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Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  855 ratings  ·  86 reviews
Tho much has been written about Napoleon's doomed invasion of Russia & 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, Lieven upends much of the conventional wisdom about the events that formed the backdrop of Tolstoy's masterpiece, War ...more
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published October 2009 by Allen Lane
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Riku Sayuj
Dec 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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 Napo
Brett C
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: european-history
This was an interesting read because it follows the Russian perspective of Napoleon's push into Russia. The book starts out with various maps and the first being the overall advance/retreat of the 1812 campaign. Other maps include a geopolitical map of 1812 Europe, the Smolensk region, the Borodino battlefield, engagements at Bautzen/Katzbach/Kulm, the Leipzig campaign, and other relative maps.

The author gives a good background of Peter the Great's Russia and leads up to Napoleon's invasion. The
Jun 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia, history, france
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
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book details the years 1812-14 when France battled Russia once again after several unsuccessful campaigns by Russia in 1805 and 1807. I knew little about the Russian effort when I started reading, except for the famous 1812 campaign. That campaign comprises a small part of this book because the author spends much more time developing an understanding of how the Russians turned things around in the intervening years. He also concentrates on the uniting of Prussian, Austrian and Russian force ...more
Jul 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very well-written study of Russia’s war with Napoleon. Lieven’s research is solid and it seems that he has examined almost every primary source on the topic. The book is almost entirely told from the Russian perspective, and he aims to show that defeating Napoleon was not just a matter of cold, mud, and weather. He shows how Napoleon was also defeated by the deliberate actions and foresight of Russian leaders and commanders.

The matter of logistics is one often ignored when it comes to the hist
Sotiris Karaiskos
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A book that contains a great amount of information about the great conflict between Napoleon's army and the Russians, and at the same time refutes many historical myths. I particularly like the fact that is exploring all aspects of history, from the leaders' agreements, to the efforts to feed the army. Despite its complexity, however, it is a very fascinating reading that has the ability to put you at the heart of the events.

Ένα βιβλίο που περιέχει πάρα πολλές πληροφορίες για τη μεγάλη σύγκρουση
Bryan Alexander
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, russia
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
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent analysis of one of history's most momentous campaigns--Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and the aftermath-the 1813-14 campaign that led to the downfall of the French emperor. Lieven tells this story from the Russian viewpoint. He also deals with the diplomatic aspects as well as the military action. While Napoleon's retreat from Russia is mainly considered to be due to Napoleon's blunders and the bad weather, Lieven gives credit to the Russian military leaders and, above all, ...more
Lauren Albert
Oct 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-european
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
Sid Singh
The Napoleonic wars are a fascinating period of European history and there are few books written on the "Eastern Front" of the war. I had high hopes for Lievin's work. Unfortunately, this book epitomizes the types of books that kill readers interest in history.

The author's writing style is very dry and the book reads like a textbook written for a graduate course in Russian History. Lieven has absolutely no literary skills; rather he inundates the reader with tedious detail after detail that actu
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Alexander's ...more
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
William Shieber
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes reality beats fiction. In this case, the reality is that Alexander I knew what he was doing. In 1812, Russia defeated Napoleon's invasion not merely because of the tenacity of the Russian spirit or because it's cold in winter, but because Alexander and Barclay de Tolly had prepared for the invasion. Thereafter, Alexander nurtured a military coalition with Prussia and Austria which combined to drive Napoleon out of Germany, Within two years of the invasion of Russia, the Coalition army ...more
Dec 20, 2020 rated it liked it
I read this with the intention to get a refresher of the historical background of War and Peace. W&P ends with the retreat of the French from Russia in 1812, but this book goes all the way to the overthrow of Napoleon in 1814. Once the War and Peace ground was covered though, my interest kinda dwindled and I took a year long hiatus. Once I picked it back up I realized that was stupid and I dropped off just before things got more interesting. The years 1813-14 are much faster paced - the theatre ...more
John Hughes
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book, which takes a deceptively long time to get through, enriched as it is with detailed Russian military tactics over the greater part of a decade. Russia's war effort against Napoleon was a monumental effort. I particularly enjoyed the episodes where key decision makers had time to consider their multiple options: Kutozov when chasing Napoleon back from Moscow (how far and to what extent?), and the decisions by Napoleon and the allies around Dresden and Saxony in the build up t ...more
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
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
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
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
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.
Dec 19, 2013 marked it as wish-list  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bettie by: Riku Sayuj
Tolstoyan myth and an imbalance of British and French interpretations have clouded most Westerners' understanding of Russia's role in the defeat of Napoleon ...more
David Mclaughlin
I watched a talk with Professor Lieven shortly after reading this where I found out that it was only in the American edition this book was billed as "the true story of the campaigns of war & peace."

