Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace
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Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  319 ratings  ·  47 reviews
The first history of the epic defeat of Napoleon's empire told from the Russian perspective.
Though much has been written about Napoleon's doomed invasion of Russia and the collapse of the French Empire that ensued, virtually all of it has been from the Western perspective. Now, taking advantage of never- before-seen documents from the Russian archives, Dominic Lieven upe...more
ebook, 656 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Penguin Books (first published 2009)
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Riku Sayuj

Tolstoy As Villain: Tolstoy, Tolstory, Tall Story

Russia’s defeat of Napoleon is one of the most dramatic stories in European history. The war has been immortalized by Tolstoy in his epic, War & Peace. There is no great puzzle as to why Russia fought Napoleon. How it fought him and why it won are much bigger and more interesting questions. To answer these questions requires one to demolish well-established myths.

It is not surprising that myths dominate Western thinking about Russia’s role in...more
It is a common misconception, popularized by nationalist sentiments and even Tolstoy himself, that the Russian army was not responsible as it truly was for the defeat of Napoleon in the East. General Winter is most often credited.

This book is a worthy corrective to some of the misconceptions of the Russian campaign - that is, Russia was more responsible for defeating Napoleon than is given credit - by such preeminent sources as The Campaigns of Napoleon, and Tolstoy. The Russian state, although...more
I gave this book five stars not because it is beautifully written, but because Russia Against Napoleon delivers not only more than its subtitle promises, but manages to upset much of the apple cart of Napoleonic history. Everyone knows the War and Peace story of Mikhail Kutuzov's courageous "escort" of the Napoleonic invading force to the borders of Central Europe.

But what happened next? That's where history commonly ignores the fact that the Russians continued their advance after Kutuzov's deat...more
Bryan Alexander
A fine history of the epic 1812-1815 war between the Russia and French empires, Russia Against Napoleon rewards both the general reader and the student of the Napoleonic wars.

Dominic Lieven tells a vast story, beginning with Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, then the German wars of 1813 (which include the biggest battle in European history by that time), and concluding with the 1814 invasion of France and (first) defeat of Napoleon. Readers new to this subject will be well treated by Lieven...more
Lauren Albert
I thought that surely a book this long (around 525 pages) would be about a lot more than strategy and such. But the majority of it was indeed military. I'm giving it 4 stars for two reasons:

1. He manages to make the military stuff interesting even to me.
2. Someone who likes military history would find it a very good read.

His central premise is simple--Russia did a lot more to defeat Napoleon than they are given credit for. I don't know about you, but he is right that I was taught (or picked up s...more
Professor Lieven spends a little too much time bemoaning the distorted lens (French, English, & Prussian) through which posterity has viewed the Napoleonic period. He must concede that the distortion is somewhat borne out of necessity: La Grande Armee which invaded Russia in 1812-- consisting of a French plurality accompanied by Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Poles, Austrians, Prussians, Swiss, and Portuguese--was a fairly literate (and in some instances, graphophilic) host; that Tsar Alexand...more
I found this in my local bookstore Nicola's and was immediately taken because it turned over most of what I thought I knew about Napoleon's campaign in Russia. Namely that he was defeated by his own over reach and the Russian winter. This book makes the case that he was beaten by superior strategy, fighting forces and tactics, though no doubt winter and over-reach helped. And I had forgotten that the Russians actually pursued the French all the way back to Paris and were part of the allied group...more
Good God. Yes, it is a worthy corrective to the idea that little history of the Napoleonic conflict has been written from the Russian perspective. But the writing is turgid, to put it as kindly as possible, and it tells you far more about what a particular cavalry unit was doing on a particular day than Russian foreign policy on a broader level. I found this almost unreadable, and I read history the way a slot machine takes quarters. To be fair, it might be of interest to military historians. To...more
I couldn't. I just couldn't do it. I live for this stuff and I found Lieven's chronological retelling of the Russian side of the Napoleonic Wars so dry and devoid of narrative as to be unreadable. And I have literally been trying to finish this book for YEARS.

Good facts and sources, but as for a story or book worth reading cover to cover, this is not that. Like a full length version of Homer's Catalog of Ships with Preobazhenskys instead of Trojans.
Jim Pfluecke
Billed as the first English language to cover the 1812-1814 war from the Russian perspective, Lieven delivers.

