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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent achievement
Adam Zamoyski says in his introduction (p.xiv) that the literature on the subject is scanty, elusive and one-sided. Noone can say this after having read this magnificent, scholarly and entertainingly written book. 570 pages on essentially three years of diplomacy could have been stodgy, but the writing is extremely lucid, and the minutiae of day-by-day negotiations...
Published on 7 Mar 2008 by Ralph Blumenau

versus
38 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Book, But Fails in Its Mission
Adam Zamoyski is a talented writer, and a first-class narrator. His book is both erudite and tells a gripping story. But is is also a book with a politicial mission: Zamoyski's objective is to destroy the idea that the Congress of Vienna - which rearranged Europe after the fall of Napoleon - was the important and long-lasting historic event which we all assumed until now...
Published on 21 July 2007 by Jonathan Eyal


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent achievement, 7 Mar 2008
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
Adam Zamoyski says in his introduction (p.xiv) that the literature on the subject is scanty, elusive and one-sided. Noone can say this after having read this magnificent, scholarly and entertainingly written book. 570 pages on essentially three years of diplomacy could have been stodgy, but the writing is extremely lucid, and the minutiae of day-by-day negotiations (sometimes, as over the Saxon question, very repetitive, and just occasionally, as over Swiss affairs, also a little tedious) are seamlessly interspersed with vivid accounts of the personalities involved, of their moods and of the hedonistic and frivolous ways in which they spent their time between negotiations (much of the latter information culled from the reports of Metternich's secret surveillance teams).

Fascinating details include:

1. The ease with which politicians in those days were able to move from employment by one court to employment by another: von Stein from the Prussian to the Russian Court; Hardenberg from the Hanoverian to the Prussian Court (and in office there during Prussia's annexation of Hanover); Gentz from being a civil servant in Berlin to being an agent of the British government and then to taking service in Austria.

2. The intense suspicion between all of Napoleon's opponents. Each constantly feared that others might come to terms with Napoleon at their expense: after all, there had been a long history before Napoleon's invasion of Russia when countries had made just such deals with Napoleon, whose victories had made it possible over and over again for him to play one of his enemies off against another. Even within delegations there were animosities: initially Britain was represented at negotiations by no fewer than three envoys who so obviously detested each other that they were simply ignored by the other diplomats. The English, not well versed in continental politics, were universally considered gauche in manner and women's dress; but eventually Castlereagh took over, and after a while he became one of the key players, and one of the more sensible ones at that.

At one time the allies nearly went to war with each other - but the extraordinary thing is that while the threat of war hung over the Congress, the rival delegates met at balls and other spectacular entertainments every evening.

3. The open and promiscuous randiness of the principals is truly astonishing, as is the readiness of aristocratic and royal ladies to move from bed to bed. So many statesmen had affaires during the Congress: Metternich, who, while he had been ambassador at Napoleon's court, had slept with two of Napoleon's sisters, now fell in love with the Princess of Sagan and wrote her letters as remarkable for their love-struck clichés as for his measureless conceit; Humboldt sought out fat lower-class girls; women threw themselves at the ever-willing Alexander I. There are marvellous chapters (esp. 18, 19 and 21) on what life was like during the Congress of Vienna, how kings away from their courts let their hair down, and how the aura of majesty was dispelled.

4. The immature and headstrong nature of Alexander, who, confident of his huge military might, frequently took unilateral action to the dismay of the other powers. The confidence and skill of Talleyrand. The shameless greediness of Prussia, which exceeded the considerable greed of the other participants.

5. A great deal hung on the moods and personal characters of the principal characters, and this account is certainly a challenge to the structuralist view of history. A powerful final chapter shows how these individuals, backward rather than forward looking, managed to clamp a reactionary settlement on the continent that, so far from producing a stable Europe for a hundred years (a view that Henry Kissinger propounded in the 1950s and 1960s), would create during that time many rebellions, civil and international wars with a heavy cost in human lives.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A social occasion to end all social occasions, 4 Feb 2008
By 
David Roy (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
Adam Zamoyski is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Napoleonic era historians. His Moscow 1812 was brilliant, well-researched, and extremely detailed. Now, Zamoyski has added to the previous book with his latest, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon & the Congress of Vienna. Beginning almost immediately after Napoleon's final withdrawal from Russia, this book tells the story of the aftermath and the end of the Napoleonic wars. Zamoyski's rich detail is included, unfortunately almost too a fault. While the book is definitely interesting, it gets bogged down to the point where it's extremely slow reading for most casual readers.

