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War and Peace: The Reality. How and Why Russia Defeated Napoleon

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Based on Dominic Lieven’s book, Russia against Napoleon, which won a Wolfson Prize in 2010. Russia’s battle with Napoleon is one of the best-known stories in European history thanks above all to Tolstoy. But the story as usually told is wrong. This lecture explains why Russia not just defeated Napoleon in 1812 but pursued him all the way to Paris in 1813-14 and toppled him from his throne. The Russians won above all because their government pursued a more realistic and intelligent strategy than Napoleon, a strategy which played to Russian strengths and French weaknesses. But the highpoint of Russia’s war effort came not in 1812 but in 1813, when Russian military and diplomatic efforts played the leading role in destroying Napoleon’s empire and restoring a European balance of power. The lecture looks not just at war and foreign policy but also at how the Russian home front was mobilised in pursuit of victory.

This talk is part of the Lady Margaret Lectures series.

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