Dominic Lieven. Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814. London: Penguin, 2010
Whilst few in the group share my fascination with all things Russian-military, this book is worth mentioning for another reason. It is a model of how to convey complex issues and ideas in a simple and understandable way. It also manages to be interesting and exciting at the same time – no mean feat!
I bought it because of the current sub-group with a renewed interest in the Napoleonic period, Project Leipzig, in which I am an almost lone Allied supporter. Although I am fascinated by the Russian army and therefore have opted to produce some for the project, I confess to knowing virtually nothing about the Russian army of the period, nor about the role they played in the events which led up to Leipzig and Napoleon’s defeat. Reading a review of the book in the Sunday paper, the coincidence was too great and so I ordered a copy from a local bookshop.
It is a hefty tome, 600 pages of small print. There are some illustrations – prints of the personalities involved and some rather stilted computer generated colour uniforms plates, but these are really just window dressing. The text is what it is all about and, as I have said already, a damn fine text it is too. Whilst far from eulogising the army and its commanders, it does offer a more balanced view than the impression I have always had of the Russian forces of the time as being generally pretty hopeless.
There are a number of items of information, like for example the outstanding performance of the Russian light cavalry, which I will be seeking to have reflected in our application of the Black Powder rules in games. I will summarise the various points and pass them around the Leipzigers.
The book covers the period of the short lived and unlikely Franco-Russian alliance, the invasion of Russia by the Grande Armee, the retreat and then the Russian Bear on the offensive. There are surprisingly (to me – this side of things has always seemed pretty boring but here it really comes to life) fascinating insights into the politics and diplomacy, and Alexander I comes across as much cleverer than I had imagined.
The Russian army is covered, very usefully for wargamers, in some depth, from the prepartion for war through to the planning and then performance in the field.
The sweep is much greater than I was initially looking for – I just wanted to know more about the build up to and battel of Leipzig – but is so well done I found myself totally absorbed by it. There are lots of maps too, which means the action can be followed properly.
All in all a very good read and highly recommended coverage of the events of the period.