Napoleon's calamitous invasion of Russia in 1812 is the stuff of legend, one of those historical events often referred to but rarely examined closely. In this brilliant study, Curtis Cate shows how the two emperors - Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I - led their nations to a momentous confrontation fed by their pride, suspicion, vanity, and stubbornness. Never had a departure for war more resembled a journey of pleasure than Napoleon's that spring. Yet he returned at the end of the fall in a solitary carriage, rattling through the empty streets of Paris - his Grande Armee, 450,000 strong when the Russian campaign began, had practically ceased to exist. Moving from the arrogant magnificence of St Petersburg to the gaudy vulgarity of Napoleonic Paris - from the splendid assemblage of crowded heads at Dresden in May 1812 to the frozen hecatombs of common soldiers at Vilna in December - Cate revisits the war and examines what had gone wrong. How did Napoleon misplay his Polish card? Why, once in Russia, did he repeatedly refuse to turn back when it became clear that he was being drawn into a trap of his own making? How was he tricked into staying extra weeks in the burned-out shell of Moscow - weeks that might have saved his army? And why, once the retreat began, did he choose the worst route possible? In a day-by-day account, Curtis Cate depicts a disaster, which never should have happened.