Several things stand out in the book.

(1) Lieven consistently seeks to debunk myths and misrepresentations of the period, some of which are Russian national myths but mostly he addresses situations where Western authors do not give the Russians the credit they were due. For example, he details (complete with service records) the relative quality of the Russian infantry, noting that early...more
Dominic Lieven is a professor of Russian history in England, and a descendant of three generals of the battles described. He provides a history from the Russian viewpoint, having accessed Russian records in addition to those of other observers. He views Tsar Alexander I as a highly competent man, not at all weak, who often hid his own views and strengths when dealing with other European leaders. Napoleon's failure against Russia was no accident. It's true that Napoleon's judgment sometimes was a...more
Christopher H.
This is an excellent, and eminently readable, political and military history of the latter stages of the Napoleonic Wars from the Russian perspective. Professor Lieven has done a superb job of crafting a suspenseful story involving some truly remarkable characters. His description of the battlefield tactical situations, the strategic implications of the armies moving across Europe in pursuit of Napoleon's Grande Armee is some of the best I've read, and rivals Shelby Foote's treatment of the Amer...more
Tom Corddry
Compelling alternative to Tolstoy's view, giving far greater credit to the Russian military and political leadership, instead of simply crediting Russian peasant spirit and Russian nasty winter. A fascinating history, now possible thanks to newly-available Russian sources. Reminds us of something we didn't really know; Napoleon's demise was brought about by Czar Alexander more than any other single person, including Wellington, Nelson, etc. Thanks to "War and Peace," most people believe that Nap...more
David Bird
Nemesis herself seldom provides the vantage for the telling of a tragedy. Casting Napoleon as the tragic protagonist, undone by his own hubris, forms the basis of most western accounts of the climax of the wars that bear his name. In such a drama, the Russian Army is treated as much like the Russian winter: something that befell the French, more than something created and led. British accounts tend to take the line that 'Wellington invaded France, and then the other allies followed.' Lieven sets...more
Paulo Migliacci
Dominic Lieven, Professor of Russian History at the LSE, is a direct descendant of generals and diplomats who served Russian Czar Alexander II in the wars against Napoleon. That family connection provides him with an insider view of Russia's victorious war in 1812-1814. One of his book's many strengths is that he dedicates most of his space to the Russian counter-offensive that led the Czar's armies from beyond Moscow to Paris. His account of the logistical structure created and deployed by the...more
Steve.  g
Just completed a selection of three; Napoleon by Mclynn, 1812 by Zamoyski and this one.
So now I know my Caulaincourt from my Kutuzov, my Barclay from my Ney, and that helps.
There are a lot of players in this three year war and, writing from the Russian perspective, Leiven does everyone the justice of a mention and a thumbnail sketch (some of whom may have preffered that he hadnt). Alexander, over the long haul, comes out very well.
The overwhelming, OVERWHELMING image you get from these books,...more
This book corrects a very serious historical flaw in the popular understanding of the Napoleonic era -- the general belief that Napoleon invaded Russia in a pique of megalomania and was defeated by hunger and cold after the cowardly Russians burned Moscow, that he subsequently evaporated into the historical mists, only to rise up once more after his escape from Elba to be defeated once and for all by the courageous forces of Wellington. This misconception is the fruit of Tolstoy's revisionist Wa...more
Frank Kelly
An extraordinary book. Lieven, a professor of Russian history at the London School of Economics and the direct decendent of three generals who fought at the Battle of Leipzig, gives a whole new perspective to Napoleon's classicly ill-advised invasion of Russia. Using newly available material from Russian archives to show that Czar Alexander and his brilliant general staff, knowing Napoleon was likely to unleash his massive army on Russia, actually planned for a number of years in advance and in...more
The only book I have ever seen which presents the Russian perspective (and indeed that of Alexanders I) clearly. This book is very well written, but can be dry in places. The dryness cannot be limited, as the dry writings are necessary. 80% of the book, especially the early chapters, was engaging. I could not put it down. Towards the end and the fall of Paris, I started to loose interest. That is no fault of the book or the writer, being familiar with the history and what took place made it diff...more
A dry romp through a bleak era. woof.
The chip on Dominic's shoulder against popular thought concerning the russians various victories over Napoleon, so evident in opening chapters, graciously fades as he gets into the meatier bits where he offers some real insight into the specific battles and overall state of Russia during its war years.

