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War and Peace

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In Russia's struggle with Napoleon, Tolstoy saw a tragedy that involved all mankind.

War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.

As Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers—as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving—and human—figures in world literature.

Tolstoy gave his personal approval to this translation, published here in a new single volume edition, which includes an introduction by Henry Gifford, and Tolstoy's important essay `Some Words about War and Peace'.

1392 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1867

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About the author

Leo Tolstoy

6,430 books23.5k followers
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Николаевич Толстой; most appropriately used Liev Tolstoy; commonly Leo Tolstoy in Anglophone countries) was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist fiction. Many consider Tolstoy to have been one of the world's greatest novelists. Tolstoy is equally known for his complicated and paradoxical persona and for his extreme moralistic and ascetic views, which he adopted after a moral crisis and spiritual awakening in the 1870s, after which he also became noted as a moral thinker and social reformer.

His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him in later life to become a fervent Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal twentieth-century figures as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Profile Image for Matt.
936 reviews28.6k followers
February 24, 2011
Whatever else I am, I am the type of person who reads classic novels out of a sense of obligation. Also, I must admit, out of a sense of vanity. My ego, after all, is as fragile as a goldfish and requires the constant attention of a newborn baby. Every once in awhile, it needs a little boost, and the intellectual challenge of Dostoevsky or Dickens can really work wonders.

Now, I’ve been told that forcing myself to read books I don’t necessarily like is a fruitless waste of time (and that the reviews borne of these endeavors are a fruitless waste of others’ time). That kind of criticism doesn’t go far with me. By my rough estimate, just about 99% of the things I do can be similarly classified as a waste of time, unless my endless games of Spider Solitaire, like “the button” on LOST, is actually saving the world. In which case I am a hero.

Moreover, great literature can be a worthwhile challenge to surmount. Compare them to mountains. Obviously, we don’t need people to climb mountains; it serves no functional purpose. Yet, on a personal level, climbing a mountain (even if it’s just a Class 3 walk-up) is immensely satisfying, mentally and physically. On some level, it’s the same with finishing a tough book. (Mentally, that is. There is very little physical component, unless you defenestrate the book upon completion).

War and Peace is a challenge I set for myself. It was a challenge a long time coming. The reason, of course, is that War and Peace is the go-to book when looking for an example of great literature, or for a contender for “greatest novel ever written.” If it is not exactly Everest or K2 (those are Joycean heights), it is at least comparable to Annapurna or Mount McKinley.

In the end, it is a book I wrestled with constantly. Unlike Doris from Goodbye, Columbus, I never considered quitting, only to start back up again the following year. However, there were times my frustrations almost led me to tear huge swaths of pages from the binding, as a primitive editing job. Like so many of the things you are told, as a child, are magical – the circus, love, magic – War and Peace did not entirely live up to its reputation.

If you were to ask me, would you rather retreat from Moscow in the dead of winter than read this book, I would say: "Of course not. I don’t like walking, I don’t like being hungry, and I’d probably die.” But if I had to choose between, say, tarring the driveway or mowing the lawn and reading this book... Again, I’d choose the book. Nothing beats reading. Besides, I’m lazy.

Where to start? With a (second) rhetorical question: What's War and Peace about?

It's a good question, and nobody really knows. (Though many will attempt to explain). There have been longer books – both you and I have read them – but this is 1,200 pages that feels like 1,345,678,908 pages. Nominally, it's about Russia's wars with Napoleonic France from 1804 to 1813. If that seems like a big subject, don’t worry, Tolstoy has given himself plenty of space with which to work. It follows dozens of characters in and out of the decades, as they live and die, love and hate, and generally stun the modern reader with their obtuseness.