Once again, Zamoyski doesn't dwell on the military details of battles, though he certainly doesn't gloss over them, either. Readers wishing for in-depth examinations of the battles of Liepzig or Waterloo will be left wanting. Instead, Rites of Peace covers how these battles affected the greater societal whole in Europe, how the various monarchs handled them and what they wanted to do afterward. Zamoyski introduces all of the major players in European politics, with Metternich (Foreign Minister of Austria) getting a lot of detail. Once Napoleon is defeated, the Treaty of Paris is signed and other problems present themselves.

Zamoyski saves his greatest detail for the Congress of Vienna. Opening in early November, 1814, this Congress (which Metternich figured would last about 6 weeks) lasted upwards of 6 months. Ostensibly, it was supposed to solve all of Europe's pressing problems, but it turned into more of a social occasion and negotiations often dragged on to great lengths to solve small issues. Zamoyski spends an incredible amount of time on the sexual escapades and romantic dalliances of all of the attendees, from the Russian Tsar to Metternich and Talleyrand of France. Zamoyski's able to provide this detail because Metternich had the Austrian police keep close tabs on every delegate and the police reports are extensive.

Of course, it wasn't all social occasions. The Congress of Vienna consisted of a lot of horse-trading between the powers, with each side trying desperately to get the best deal that would favor them, often at odds with other European powers. Zamoyski does a great job of showing what each faction wanted and how it contrasted with others' plans. Almost every province or duchy in Europe, in addition to the great powers themselves, has representatives at the Congress, and all of them were looking to get a piece of the action. Zamoyski makes all of this fascinating, as we see all the conflicts that arose from these negotiations.

Unfortunately, Rites of Peace does get mired in the social aspects of the Congress. I agree that these issues are relevant, especially when they interfered with the negotiations. But Zamoyski spends so much time on them that many of the personages started to run together, causing some exceedingly slow reading. This is countered by Zamoyski's writing style, which makes these passages much more interesting then they would normally be.

Rites of Peace is well-researched, with many end-notes to take in if you're the type of reader who does that. Zamoyski also provides an extensive bibliography and index as well. Maps are scattered throughout the text to illustrate points, such as the Swiss territorial gains after negotiation, and there is a block of full-color pictures in the middle of the book, giving a face to all of the major personages involved. That's a big plus in a book where personal and romantic issues are so much at the forefront. The book is quite long, however, so be ready for an extended read (as well as the weight, as the hardcover is quite heavy).

All in all, Rites of Peace is an extraordinary examination of the end of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. While it does get slow at times, the amount of detail and the vivid pictures that Zamoyski paints are well worth the effort. Combined with Moscow 1812, Adam Zamoyski has created quite a treat for the history reader.

David Roy
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 21 July 2008
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This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
At a time when most history seems to consist of unconnected trivia suitable only for pub quizzes, it's a relief to find a book by an author who sees history as a process. The book is a study of the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The Congress was one of the most important gatherings of the 19th century, and it set the tone for 'big power' politics for the next hundred years. The way in which it carved up Europe between the victors and losers without consideration for the wishes of the populations also set the parameters for the two World Wars in the 20th century.

But Zamoyski doesn't just deal with the 'dry' politics - he also deals with the social event that was also the Congress of Vienna. Judging from his description and the quotes from reports in the archives of the Austrian police, many of the main participants spent far more time with their assorted mistresses than trying to sort out the problems caused by the Napoleonic wars.

Even before I read this book I always thought that Talleyrand was the consummate politician of the 19th Century. Having read what he achieved in defending France's interests at the congress, I now appreciate just how brilliant he was. No wonder that when he eventually died, most of the people at his funeral were there to make sure he really was dead, with no chance of coming back!

An excellent read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alexander-centric, but a compelling examination, 23 April 2010
By 
Eric Starr (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
One of the few books to tackle this incredibly important time in European history and an ideal partner for Gregor Dallas' book on the same subject. Zamoyski covers the year before the Conference in much more detail than Dallas, giving the reader an intimate understanding of the motivations of all the protagonists. Dallas gives much more colour on life in Vienna during the conference; Zamoyski's descriptions of Society are interesting but as factual as the accounts of the proceedings. For Dallas, the intrigue in the salons was as important as the horse-trading in official meetings. For obvious reasons, the focus of both books is the principal discussion over Saxony and Poland, but Zamoyski also spends some significant time on the minor players: the Holy Roman Empire/Confederation of the Rhine/Standesherren question, obviously, but also the Italian kingdoms, Bernadotte in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and the Bourbon dynasty, Sardinia, Eugene, Jerome.

