Anka Muhlstein

Napoleon in Moscow Publication date : September 6, 2007

In 1812, when Napoleon opened hostilities against Tsar Alexander I, one of his ministers declared: “The Emperor is mad; he'll toss us in the air, ass first, and all this will end in a frightful catastrophe.”

Napoleon's entire career was based on daring exploits. But what made him take on such an extreme challenge as the conquest of Russia? And why was it finally impossible to avert the disaster which some had foretold?

Underestimating the Tsar's and his loyal subjects' will to resist, ignoring the harsh reality of the terrain and the climate, Napoleon thought he was assured a quick victory. If they were to defeat Russia, the Napoleonic armies had to advance — and to keep on advancing — until the final takeover of Moscow. But by the time they reached the city, Moscow was in flames and its inhabitants had fled. Napoleon was defeated even before the onset of winter.

Ignorance is frequently the crucial factor that explains the defeat of many leaders.

Napoleon has attained international legendary status; biographies about him are extremely popular in France and worldwide. This book offers a new interpretation of the man and his psychology. After winning so many battles, what made Napoleon take such an immense gamble and lose everything in trying to conquer Moscow? The author sees Napoleon's defeat as the tragedy of a failed conquest.

The Russian campaign is one of the key moments in the last days of the dying Empire. In that chain of events, what parts were played respectively by resolve and chance? With the great art of a true storyteller, Anka Muhlstein traces the end of this epic tale and examines the limits of the strength of the Napoleonic Army.

Far from attempting to rewrite History with a capital “H” or to draw timeless, abstract lessons from the past, Muhlstein offers a fascinating, detailed account, based on a variety of sources. The result is a powerfully dramatic reconstitution of the day-to-day life of an army — as it marches toward its doom.

Anka Muhlstein is a historian and a biographer with a special interest in great queens such as Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart and Queen Victoria. She is the author of Elisabeth d'Angleterre et Marie Stuart (2004), Reines éphémères, mères éternelles (2001), Adolphe de Custine (1996), Cavelier de la Salle (1992) and Victoria (1978).