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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  781 ratings  ·  74 reviews
A major new history of the Russian conflict immortalized by Tolstoy in War and Peace

Russia's expulsion of Napoleon's Grande Armée in 1812 is considered one of the most dramatic events in European history. However, Tolstoyan myth and an imbalance of British and French interpretations have clouded most Westerners' understanding of Russia's role in the defeat of Napoleon.

Paperback, 688 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Penguin Books (NY) (first published 2009)
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Start your review of Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace
Riku Sayuj
Dec 19, 2013 rated it really liked it

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
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
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...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
Sotiris Karaiskos
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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 ...more
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
William Shieber
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 ...more
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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 ...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
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Johan Keppens
Interessant perspectief op de veldtocht van Napoleon naar Rusland en de gebeurtenissen nadien.
Boek is evenwel erg 'droog' geschreven, met veel te gedetailleerde beschrijvingen van alle mogelijke troepenbewegingen, waardoor voor mij de opzet van het boek wat verloren gaat. Bovendien vallen die beschrijvingen nauwelijks te volgen omdat er onbegrijpelijkerwijze geen kaartjes en schetsen zijn opgenomen.
Gelezen als ebook en daarin is geen inhoudstabel opgenomen, waardoor navigatie door de
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.
Simon Bækgaard
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lieven is an excellent historian, and this account is rich and detailed, concerning itself both with general military and political matters, as well as the nuts and bolts of the battles and marches. A little hard to follow at times, the book is compelling overall and much recommended.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love the perspective of the war from the Russian side.
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A long book that nevertheless feels like an introduction. It is well researched and presents an interesting Russian perspective. Its discussion covers the political, diplomatic, and military aspects of the campaign from 1812-1814. Although battles are described, this account is not the best source of a detailed description of this phase. More interesting are the political and diplomatic issues, both between the Allies and within the Russian army and government. I learned much (I knew little) ...more
David Bird
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Molly L
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this book while I was reading War & Peace in the hopes that would be a closer companion to the story line (Mostly because the tag line for this book said that it outlined the battles of War and Peace while I was researching). While it has very little to do with War and Peace directly, it still offers a very informative look at major battles, military history, and political history during the time period. And however much I really enjoyed learning about the various battles and the ...more
Katia N
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My main reason for reading this book was to compare Tolstoy's "War and Peace" interpretation of this campaign with what a modern historian would say. Understandably they approach it from different angles and put different accents on the story. But surprisingly Tolstoy's description of the campaign as such seems to be not far off.

Lieven draws different conclusions about the reasons of the Napoleon's defeat and supports it with a lot of historical evidence. But the description of the main events
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
Aug 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Maurits van Rees
The great war between Napoleon and Russia finally seen from Russian standpoint. Usually the victor writes the history, but in this case the loser was the enigmatic Napoleon, so he captivated not only Europe's continent, but also its imagination: he stands firm as a brilliant strategist. There is a lot of merit to that thought: this book grants that the presence of Napoleon basically granted the French army the equivalent of say fifty thousand soldiers extra. But he was also a dictator, perhaps ...more
Tom Corddry
Oct 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Steve.  g
Jan 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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,
Paulo Migliacci
Jun 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dominic Lieven, Professor of Russian History at the LSE, is a direct descendant of generals and diplomats who served Russian Czar Alexander I 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
Bill V
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book offers a unique Russian perspective of the war from 1812-1814. The author explicitly states that he is serving to represent an underserved story, that Russia's contributions to the war effort have been minimized by other books. I've only read two other books that covers Napoleon's invasion of Russia. This book, as I already mentions also covers 1813 and 1814.
The book is a bit too pro-Russian for my liking. It seems by reading it that the Russians committed almost no mistakes, that they
Jun 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jim Pfluecke
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Frank Kelly
Sep 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
very good stuff showing that war has two sides; most books on this subject tend to focus on Napoleon and his mistakes - and while with a different strategy and tactics he may have fared batter - the actual response of the Russians, how their leadership learned from the earlier defeats and adopted the right tactics probably mattered more in the long run and would have doomed Napoleon anyway eventually
Jul 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Alex MacMillan
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
I never thought a book about logistics could be so fascinating. My unexpected takeaway was how Russia's war of attrition against Napoleon marked the beginning of modernity much better than the steam engine or U.S. Constitution. The Industrial Revolution is one long tale of the nerds gradually gaining the upper hand against jocks like Napoleon. Just like John Henry's battle against the drilling machine, conventional wars after this conflict became a matter of superior technology and supplies ...more
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very well written. The author covers the Napoleonic wars from 1807 to 1814 particularly the Russian efforts to free Europe from Napoleon by creating an alliance among difficult allies. It connects the political, diplomatic, strategic, tactical, logistical and human efforts of the war in a readable form. It gives very favorable support to Alexander I.
Sean Vangordon
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
The 1812 invasion of Russia from the Russian point of view. Essential background for War and Peace.
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was pretty interesting, but a little hard to understand, it is one of my favorite books now.
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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.
“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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