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A review by Carroll Quigley
in The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 28, No. 2 (July 1942), pp. 260-261,
of a book.

by Eugene Tarlé. 422 pages. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1942.



Napoleon's Invasion of Russia -- 1812.
By Eugene Tarlé.
(New York: Oxford University Press. 1942. Pp. 422. $3.50.)



    It goes without saying that this is a timely book. But like most timely books, it is far from being an adequate study of its subject. The chief criticism to be made against it could be summed up in the words that, while almost exclusively concerned with military history, most facts of military importance have been omitted. For example, there is nowhere, any discussion of the organization of the invading forces. In Chapter I we are promised: "The next chapter will deal with the composition and peculiar character of this army " (p. 51). But this promise is never fulfilled. As a result it is almost impossible to follow the army on its march. We are told that Davout was at Orsha, or Ney moved southeast, but these statements are almost meaningless since the reader has never been told what forces were subject to these men. The guerrilla warfare against the Grand Army can only be understood if the disposition of that army on the march is known.

   This failure to describe either the terrain or the disposition of forces becomes acute when Professor Tarlé tries to describe a battle. At Borodino the reader is left completely in the dark as to the situation of the various French corps or the relative positions of the points mentioned (the Koloeh "River", Semenovsky, or Borodino itself.) As a result this account has the qualities of a cinema scenario -- long-range views of a bloody chaos interspersed with close-ups of incredible courage and gallantry (the orderly Bibilov losing an arm or General Bagration dying on a hill side). But like most cinema battles, the historian hardly recognizes it.

   The impressionism of Tarlé's account fails to do justice to the great retreat. There again the scenario-technique gives one the idea that the French were fleeing like a flock of sheep. In fact, during the greater part of this retreat the Napoleonic forces were organized in a rational fashion and the duties of the various corps regularly rotated. One of the great dramas of the retreat is the effort of the French officers to maintain this discipline as well as the soldiers' morale. Tarlé says nothing of either problem.

   As a final example of the inadequacy of this work we might examine the answer which is given to the obvious question: why were they fighting? Almost nothing is said of the Russian motives. The French motives are described as those of capitalistic imperialism. Certainly Tarlé, who is one of the world's authorities on the economic history of the Napoleonic period, must see the anachronism of applying the Leninist interpretation of imperialism to the last outburst of mercantilism. To prove his contention that the Napoleonic empire was imperialist, Tarlé states that licenses to import from England were granted to French merchants but were withheld from the merchants of conquered countries (p. 406). In at least two other works the author has described how these licenses were issued to the merchants of subject countries "au même titre queles bénéficiaire français" (Le Blocus continental et le Royaume d'Italie, p. 206). Consequently the reviewer feels that this book can be explained in one of two fashions. Either it was not written by Tarlé or it is a hastily written pot-boiler. The former possibility is eliminated by the fact that the style is typical of Tarlé.

Carroll Quigley
Georgetown Universityy



Scans of original

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