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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'must read'
This is a superb read - very hard to put down - as it provides an absorbing mix and insight into the historial/ military tactical/ human interest issues of 1812 to really understand and, yes, experience one of the most important and tragic events in European history in the last 200 years.
As a read it is in turn heart-breaking, in the detail of the suffering of...
Published on 15 Dec 2004

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15 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cold War Legacy
I was surprised that even generation after the end of Cold War books like this one are still published and claim a shelf space in history section - I felt it rather belongs to Black PR section, which nowadays is a politically correct term for propaganda. In my opinion the purpose of the book is NOT to describe and analyse the historical events objectively but to...
Published on 27 Jan 2011 by A. Tartyshev


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'must read', 15 Dec 2004
By A Customer
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This is a superb read - very hard to put down - as it provides an absorbing mix and insight into the historial/ military tactical/ human interest issues of 1812 to really understand and, yes, experience one of the most important and tragic events in European history in the last 200 years.
As a read it is in turn heart-breaking, in the detail of the suffering of soldiers and civilians, awe-inspiring in the descriptions of the heroics, and fascinating in its insights into the commanders, especially Napoleon - with all his flawed genius.
The tactical military stuff is v well described and dealt with - with sufficient detail to understand and be interested, without being swamped with data and having to keep checking previous sections and the maps.
The only Downside was when the book ended!
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of historical narrative, 7 May 2004
By A Customer
This book offers a lucid account of both the military and diplomatic aspects of Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign. Its greatest strength lies in an exceptionally graphic account of the experience of the Napoleonic soldiery on the march to, and in the retreat from, Moscow. We are not spared harrowing details of suffering from heat and cold, but we also meet many examples of heroism and generosity, most movingly told. Many of the details have an almost hallucinatory vividness. It has greatly enriched my own sense of the pathos of history and of the potentialities of human nature in conditions of extreme trial.
My one criticism of the book is that, if one compares it to Antony Beevor's classic book on Stalingrad, which pays equal attention to the experience of the Russian and of the German soldiery, this book is one-sided. Zamoyski, as a learned and judicious historian, has a right to argue that the standard Russian account of the campaign is a patriotic myth and that the weather did more than the Russian army to defeat the French, but the focus remains too strongly on the invaders: the heroism and suffering of the ordinary Russian soldiery is not treated with the same sympathy and attention to detail as is accorded to the French (and the Poles). This book remains, however, a masterpiece of story-telling. It deserves the huge success one may confidently predict for it.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Russia without Love, 20 Aug 2004
Zamoyski's book is a well researched, scholarly account of Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812 with some 550 pages of text. Comprehensive notes on each of the 25 chapters, an extensive bibliography in six languages and a detailed index make up an additional 100 pages or so. Useful maps and interesting illustrations accompany the text. Large parts of the book consist of personal memoirs that graphically illustrate the horror of the undertaking.
As a historical narrative of events it is thorough and meticulous, albeit mostly seen through the invaders' eyes. The sufferings of the Russian people are given less attention, possibly due to the relative scarcity of sources. It has to be borne in mind that, during the Soviet era, this period of history was presented as a heroic struggle with no room for sentiment and it is only recently that this view has been revised.
The book asks but does not answer some important questions. Did Napoleon have a clear political objective? Why was Napoleon uncharacteristically hesitant and repeatedly made mistakes in judgement?
It also begs the question: why fight two major campaigns at the same time at opposite ends of Europe? What was the impact of the Russian campaign on the Peninsular War at this critical time?
It is said that his objective was to reach India, or at least conquer the Middle East in order to thwart Britain. That sounds imprecise and vague. He certainly would not want to find himself squeezed on either side by two major powers at the same time. But was Russia really a threat, considering the state that its army was in? It is simply not possible to discern a strategic objective. And, as the author says, "by definition, aimless wars cannot be won".
One possible reason for his indecisiveness is quite simple: Kutusov was an incompetent commander of whom the Tsar himself despaired and Napoleon could not make any sense of the chaos that surrounded the Russian armies. Consequently, he was not able read the character of the enemy and this was, together with his appreciation of the lie of the land, the principal ingredient of his success as a general.
Several reports, from Caulaincourt his ADC, Constant his valet and Mestivier his personal physician, indicate that he was suffering from poor health.
Napoleon's headquarters have been described elsewhere as a place "where a curious lassitude, so uncharacteristic of Napoleon in action, continued to clog the workings of the Imperial brain."
During the campaign, Napoleon's health deteriorated "to a degree that clouded his judgement." He was suffering from dysuria and a dry cough and loss of voice. His physician described Napoleon as having a "persistent dry cough, difficult irregular breathing, his urine came only in drops and with pain and was thick with sediment." In addition, "his legs and feet were oedematous, the pulse febrile in type and intermittent every twelve beats or so," and there were indications of oedema of the chest and fevers.
Following Borodino, Napoleon continued to have throat and cough problems, leaving him speechless. His urinary problems also continued throughout the campaign.
One of the strengths of Napoleon's leadership was the electrifying effect that his presence had on the troops, both his own and that of his enemy. He led from the front, did not delegate much and paid great attention to detail. It was said that his presence had the value of an entire regiment. Why then, as the book shows, was he absent so often?
Why did he never show up in the Iberian Peninsula during the six years that the French were active in the area? Contemporary accounts show that a visit was rumored on at least two occasions, but never took place. Had he not opened a second front in the East (it is doubtful that the Russian campaign was necessary in the first place), and concentrated his skills in the Peninsula, the outcome might have been quite different. It is no coincidence that Wellington's strategy, from being defensive from 1809 to 1812, became offensive after that date. I understood why when I read Adam Zamoyski's book. The Napoleonic myth expired on the road from Moscow and, indirectly, affirmed Britain as the major power for the next hundred years.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, a triumph, 30 Oct 2007
By 
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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I'm really not sure if I can do this book enough justice in the space of a tiny review. Before reading it I was, like many others perhaps, very much aware that Napoleon's march on Moscow was a turning point in his career and in European history, but apart from that, well... largely ignorant. Reading Zamoyski's book changed all that, and the only regret I have is not having read it earlier.

