Defeat: Napoleon?s Russian Campaign

The Wars of the French Revolution were the first to prove a boon for the publishing industry. Quite a few of the survivors of the quarter-century of warfare set down their thoughts in the decades that followed the final bell at Waterloo. From the simplicity of Rifleman Harris to the braggadocio of the Baron Marbot, these works have an incalculable historical value. Only a few can lay claim to literary merit, and high on that list is Philippe-Paul de Ségur?s History of the Expedition to Russia, Undertaken by the Emperor Napoleon in the Year 1812. Philippe-Paul, comte de Ségur, was from a long line of French officers. At 19, he heard the young Bonaparte haranguing his troops during the coup of the 18th Brumaire and promptly joined up. He served with distinction, rising to general, and took part in the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Twelve years later he recollected this catastrophe in tranquility. His bestselling history was critical enough of the emperor that S‚gur was called upon to fight a duel. He survived, and so does his memoir. He shaped his story with a novelist?s eye, and if there are things that a historian will tell you are exaggerated, they guarantee a narrative that never flags. (Tolstoy drew on it when writing War and Peace.) In the 1890s, Ségur?s grandson made an abridgement that cut back on the details of military logistics. Translated into English in the 1950s, it is available again from the wonderful reprint series New York Review Classics. Defeat remains the finest portrait of how an army dies.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."