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Reviewed by:
  • Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda: Entsiklopediia
  • Dominic Lieven
V. M. Bezotosnyi et al., eds., Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda: Entsiklopediia [The Great Patriotic War of 1812: An Encyclopedia]. 878 pp. Moscow: Rosspen, 2004. ISBN 582430324X.

This remarkable and splendid volume is divided into four very unequal parts. The first is a brief history of the 1812 campaign. The third section is a 15-page chronology of the European wars between 1812 and 1815. The fourth and final section is a glossary of military terms in use in the period of the Napoleonic Wars, with particular reference to the Russian army. Since many of these terms are obscure and not to be found even in large Russian–English dictionaries, this section is invaluable. With a thoroughness typical of this volume, many line drawings are provided to illustrate the terms. Since one is frequently dealing with details of uniforms, weapons, and equipment, these illustrations are priceless in explaining precisely what the term means.

The core of the volume is the second section. This is 811 pages long, and each page has three columns. The book could very easily have been produced as a two-volume edition, with each volume 1,000 pages long. This comment may give the unfair impression that the work is squashed, produced in small print, or hard to follow. None of this is true because the volume is of larger-than-normal size. The many illustrations are an excellent accompaniment to the text: they really do help to illustrate and explain the entries. The one area where a little more space would have been valuable are the maps, but this is true of every work of military history published in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. I dream of the day when someone reproduces Bogdanovich's superb maps from his seven-volume history of the wars of 1812–14. 1These are much better than anything published in the West in the last 50 years, including even the large-format atlas of Esposito and Elting. 2 [End Page 133]

The core second section of the volume contains thousands of articles by a wide range of experts, who are overwhelmingly from Russia or the former USSR but include some French scholars. Most of the articles cover events of 1812 (battles, skirmishes, sieges, treaties, camps), generals as well as key political and diplomatic figures, and military units ranging from regiments to corps and armies. There are, however, a large number of articles on other matters. To note them all would be impossible. They include military pieces on plans, intelligence-gathering, staffs, and other operational matters; on logistics, including arsenals, arms factories, requisitioning, and food supply; on such personnel issues as recruitment, officer training, cantonists, ranks, and rewards; and on many other aspects of the campaign. They also, however, cover politics—government institutions, peasant disturbances, state finances—and diplomacy (policies, treaties, subsidies, etc.). Beyond these essential topics there is also a range of articles on monuments and archives and even some specific key documents relating to 1812. The latter include laws such as the Statute on the Field Army, plans (e.g., the important analysis of April 1812 by Army Intelligence Chief Colonel P. A. Chuikevich) and General Barclay de Tolly's thoughts both in preparation for the 1812 campaign and in retrospect.

One outstanding piece in the encyclopedia is an eight-page (i.e., 24 columns) entry on the war's historiography. This piece provides an excellent example of the volume's main qualities. It is extremely thorough and comprehensive in its coverage. It has long sections on Russian, French, German, Polish, Italian, British, and American literature on the war. Nothing of significance is omitted. In addition, however, the interpretation of this historiography is balanced, fair, and full of insight into the contemporary political and other pressures which influenced—even sometimes dictated—approaches and judgments. The change since Soviet times is immense. The Russian scholars know about foreign scholarship, have absorbed its views into their own academic mainstream, and have thrown naively nationalist and parochial judgments overboard. But they remain immensely knowledgeable about 1812, far superior to almost anyone in the West. It is more than time for their knowledge and...


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