Wednesday, April 14, 2010

REVIEW: Russia Against Napoleon

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.  This impressive tome charts, in detail, the strategies, battles, retreats, and truces of this decisive time in Russian history.  And that is precisely whose history it is.  
Dominic Lieven
Lieven purposefully explores the strategies employed by the Russians and presents his research from their point of view. Going further, he includes details such as the rules of requisition, even in enemy and neutral territory and the influence of outside influences, like Britain's loan of over a million pounds.  Lieven, it turns out, had three ancestors in various movements of the campaign.  Perhaps it is this personal connection that makes his efforts at completeness so very evident.

He also posits that it is not merely Napoleon's mistakes (retreat, hubris) and mishaps (cold weather, lack of supplies), but also the strength of strategy on the part of Alexander I and his counterparts. In his thesis, he examines how the Russians took advantage of the brief armistice.  Napoleon was weakened by it, while Alexander used it as a re-entrenchment and planning session.
Yet as extensive as this book is, it lacks the "small" stories that I find most fascinating.  When I read an Erik Larson history, I find I have to remind myself it is true.  Russia Against Napoleon lacks this subtle extra layer that I really would have enjoyed.  Backstories and personal remembrences could have enhanced  This text is very accessible and will be a fantastic reference for students and enthusiasts for years to come.

Book: Hardcover | 5.98 x 9.01in | 656 pages | ISBN 9780670021574 | 15 Apr 2010 | Viking Adult | 18 - AND UP

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