Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Book Review: 1812 by Adam Zamoyski

Currently I'm reading Adam Zamoyski's book about Napoleon's Campaign in Russia in 1812. The book was published in German last year with the title "1812 - Napoleons Feldzug in Russland" but it is the translation of "1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow" which was released in April 2005. However I discovered it a couple of weeks ago when I picked up Mrs Monty at our local library. Although their history shelf is rather sparsely populated with interesting books they bought this work because it stormed the German Spiegel best seller list for non-fiction books.
The English and the German cover.
Since then I worked through the first 200 pages and wanted to let you know my thoughts and my honest recommendation:

The author starts with an overview over the political situation before 1812. He points out Napoleon's worries as self-made emperor and his efforts prepare a solid state and power structure for his son. All the constraints that forced him to carry the struggle with Great Britain on are pointed out clearly and Zamoyski underlines Napoleon's and France's inner and outer conflicts during those year after the revolution. On the other hand he characterizes Zar Alexander I. as unstable and rather heavily dependent on his staff and household due to the circumstances of his accession to the throne. However Zamoyski points out the way to war during 1809 and 1812 very lively quoting a lot of letters or note from contemporary diplomats.

But real tension grows when Napoleon starts to invade Russia. After Zamoyski's description of the preparation the mindful reader forbodes the adversity which were winding up. But once again the numerous statements of contemporary witnesses pinpoint all the sufferings and the needs of the multi-national Grande Armée. Even during their march towards Moskow and Saint Petersburg they experienced all problems which lack of supply and dirty weather can achieve. The author describes the fate of Napoleon's soldiers clearly and here and then draws the line to the Emperor's decisions which turned out to be partially fatal mistakes.

Although I haven't reached the climax of the book, the retreat of the beaten army, so far, I can deeply recommend it. To me Zamoyski seems to describe the events rather fair-minded and neither Napoleon nor Alexander seem to be judged wrongfully. Nevertheless he points his finger to some characteristic weeknesses and tactically wrong decisions of theirs.

If you are interested in Napoleon's Russia campaign those 700 pages are worth a look. Not for nothing did 1812 lead several best-seller lists during the last years.


  1. Great review old chap, another title for my ever growing booklist.

    1. Hi Michael,

      thanks for your comment. I'm glad that you liked the review. The book is a good choice when you're interested in this period of history.


  2. I agree wholeheartedly. Very dramatic recounting of a familiar story.

  3. Hi Rosbif,

    thanks for your support.