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Defeat: Napoleon's Russian Campaign

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  239 ratings  ·  39 reviews
In the summer of 1812 Napoleon gathered his fearsome Grande Armée, more than half a million strong, on the banks of the Niemen River. He was about to undertake the most daring of all his many campaigns: the invasion of Russia. Meeting only sporadic opposition and defeating it easily along the way, the huge army moved forward, advancing ineluctably on Moscow through the lon ...more
Paperback, 289 pages
Published October 21st 2008 by NYRB Classics (first published 1824)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
A must for disaster junkies, fans of slow breakdown and group degeneration—anyone who can’t get enough of that horrible sorting which leaves some of the shipwrecked with their wits and capacity for teamwork, others with nothing but predacious urges and a callous despair. Also a plum if you like Romanticism. Once the retreat from Moscow begins, every page is a canvas of Delacroix or Géricault: pathetic calamities under exotic skies, in turbulent colors.* (Negligible cannibalism, which is a surpri ...more
Jeff Clay
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This relatively thin (just shy of 300 pages) account of Napoleon's disastrous Russian Campaign is not a grand study of the operational, tactical, and strategic shortcomings that led to the decimation of the Grande Armée. For that there are many other books from von Clauswitz's Russian Campaign of 1812 (he fought in the service of Russians) to a plethora of more modern analyses. Instead, this is a memoir written from the perspective of Napoleon's aide-de-camp. Count Philippe-Paul de Ségur publish ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was so engrossing it was hard to put down, and so horrific it was hard to keep reading. Written by one of Napoleon’s generals who participated in the bitter campaign, it describes the horrors of the retreat in a visceral way that no later historian, trying to be impartial and inclusive, could ever do. The fighting to get to Moscow was brutal and bloody, but the retreat was an epic of arctic cold, hunger, misery beyond words, and death at every step. The dissolution of the Grande Armée, ...more
Nick Black
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nick by: Eric
The best war memoir I've read save those of William Sherman (which ought be required reading for every American male). Perfection.
I was given this book by a goodreader last year, and finally got around to it. Thanks so much, Jen!
as i get older, i find myself wanting to read books about war pretty much all the time. so it goes! yet another weighty historical tome I've been shamed into reading by mighty eric, who one must assume is hung like reggie freakin' nelson.
Oct 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Some interesting insight into Napoleon's character and decision making process. There were far too many descriptions of detailed military maneuvers however, and the writing in these moments was devoid of energy (the extensive use of exclamation points didn't cover this fact up).

I found myself frustrated with de Segur's obvious restraint regarding the portrait he creates of his hero Napoleon. It is clear that he wishes to excuse Napoleon's dangerous ego and inability to grasp the obvious. Due to
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Philippe-Paul de Ségur served as Napoleon’s aide-de-camp during the infamous and fantastically disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia by the enterprising Emperor and his Grande Armée, consisting as that behemoth was at outset of more than half a million men. Ségur would publish his firsthand account of the debacle in 1824, over a decade after the events themselves transpired, the Emperor having subsequently endured an unprecedented fall from grace, having in fact been dead for about three years. The ...more
lark benobi
Philippe-Paul de Ségur puts humanity back into an event where we get distracted by the sheer number of the dead. I've read histories now where historians estimate the size of The Grande Armée to have been anywhere from 300,000 and 600,000 men on the way to Moscow; survivors of the campaign are estimated between 30,000 to 50,000. That's a lot of zeroes, and a lot of rounding, and a lot of missing stories of human happenings.

