Napoleon III remains an enigmatic and controversial historical figure. Historians have disagreed as much as contemporaries about his aims and achievements. His admirers like to portray him as the victim of a long tradition of historiographical vilification, but in reality he has enjoyed a good press for over half a century. While some have sought to perpetuate the "black legend" fashioned by 19th century republicans and others have denounced Napoleon as a precursor of Hitler and Mussolini, in recent years he has been reinvented as an architect of European unity and a pioneer of Gaullist-style technocracy. This assessment shifts attention away from ideologically inspired representations and examines instead the question of power. It recognizes the emperor as a highly skilled political operator who, in the face of innumerable obstacles, attempted to conduct an original policy. Its central theme, however, is the ironies of power, for, having come to power fortuitously, Napoleon III discovered that he could rarely achieve his goals either at home or abroad and that frequently his actions had consequences which he neither intended nor desired.