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1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow Paperback – 4 Apr 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (4 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007123744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007123742
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.4 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘So brilliant that it is impossible to put the book aside … A master craftsman at work.’ Michael Burleigh, Sunday Times

‘Zamoyski’s book is a brilliant piece of narrative history, full of sparkling set-pieces, a wholly fascinating account of what must be reckoned one of the greatest military disasters of all time.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘No review can do justice to the scholarly integrity and human sensitivity of this book, or to the horror is describes … “1812” is one of the greatest stories ever told.’ Christopher Woodward, Spectator

‘An utterly admirable book. It combines clarity of thought and prose with a strong narrative drive.’ Daily Telegraph

‘A gripping tale.’ Economist

‘The best non-fiction version to be written so far … Zamoyski is brilliant at explaining what it must have been like to be a foot soldier.’ Mail on Sunday

From the Publisher

The saga of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the catastrophic retreat from Moscow has fascinated not only military historians; Tolstoy’s War and Peace demonstrates the dramatic appeal of those events at a universal human level. This is the story of how the most powerful man on earth met his doom, and how the greatest fighting force ever assembled was wiped out.
By 1810 Napoleon was master of Europe, defied only by Britain, which he could not defeat because he had no navy. His intention was to destroy Britain through a total blockade, the Continental System. But Tsar Alexander of Russia now refused to apply the blockade, and Napoleon decided to bring him to heel.
Napoleon quickly realised that nemesis awaited him, and the events of 1812 had a colossal impact on the fate of Europe: a great patriotic surge helped turn the Russians into a nation (hence Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812’ overture) and led them to reject Western values; the Germans began their fateful ‘Prussification’; the French lost their cultural dominance. And Napoleon’s legend – as man of destiny – began to exert its insidious fascination. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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By A Customer on 15 Dec. 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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".
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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