"1812" is a stunning history book! The 25 chapters are 'bite-size', just the right size to read at least one chapter each evening before going to bed (or two, or three... I found it very hard to put this book down), and in them Zamoyski gives a fascinating account of the entire campaign (beginning with the reasons why, and ending with the aftermath). In doing so he strikes a perfect balance between on the one hand a crystal-clear analysis of the broader political/military scene and motivations of the principal actors, and on the other hand lots of small but telling anecdotes.

One of the things that struck me most is how (as Zamoyski clearly demonstrates) few of the events were the result of intelligent, strategic decisions taken with clear goals in mind, but rather how one thing led to another and decisions were often reduced to the choice between the lesser of two evils. It's astonishing really, and all the more so if you come to realize the enormous cost in human misery and lives resulting from these decisions.

Zamoyski includes literally hundreds of extracts of private correspondence, notes, diaries, etc. from Napoleon and Tsar Alexander themselves down to foot soldiers, which don't detract from the main story but always succeed very well in illustrating the point Zamoyski is trying to make. I'm sure most of us are aware Napoleon's Grande Armée didn't have a field day in this campaign, but just how horrific it actually was is perhaps never better said than in the (often very moving) words of the actual participants. Last but not least the book contains 23 simple but clear maps, and is written in impeccable English.

This is a real feast from cover to cover!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nepoleon complex!!!, 6 April 2010
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This book is not so much about the particular battles of this conflict (they are covered very well), but the suffering and human tragedy that hundreds of thousands of people experienced.

This book is entirely made up and put together with the diaries and memoirs of hundreds of people whom where on the campaign or eyewitnesses that experienced it first-hand. From peasants, to foot soldiers, to generals. The author does an excellent job of piecing and weaving these all together into a story. It is a story told through there eyes for all extends and purposes, this is what makes it ever more interesting.