Maybe the best possible representation of the quantitative loss was conc
Don Heiman
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a classic. Count de Segur served Emperor Napoleon for 15 years as an aide-de-camp and later he served Napoleon as his quarter master general during the Russian Invasion of 1812. The abridged de Segur memoir was written by his son and became a standard reference on the tragedy of invasion and the burning of Moscow resulting from the Russian strategy for defeating Napoleon's army. I found the writing exceptional and I now better understand the reasons for why Russian General Kutulov's ...more
Eric Pecile
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Interesting that this is one of the more complete histories of the Moscow campaign and properly ascribes the defeat to the weather and the burning of Moscow rather than to some sort of French failure as any British based history would allow. Correctly highlights the fact that Napoleon was one of the few if not the only general in history to take Moscow by military arms successfully. Any 19th century aficionado has to read this fantastic primary account.
May 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating insider account of the entire disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. Surprisingly contemporary translation limps at spots, but de Segur comes across as a real person rather than an icy narrator. Most satisfying moment - watching the Little Corporal ride painfully across the Russian steppes with a severe urinary tract infection...
Nov 17, 2008 added it
Very good. The Grand Army just entered Moscow...
A real gripfest page-turner with the usual cast of well dressed French officers off to exotic Moscow for glory and honor and then slowly crushed under the unstoppable train wreck that follows. Fascinating, well paced, great imagery... very readable and accessible. Before you read take some time to look at the uniforms of La Grande Armée if not familiar. There are some haunting lines of the folly of long distance imperialism in foreign lands that are as true today as then. Highly recommended war ...more
Jun 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Pretty solid insider history of Napoleon's Russia campaign (the one that led to both War and Peace and perhaps the most famous early infographic). Hubris and disaster abound. ...more
Rob Markley
Interesting reflection of Napoleon's Russian disaster from a high up official. Some good assessment but light on the essential anecdotal material that would have added interest.
This is so brutal. What were they all thinking?! The descriptions are really fantastic though.
Ken Wahe
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Author was there...good portraits of murata and ney,halography of napolean but author was at his side throughout...very readable ...Tolstoy had book at his side as he wrote war and peace
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A must read because the author was a contemporary of the events.
Augustus Gump
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An unexpectedly moving piece of history. As Napoleon's aide-de-camp during the Russian campaign, Segur was present during the battles and the disastrous retreat, as well as the discussions and decision-making that brought on the destruction of the Grande Armee without ever losing a battle to the Russians. We feel Napoleon's uncertainty about whether to advance on Moscow and his consternation at the ruthless and to him (and me) barbarous lengths to which the Russian elite were prepared to go to a ...more
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nyrb
A suspenseful retelling of the beginning of the fall of Napoleon. de Segur has a key eye for detail and sets a standard for reportage and subtle forshadowing for which both journalists and screenwritings ought to aspire.

In a mere 289 pages he recounts Napoleon's Russian campaign - its empty victories leading to the destruction of an abandoned Moscow, and the brutal and complete destruction of his army that follows. With spare writing he paints a vivid picture of a man of greatness found suddenly
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The French Invasion and subsequent retreat through Russia in 1812 is one of the most harrowing, unbelievable stories in human history. Napoleon entered Russia with an army of almost half a million, and less than 40,000 walked out. The scale of the suffering, death and horror is almost unimaginable. This is the memoir of one of those soldiers. From the invasion, through the battle of Borodin, where casualties in one battle were over 70,000, to the capturing of Moscow, it subsequent burning and th ...more
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just finished this last night and its quite fantastic. Segur (the author) removes himself in such a way from his involvement in the campaign that you feel utter decimation of the humanity within the soldiers is felt when its called for and when its not it feels relatively removed from his own opinions of those months. You get a very good view of Napoleon himself on a personal level, as well as his Kings, Princes, and top Marshalls. Segur is for the most part non-biased in his accounts, though th ...more
May 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author (an eyewitness to the campaign) does not get bogged down too much in the details, and instead focuses more on his observances of human nature, Napoleon, and war in general. There are some good lessons for how an army can be, in the authors words, 'unbeaten yet defeated.'

I confess a bit a chill went through me when I read this section, when a French marshal urges retreat and says,

'Didn't you see the field of yesterday's engagement, or notice the fury with which the Russian recruits -
Vanessa Fabiano
Feb 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
started, love the front row perspective. segur really goes on about how napoleon manages to offend everyone and rub their (aristocratic) noses in his upstart grandeur. reading on iphone, with interruptions.
Patrick Haga
A great telling of the Napoleonic campaign of Russia by one of his generals. Incredibly good detail on the workings of Napoleon's army, the formations, obstacles and the incredible amount of resources it takes to move an army across the hellish landscape that is Russia.
Dec 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
A first-hand account of Napoleon's Russian invasion and retreat omits some global details -- but this powerful testimony to those terrible days is often more interesting than any historical recreation.
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
I expected much more from this book than I got, and that probably says more about me than anything else. The author simply doesn't communicate the epic sweep. This is a fantastic story told in a disjointed way without much characterization or sense of place.
Tom Wascoe
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
A detailed account of Napoleon's disastrous campaign in Russia as told by one of his aides. A memoir, written 20 years later, that accurately depicts the mistakes of Napoleon and the sufferings of his "Grand Army".
Oct 21, 2008 marked it as to-read
Brian and others,

I just want to let you know about this book. I think it will be a great interest for you guys. 'War and Peace' was sort of based on this particular book.
This is good! And it's poetic, beautifully done. The imagery is vivid and unforgettable. I think it was employed by Tolstoy in War and Peace. I want to read War and Peace, but I lost my copy.
Jun 07, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: napoleon
First hand account of Napoleon's disastrous Russian expedition. This volume is a heavily edited version of de Segur's massive effort. No index and only one map.
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