest of scales. These are men and women who are unafraid to take a stand. Popularity be damned. People are naturally drawn to those with strength and courage.
    Thus, leadership is a title earned . . . granted by those who choose to follow.

    • Chad Howse

      I agree Trevor. Leadership takes courage, as does most worthwhile things in life. Good point.

  • moises

    Chad great post! You’re writing posts increasingly better!

  • Hisyam

    Prophet Muhammad…

  • Fearless Men

    It’s well-stated when you say Napoleon rose in part due to “acquired intelligence.” What a great way to look at it. Many often perceive that people are successful due to innately born gifting or sheer chance. While they’re may be some truth to born talent, I’m encouraged to think that more intelligence and smarts can be acquired!

    • Chad Howse

      Glad you caught that! In my mind, the most important little tidbit of the article. Two books that cover this topic, and attempt to – very successfully – dispel the talent myth:

      Talent is Overrated

      Check them out for sure. Great reads.

  • Minhaz Mishu

    Loving your list Chad, looks a lot like mine. You mind naming the books you’ve read to study Bonaparte? Also, if I were to add to your list I’d suggest Nikola Tesla, one of the most innovative thinkers to ever live (Tesla: Man out of time by Margaret Cheney), Einstein (Einstein: His life and universe by Walter Isaacson [who also wrote a great biography on Steve Jobs which im sure you’ve read]), and Bill Clinton, not because he was a good president or anything, but because he overcame a somewhat deprived childhood and excelled at some of the worlds finest institutions (his own autobiography would be the best place to start). I hope you look into my suggestions.

    • Minhaz Mishu

      Oh man, how can i forget, How to think like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb is a great book! As well as a new piece by Maria Konnikova called Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes, a great insight into the thought process of one of the most intelligent fictional characters constantly admired for his intellectual prowess.

      • Chad Howse

        Those sound like awesome books! Written down. I’ll grab them for sure.

    • Chad Howse

      Love your suggestions man, thanks for those. I’ll take you up on each.

      The best book I’ve read on Napoleon, one that dispels myths, and really gets into his mind and thought process – as well as his rise – is:

      The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte by Robert Asprey

      Good read. One of those books you don’t want to put down.

  • Scott Howse

    Elie Wiesel wrote a book called night. about his survival of
    Auschwitz and Buchenwald short book but VERY powerfull. great article!

    • Chad Howse

      That sounds very interesting. I’ll have to grab a copy for sure.

  • Bryan

    I would think Patton would be someone to study as well. While the idea to study great individuals had yet to come to me, and thanks to you, it no longer needs to, I have just read The Art of War(by Sun Tzu) translated by Ralph Sawyer. Slightly difficult due to the difference in culture, but an excellent read nonetheless. Also, perhaps the most important book about Napoleon, Vom Kriege (On War) By Carl Von Clausewitz. It is said the he had distilled Napoleon to theory. This book I am just starting. Both of these books were recommended to me( the latter given) by my history teacher who was a career naval officer, turned historian/teacher, teaching at various war colleges and now retired from Washington State University.

    • Bryan

      By the way, that same teacher, read Arnold’s new book that came out and was not impressed, and even slightly disappointed in it. Though I do not take his word as gospel as it may sound, as a former Californian, I greatly dislike Arnold, as his governorship was a joke. Aside from politics though, I do see some merit in learning about him. Though a book ABOUT him may be better than a book BY him.

      • Chad Howse

        Ya I hear ya. I’ve read a bit of it, will get back to in in a week. It’s a good book to read, to get into the mind of someone like him. Someone so ambitious, to see how he thinks, tackles obstacles etc…

    • Chad Howse

      You’re giving some great recommendations here Bryan, really appreciate it.

  • Bryan

    Now i am thinking to myself, how could i forget THE person to read about, and his own books… Bruce Lee, though many think of him as simply a great martial artist, his books are simply some of the best in guidance for how he succeeded and how we can apply those same principles. While it does focus on martial arts, he is an excellent role model for anyone in need of the most extreme discipline.

    Also, when reading about Theodore Roosevelt, I hope you learn how the Teddy Bear got its name.

    • Chad Howse

      I have a Bruce Lee book that I still need to read – good call on that, and I’ll get to reading on Teddy as soon as my next shipment of books arrive.

  • Gurprataap Singh Chadha

    Arnold is seriously sm1 to read about…
    However chad…paet of being driven and motivated is NOT tobbust your seed half hazardously (fapping)..iv seen the benefits.,:bt i relapse manytimes to the 2 in a day routine which saps energy,,:
    U should do an article on it. Quoting from various spiritual people (i dont watch any porn though)

  • Andrew

    Arnold Schwarzenegger , encyclopedia of modern body building