There's many details of the suffering from frostbite, starvation, murders and cannibalism. Of leadership that was egotistical, paranoid and indecisive and ultimately contributed and lead to so many deaths.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gripping tale of military disaster, 12 Mar 2009
By 
Mrs. TK Ellis "Bookworm" (High Wycombe, Bucks) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have just finished reading Adam Zamoyski's account of Napoleon's doomed march in, and retreat from Moscow. The narrative flows beautifully and the book grips you from the beginning. The story of the retreat of the grande armee is a tradgedy and I had always believed that the two main factors were the weather and the cossacks - but Zamoyski's account opens up many new reasons for the failure of such an endeavour.

The book is intelligently written, and obviously well researched. It draws on sources from both sides of the conflicts allowing the reader to see what both sides had to endure - it is a fallacy to believe that only the grande armee had a very bad time of it.

Although I was aware of the 1812 and the march on Moscow, I was unaware of all the battles that Napoleon fought on his way to the capital. It allows greater understanding not just of why the grande armee had such a difficult time during the retreat. The book also highlights the incredible tenacity and bravery of the armies in the field. To read some of the accounts of the battles fought, especially during the retreat, makes you believe that the army was bordering on the superhuman. To put up with all the worst things on campaign and then to have to fight constant battles and still have men prepared to stand by their colours makes you realise the loyalty these men had to Napoleon. However, by the time you finish the book and read about Napoleon leaving the army to get to Paris on a propaganda campaign you are left wondering whether he actually deserved the level of loyalty he was given!

