Dominic Lieven: Russia Against Napoleon. The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814, Allen Lane, 2009, harback, 672 pages

This book tells the story of one of the most astonishing dramas in Europe’s history. In the summer of 1812 after years of uneasy peace, Napoleon, the master of almost the whole continent, marched into Russia with the largest army ever assembled, confident that he would sweep everything before him. Less than two years later the Russian army was itself marching into Paris and Napoleon’s empire lay in ruins.  Using an array of new, rare and surprising sources, Dominic Lieven writes with great panache and insight to describe from the Russians’ viewpoint how they went from retreat, defeat and the burning of Moscow to becoming the new liberators of Europe. He conveys the savagery and valour of the fighting (including such huge set-pieces as the Battle of Leipzig), the often tense diplomacy that held together the Allied coalition against Napoleon and the astonishing feats of supply which allowed the Russian army to cut its way across Europe.The consequences of these events could not have been more important: after a whole generation of fighting, Europe (except for the brief coda of Waterloo) was at peace and France’s global pretensions at an end. But the great winners, Britain and Russia, now presented new nightmares for the rest of the world. Much more than just battlefield history, Russia Against Napoleon is also the story of how Russia’s home front was mobilised against Napoleon and how much the Russian people suffered in pursuit of victory. It is too the story of one of the most successful espionage operations in history. Ultimately this book shows, memorably and brilliantly, Russia embarking on its strange, central role in Europe’s existence, as both threat and protector – a role that continues, in all its complexity, into our own lifetimes.

see also the Public Lecture at the London School of Economics, 7 October 2009: ‘The Tsar Liberates Europe? Russia against Napoleon’ click here (scroll and click on lecture details)

In 1812-14 Alexander I defeated Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and then created and led a European alliance all the way to Paris. This lecture explains why and how he did this. It discusses Russian grand strategy, diplomacy and espionage, as well as the tsarist military machine, and the mobilisation of the home front. In both Western and Russian historiography the Russian achievement in 1813-14 is greatly underestimated, which seriously distorts understanding of European power politics and the causes of Napoleon’s demise. The lecture explains this underestimate partly as a legacy of Leo Tolstoy but also because while 1812 was traditionally seen by Russians as a national war, the victories of 1813-14 were interpreted as the triumph of the dynasty and empire.