The key, however, to the main difference between the two books is their central characters. Zamoyski focuses on Alexander as the centre of all discussion, proposal, counter-proposal and threat; in his portrayal the conference comes to agreement and compromise only when Castlereagh is called home to England and wants to finalise the Act before he leaves. In Dallas' account, Castlereagh as the only disinterested party is the consummate diplomat. The pivotal moment is the news from Ghent that the British and Americans have signed a peace-deal, meaning that British troops can now be brought to bear on the European front if necessary. At this, Russia and Prussia become far more conciliatory and the conference winds up soon after. Zamoyski makes a far better case, sidelining Castlereagh and showing Alexander as the man of the moment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Entertaining, 23 Mar 2010
This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book. It was about a topic that I didn't know much about
and it really brought it vividly to light.
He is an exceptionally good writer.
I would have given this 5 stars but for me personally the subject matter was slightly too thin and it
did get repetitive. It's not the authors fault as all diplomatic history seems that way to me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating account, 11 Nov 2010
By 
Mr. Lee Simpson "Arcas" (Amersham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
I am thoroughly enjoying this excellent book. After Europe had been turned on its head by 25 years of revolutionary and Napoleonic wars the crowned heads and their ministers convene to rebuild the world with all the petty jealousies, greed and suspicions that could be expected of them, magnificently researched and recounted by Zamoyski. I would strongly rcommend this book to anyone with an interest in history and diplomacy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for anyone interested in European politics and history, 10 Mar 2010
By 
Miquel (Barcelona, Catalonia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
I have read quite a lot of books covering the Napoleonic period and found this one particularly interesting because it deals with its aftermath. True, Napoleon still features prominently in the first chapters of the books where he is seen holding desperately to power, but the main characters of the book are Metternich, Tsar Alexander and the other delegates at the Congress of Vienna, that set up a new way of doing politics in Europe, whose consequences were felt well into the XX century. This book covers practically every territorial issue that was discussed at the time and one can not but read in astonishment how these people were swapping territories, borders and populations as if in a gigantic poker play. A great book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons in Diplomancy. by J.B., 19 Jun 2010
By 
J. Brice "J.B." (Kent. Great Britain) - See all my reviews
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"The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna," is a book that cannot be rushed. It tells of the diplomats of many countries whose main self interest was evident in an attempt to repair damage to their countries after Europe had been torn apart for the last twenty years. Many books of this era abound but few relate in detail of the curious events that took place. Both in the diplomatic field and in times of leisure. Excellently written in a very human way for modern readers and true lovers of history.The book shelf is enhanced by having this tome and can be highly recommended.
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38 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Book, But Fails in Its Mission, 21 July 2007
By 
Jonathan Eyal (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Adam Zamoyski is a talented writer, and a first-class narrator. His book is both erudite and tells a gripping story. But is is also a book with a politicial mission: Zamoyski's objective is to destroy the idea that the Congress of Vienna - which rearranged Europe after the fall of Napoleon - was the important and long-lasting historic event which we all assumed until now. His view is that it was merely a botched attempt to patch over irreconcilable differences between European powers. The main explanation for the author's unremitting criticism of the Congress of Vienna, which comes across in almost every page of this book, is the fact that Zamoyski's beloved Poland was not recreated at Vienna, and had to wait another 100 years before its resurrection. Correct, but this is history in a typical East European fashion: solid, erudite yet ultimately tainted by personal preferences, mixed with ethnic allegiances and nationalist aspirations.

Zamoyski speaks many languages, and has used them to great effect; this book relies on an impressive array of sources and archival material. But was it really necessary to recount the tale of every mistress, every sexual escapade of the delegates to the Congress of Vienna, mostly transcribed directly from the prurient reports of the Austrian secret police? What exactly do we learn from this? That early 19th century diplomats had their private business affairs and mistresses? We knew it already. That most of them led promiscuous private lives? Again, this is well known. Perhaps the publisher insisted on the inclusion of such "spicy" material in order to increase potential sales. Either way, the padding of the study with constant sex stories and financial scandals does nothing to improve the book's academic credentials.

This is a pity, for Zamoyski remains a talented writer, who could have written a much better book. If you do not intend to know a great deal about the period, Zamoyski's book should be adequate. But, if you are truly interested in understanding Europe's 19th century territorial arrangements, Zamoyski's latest work should be complemented by more serious reading.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but I suspect the judgement of the author, 18 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (Paperback)
If you read the last page you will find the author stating that those who hold that the Congress of Vienna had no connection with the horrors of the 20th century would be exposing themselves to ridicule. This argument is ridiculous in itself, There also seems to be the argument that at that time the concert of the powers should have done something about serfdom in Russia.
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Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna
Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski (Paperback - 4 Feb 2008)
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