This is the first factual book I have read on this subject (you can't really count 'War and Peace') and, despite the tragedy of the subject, I would heartily recommend this. I would also say that I enjoyed Mr Zamoyski's style of writing that I would happily read any of his other works. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Don't worry lads, the gaffer knows what he's doing...", 4 Sep 2005
By 
L. Davidson (Belfast, N.Ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Such may have been the comments of the members of the half million strong "Grande Armee" of Napoleon Bonaparte as they trudged to Moscow and back in 1812 under appalling conditions. Adam Zamoyski's book is a fine narrative history of the period leading up to and the actual invasion of Russia by Napoleon's France in 1812. In many ways a well-written military narrative history is better than a good novel and the epic events described in "1812" certainly make for a gripping read. The main characters in the drama are Emperor Napoleon, the (now paunchy) Gallic serial conqueror in the mould of Julius Caesar and Tsar Alexander of Russia, a stubborn , strong-willed expansionist committed to preserving the feudal order which Napoleon had overthrown elsewhere in French-occupied Europe. The crux of their dispute lay with their conflicting plans for the future of Poland and Russia's abandonment of Napoleons Continental System (enforced boycott of British produce.Differences of opinion there may have been between Napoleon and Alexander on these issues, but surely it was hardly worth a full scale war in which half a million people died on the barren,snowy wastelands of Lithuania, Belarus and Russia ?
"1812" clearly demonstrates that the invasion of Russia had more to do with a clash of egos than any imminent military threat or political differences between the two protagonists. Napoleon wanted an alliance with the Tsar, for Alexander to defer to him on important issues and to cease his expansionism into the West. He most certainly didn't want a regime change in Russia or a bloody war and this caution led to Napoleons downfall. He was too proud to compromise with Russia before the invasion and too timid in his objectives once the decision to invade went ahead. Napoleon wanted to call Russias bluff and achieve peace on his terms by marching a huge army to Russias borders but Alexander didnt capitulate as Napoleon had expected. When he finally sacked Moscow (why not go to St Petersburg ?) ,still Alexander refused to negotiate a peace deal and not knowing what to do next with the winter approaching, Napoleon retreated.The retreat turned into a total disaster which decimated the "Grande Armee" and ultimately led to Napoleons political demise and the end of French power. The aforementioned lack of clear objectives by Napoleon were the key to his failure, as well as the abysmal planning and organisation of transport and supplies for the huge army. From a purely military point of view , the French were tactically superior to the Russian Army and more skilled in battle, but the freezing weather,starvation and lack of shelter they suffered destroyed this superiority and turned what was to have been an orderly, temporary retreat into an embarrassing flight and a damage limitation exercise.
Zamoyski's "1812" serves up a wealth of detail about the French invasion, much of it in the form of eye-witness accounts which gives the reader an insight into the mood of the army at various stages of the campaign and the horrific conditions they suffered. The lucky ones were killed in battle; most of the rest froze to death ,died of exhaustion , caught a fatal disease, were killed and/or tortured by Russian soldiers or peasants or sold into servitude. The wounded were locked up in hospitals more akin to prisons and left to die without food ,water and proper sanitation. Visceral accounts by eye-witnesses of cannibalism, "fricasees of cat" and the hacking off of chunks of flesh from live horses by ravenous soldiers ,while their owners werent looking, make the whole book very vivid and makes the tragedy of 1812 more poignant.
After reading this book, I found it hard to believe that all this grand scale death and destruction was caused by the arrogance and hubris of two despots with only relatively minor political differences between them and that a renowned leader like Napoleon could have displayed such consistently bad judgement and decision making throughout the 1812 campaign. A terrible waste of human life. I also wondered that if Napoleon had married Tsar Alexander's jailbait sister as he wanted to in 1809 (little Princess Anna was only 14) ,whether or not the whole 1812 debacle could have been avoided .Bonaparte would have had his saucy teenybopper, become part of the Tsars family and any dirty linen would have been washed in private (so much for the conspiratorial version of history ?). So cheaply did Napoleon and Alexander value their subjects lives that if this had happened half a million unfortunates mightn't have perished.
I would definitely recommend this book; it's an epic story describing a dramatic series of memorable events, the humiliation of a great Emperor, the merciless destruction of a massive army and the unimaginable suffering of its soldiers.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most horrible retreats in history, 13 Dec 2005
By 
David Roy (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
Napoleon's invasion of Russia is a well-known event, but how much is generally known about it? The usual picture is a bunch of French soldiers freezing, a rag-tag band of men trudging their way out of the depths of Russia and back to where they came from, the snow and cold being more of a weapon than the Russians. Some people may have heard of the battle of Borodino but have no idea that it happened during this invasion. This lack of historical knowledge can be greatly rectified by picking up Adam Zamoyski's Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March. This book is excellent, brought down just a touch by the extensive detail Zamoyski gives us about the retreat. While I wouldn't normally call that a bad thing (and it generally isn't in this book), it does get a bit oppressive for the reader at times.