Not a light read, and probably 200 pages too long, but Lieven certainly held my interest and I gotta give him props for finding so much actual correspondence b...more
This is a lively account of the Russian campaign against Napoleon, with an excellent description of the logistics, the politics and the military campaign against him. It is interspersed with comments from participants, including the French, and highlights the difference between an early 1800s war and modern warfare.

Why didn't I rate it higher? I read it in the Kindle version, which had only portraits of the generals and aristocrats who directed the war. Because the Kindle can't handle maps well,...more
My recent obsession with military history was deeply enriched by this dense, but compelling, account of Napoleon's entry into, and subsequent retreat, from Russia. I'm always amazed at how a historian is able to recreate these events so eloquently, and with such conviction. An entertaining and dramatic read, as Lieven so aptly reminds us, "grandiose plans which looked brilliant on paper had a way of going wrong when faced with war's reality." (page 270).

Spoil alert? Napoleon is defeated and not...more
The best parts of this book are when he is not detailing the battles themselves. It is most interesting to me when he discusses Alexander I and the strategies employed, as well as the political context for decisions. I also really liked it when he shed light on the way the war affected the peasants. I wish there had been more about the Cossacks, that seemed glaringly lacking, as he gave so much detail to all of the other military units.
The last chapter was my favorite. I spent an hour online rea...more
History as it should be written. A comprehensive study of the campaigns of both Napoleon's invasion and retreat from Russia, and the campaigns in Germany and France that led to his overthrow, both from the Russian perspective. Leiven (how had ancestors who fought in the campaigns) takes the trouble to delve in to little known areas, such as the home front and logistics, and shows why they were so important. If you are interested in Russian history or 19th century warfare, this book is not to be...more
Kay Robart
Lieven points out that all of our knowledge of the Russian campaigns against Napoleon are based on French, German, and British accounts--and Tolstoy's War and Peace. In this interesting history, Lieven shows that the defeat of Napoleon was the result not of fate and the Russian winter but of specific plans to first lure him to Russia and stretch his supply lines and then follow him back to France.

See my complete review here:
I don't pretend to be an expert historian - on Russia or any other topic, but I thoroughly enjoy a good yarn. And there are plenty of true, lesser-known tales to cull from centuries of human complications. Writer and professor Dominic Lieven tackles the mountainous topic of Napoleon's invasion of Russia from 1812-14. ...

Please read my full review here:
Excellent overview of the Russian role in the Napoleonic wars, focusing on logistics and the major Russian leaders, including the sizable number of foreigners in the tsar's service. The main aim is to uncover the real aims of the Russian leadership, which has been obscured by Western and Soviet historians. It succeeds in this with a fair amount of good humor, but needs more and better maps.
Daniel Kukwa
As a research tool, this is a peerless resource, with unbelievable detail to the Nth degree. However, it's also a hell of a long read, and for every chapter that sings, there are others that feel like slogging through treacle. It's fantastic history, but poor recreational reading I'm splitting the star-rating difference accordingly.
Sean Vangordon
4 out of 5 stars for me. The book is told from the Russian/Anti-Napoleon perspective. I learned a lot about the Russian Army, and their strategy to defeat the French during the invasion. A lot of good information about politics of the time. It was an amazing feat to march your army across Europe to Paris over two years. Amazing insight.
This is a massive book, full and thick with military history. But that's not all it is: it provides a great deal of insight into a side of history not well told, and it opens a window on a new view of history, and not just Napoleonic history, but of all the catastrophes that have happened since, which is really quite amazing.
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“In March 1812 proposals were hatched to unite all the reserve units of the ‘second line’ into three reserve armies. In time these reserve armies would be able to reinforce Barclay, Bagration and Tormasov. In the event that the front-line armies were defeated or forced to retreat, they would be able to fall back under the cover of these rear formations.41 This plan never came to fruition and in reality reserve armies never existed in 1812. One reason for this was that Napoleon advanced more quickly than anticipated and the Russian reserve units were forced to decamp before they could form such armies.” 0 likes
“The basic lesson of 1805–7 was that not only must the three eastern monarchies unite but the Russian army must already be positioned in central Europe when military operations began.” 0 likes
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