Evidently the concern was that a broad audience wouldn't be terribly interested in a history of the Russian campaigns against Napoleon waged from 1807-1814. This is understandable given the topics/themes explored in this history include the Russian horse industry, the development of logistics & suppl
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Fred Dameron
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Great read that shows the Napoleonic Campaigns from 1812 through 1814 with a non Anglo slant.

Most histories of the Napoleonic era, at least in America are written from the point of view of the English or the French. Napoleon, Wellington and Nelson are the leading characters and it is Waterloo and Trafalgar that are the decisive battles. When seen through the eyes of the rest of Europe the Napoleonic Era is a LOT more complicated. The English sit out a lot, Austo-Hungarian Empire and Prussia get
Fascinating & compelling thesis: Russia as peacemaker

As a novice, but avid reader of history, I found this a convincing and well sourced thesis of Russia’s integral role in ending twenty years of European subjugation to French expansionism. I am not qualified to critique in detail or broadly the author’s central thesis, but I gained much insight into this era’s challenges in effective use of diplomacy and hard power. The author’s narrative has a dynamic flow, with vivid characters described wit
Eric Michels
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really well written account of the war and very well researched. There are many names and places that appear without introduction and are a bit difficult to track. This would be a five star effort if there were maps - perhaps at the beggining of each chapter to provide a visual setting and location of the armies. As complete and detailed as the battle descriptions are, it is difficult to place them all in context.
Doug J.
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Superb companion book to Leo Tolstoy's 'War and Peace'. In fact, thats why I bought this book. A month after starting 'War and Peace', I saw this in the bookstore and bought it. No regrets at all. Excellent explanations of the politics and causes of the Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia and the return trip across Europe of the Russian forces and allies in 1813-14 that resulted in the occupation of Paris and abdication of Napoleon. ...more
Gus I
Jun 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It is well written and is easy to read.

I have read a few books about the Napoleonic wars but this was the first from the Russian perspective. So there is a lot of history and perspective that I didn't know and i felt I learned a lot.

The focus is on the 1812 invasion and its lead up. 1807, 1813 and 1814 are also covered but in less detail.

I hope the archives are still open Dominic Lieven can write a follow up.
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
My last book of 2020! (technically finished in the first few minutes of 2021) Russia Against Napoleon is astonishingly thorough and a significant piece of research on the dynamics between Russia and Napoleon from 1812-1814. Even though this book is outside my literary comfort zone, it was a compelling read -- not a short read, to be sure, but a worthwhile one.
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Dominic Lieven is Professor of Russian studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, a Fellow of the British Academy and of Trinity College, Cambridge.

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30 likes · 9 comments
“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.” 2 likes
“Meanwhile the revolt of Russian officers in the so-called Decembrist movement of 1825 owed much to injured Russian national pride at the Poles being given freedoms denied to the Russian elites. In the century which followed 1815 the Poles contributed much to the Russian Empire’s economy. In political terms, however, both the Polish and Jewish populations of the former Duchy of Warsaw caused the Russian government many problems. Nor was it even clear that the annexation of the Duchy had strengthened Russia’s strategic position. On the contrary, by 1900 it could be seen as a potential trap for the Russian army. By then the German settlement of 1815 also looked a mistake from the perspective of Russian interests. A France bordering on the Rhine would have eased many Russian concerns about the challenge of Germany’s growing power.” 1 likes
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