Zamoyski covers a wide range in this rather large book. He begins by giving a bit of the history of the Napoleonic conflicts. He doesn't go into great detail about them, but he does set up the political situation that both France and Russia were in right before Napoleon's decision to invade. He also gives a chapter to each of the rulers involved, detailing Alexander's strengths and weaknesses (Alexander is generally less known among the history non-fans) in regards to military as well as political matters. The politics of the situation set up, Zamoyski then sets the stage for one of the greatest debacles of all time. Napoleon keeps insisting that he doesn't want war with Russia, and if Alexander would just be a good boy and subjugate himself like he should, then Napoleon wouldn't have to do this. He doesn't seem to realize that the humiliation he's already forced Alexander to suffer will keep Alexander from doing it again. Thus, Napoleon's arrogance will finally cause him to meet his match.
Zamoyski sets the scene beautifully, in clear, interesting chapters that give the reader just enough detail without going too far. He delves into the make-up of Napoleon's army, the various satellite states, and even how the French soldier was typically outfitted. Some of this may sound boring, but Zamoyski keeps it fairly light, and it has even greater meaning later on in the book when soldiers are casting off as many possessions as they can to lighten their load, or when national divisions start to show their cracks as conditions worsen.
It's amazing, in a campaign that took at least five months, how little fighting there actually was. Sure, there was skirmishing, and the Russian pursuit of the fleeing French army which resulted in a few pitched battles and a lot of sniping, but Borodino is the only major battle. Zamoyski does a great job giving details for this battle, as well as all the subsequent ones when the French had to turn and fight during the retreat in order to avoid annihilation. The maps in this book are wonderful, giving positions of all the various armies, the leaders and the units they led, all of which match neatly the description which is on the same page or two that the map is. My one major complaint about a lot of military history books is how the maps are often elsewhere, but Moscow 1812 does a wonderful job with this. The reader can follow along with no problem, and see, both visually and mentally, exactly what happened.
Moscow 1812 spends almost half of the book on the actual retreat from the captured Moscow, and this is where it drags slightly. Not that it isn't interesting, because I found it fascinating. What happens, though, is that the book almost becomes oppressive. Zamoyski gives us a lot of detail about the retreat, all the way down to the cannibalism at the end when there was no food to be had. He details the cold, the snow, how the soldiers managed to survive, and how many of them didn't. Granted, there were some actual battles in this part, and Zamoyski does his usual good job with these, but then we get back to the retreat, and the freezing to death. I alternately loved and hated this part, and I do think it went on a bit too long. Some of the detail is not for the squeamish, including vivid descriptions of the affects of frostbite on a man walking.
That being said, I think it was important for us to get a lot of that detail. I have always known about the great retreat in concept, and that it was bitterly cold, and that Napoleon lost a lot of his men and his army was basically destroyed. I had, however, no idea just how horrible it was, and this book brought that home. The Cossacks in this book are especially effective, as they almost seem like a horrible force of nature rather than a group of men. They are always hovering on the outskirts of the retreat, waiting for people to fall to the roadside, swooping in to strip them of their valuables. We hear a lot about the brutality of the Cossacks, both in the raiding as well as the escorting of prisoners. This is an important story, and I'm very glad I read this book.
The best part of Moscow 1812 is that it is extensively researched, with a lot of footnotes. Most of these notes are from primary sources, letters home from the soldiers, or journals. Some of these are from letters that Zamoyski later says were never delivered, which implies that a Russian soldier found them and kept them. This is the story of the retreat told by those who were there, and it's all the more powerful for it.
If you have any interest in military history or Napoleon, and if you don't have a weak stomach, Moscow 1812 is the book for you.
David Roy
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awe inspiring!, 31 Jan 2012
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what can i say, other then that this is perhaps one of the best books i have ever read. it really is that good and the author does an amazing job in telling the story both in a strategic, tactical and human view of the campaign that the very mention of the year is enough to strike images of disaster in peoples mind. the writing style is wonderful and keeps you interested all the way though, a person need not even have read other books on the Napoleonic wars as it describes the lead up excellently and a conclusion on what happened after and what the effects of the invasion were both physically and psychologically. this is the definitive book to buy on the 1812 invasion and if you are to ever buy just one book on the Napoleonic wars then let it be this one as it will live you in awe at so much, the scale of the invasion, the massive characters of the story, the brutal fighting, the suffering, the horror and the amazing moments of fearless courage and compassion.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely riveting, 20 Jun 2005
By 
I.F.Coyle (Bolton, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
History books are divided for me into the dry (usually written twenty or thirty years ago and riddled with scholastic footnotes and a huge bibliography - rarely if the truth were told does one get past chapter 3) and the sensational (apparantly written by a Daily Star reporter "resting" and consisting of a search for salacious angle on a period or personality.) This book to me is the perfect balance in that it portrays tragic but glorious events mixing just the right amount of scholastic integrity with those engrossing anecdotes which so often bring the subject to life. Adam Zamoyski clearly has a fine academic grip on his subject but displays his knowledge in an entirely accessible and empathetic manner. The greater picture of Napoleon's ill-advised and foolhardy push into the Russian heartland is riveting in itself, but when this is superbly illustrated with brilliant little vignettes of ordinary soldiers and peasants (I will always retain the image of the soldier carrying the regimental dog with four frozen legs through the chaos) the result is a compulsive read
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