THE WAR OF THE TWO EMPERORS: The Confrontation Between Napolean and Tsar Alexander: Russia, 1812 by Curtis Cate

THE WAR OF THE TWO EMPERORS: The Confrontation Between Napolean and Tsar Alexander: Russia, 1812

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An extensively researched account of Napolean's invasion of Russia, with a day-by-day reconstruction of the campaign but, no maps. Shuttling between Imperial Paris and Tsarist St. Petersburg, Cate recreates their distinctive atmospheres and contrasting political climates. While acknowledging the economic reasons for the war (chiefly the unworkability of the Continental System), he underscores the importance of individual motives and personalities. No two were more important or divergent than Napolean and his ""imperial brother,"" Alexander I. Alexander was indecisive, unschooled in military matters and inclined to mysticism. But his ""Hamlet-like"" nature was capable of one firm resolve: Never make peace with an invader. Napoleon's failure to recognize this was, in Cate's view, the key to the disasters which followed. Cate is not so unsubtle, however, as to rest the outcome of this campaign on any one factor. He finds dozens. His discussion of the ""what ifs"" often prove stimulating digressions. He is a determined debunker of myths as well. Tolstoy's depiction of the conflict is labeled ""fundamentally bogus"" at the outset, and we are repeatedly reminded that the weather that really derailed the Grande Arm‚e occurred in the spring of 1812. The legendary Russian Winter was merely the coup de grace. The meat of the book is the campaign itself and here some of the author's virtues turn to vice. His fondness for digressions and paragraphs of incidental color hold the narrative back just as the real action is accelerating. The water becomes so muddied with detail it's difficult to see the general movement and sequence of events. And the inexplicable failure to include maps with the text heightens the confusion. Still, this is a lively, thought-provoking work and well worth the occasional difficulties it presents.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Random House