The first sixty pages of the novel are a set piece in the Petersburg salon of Anna Pavlovna. You don't have to remember that, though, because Anna Pavlovna will only stick around these first sixty pages, then disappear for almost the entire rest of the book. We are also introduced to Pierre, who is, literally, a fat bastard; Prince Andrei, who is a prick; his wife Lisa, the little princess, who as Tolstoy keeps telling us, has a beautiful mustache (Tolstoy's obsession with beautiful female mustaches is pathological, and not a little frightening); Prince Vassily, who also disappears after a squabble over a will; and various other Russian aristocrats. Readers note: you should probably be writing things down as you read.

Other introductions come later, including Andrei's father, who is also a prick (apple, meet the tree); Andrei's insufferably "good" and "pure" and "decent" and "homely" sister, Princess Marya, who's goodness is as cloying and infuriating as that of Esther is Bleak House; Natasha Rostov, who is sort of a tramp, much like Anna Karenina except that she is redeemed through suffering (unlike Anna, who is redeemed through mass transit); Nikolai Rostov, a young prince who goes to war; Sonya, the simple, poor girl Nikolai loves, etc. I could go on, but it wouldn't make sense if you haven't read the book. It barely makes sense after you've finished. Unless, of course, you’ve kept good notes.

Anyway, Pierre, the bastard, is left his father's estate, and so becomes a rich count. He marries Helene, who is another of Tolstoy's harlots, though she gets her comeuppance, Anna Karenina-style. (There are two types of women in Tolstoy’s world: the impossibly pure-hearted and the whorish. Subtlety is not a Russian trait). Prince Andrei goes to war. Nikolai goes to war. They fight. Everyone else talks. An enjoyably characterized Napoleon flits briefly across this crowded stage, tugging on people's ears. The Rostov's have financial difficulties. Nikolai can't decide who to marry. Pierre has several dozen crises of conscience. At one point he becomes a Mason; at another, he tries to assassinate Napoleon. At all times he is thinking, always thinking; there are approximately 500 pages devoted to Pierre's existential duress. (How I wished for Pierre to throw himself beneath a train!)

There is an old saying that “if the world could write…it would write like Tolstoy. That’s one way of viewing War and Peace. It has a canvas as big as Russia, and within its pages are dizzying high and nauseating lows and bland, lukewarm middles.

The bottom line before I go on, Tolstoy-style, is that I was disappointed. My main criticism is the unfortunate mishmash of fictional narrative with historical essay. You're reading the book, right? (Or maybe listening to it on a long commute). And you're finally getting a hang of who each character is (because you’ve taken my advice and sketched out a character list), which is difficult when each person is called multiple things, and some have nicknames, and others have similiar-looking patronymics. But that's okay, you've moved past that. Suddenly, you're coasting along. The story is moving forward. Napoleon has crossed the Danube. There is drama. Finally, people are going to stop with the internal monologues and start shooting each other! I might actually like this!

And then, with an almost audible screech, like the brakes a train, Tolstoy brings the whole thing to a shuddering halt with a pedantic digression on the topic of History (with a capital H) and free will and military tactics and Napoleon's intelligence.

These digressions do several things. First, and most importantly, they seriously disrupt the narrative. All rhythm and timing is thrown off, which is exactly what happened to all my school concerts when I used to play the snare drum. I knew enough to quit the snare drum to focus on the recorder. Tolstoy, though, plunges on obliviously, casting all notions of structure aside. You lose sight of the characters for hundreds of pages. Instead of wondering what happens next, you start to wonder things like where am I? and how long have I been sleeping?. It tells you something when you actually start to miss Pierre's endless internal psychobabbling.

Second, the essays are Tolstoy at his stupidest (at least in my opinion; this is more a philosophical gripe). He believes that people have no control; that History is a force all its own, and that we act according to History's push and pull. Tolstoy says, in effect, that Napoleon is stupid, but that his enemies were stupider, but that doesn't matter, because they were all doing what they had to do, because History made them. This is all very...much a waste of time. Tolstoy goes to far as to attempt to prove this argument algebraically. Yeah, that's just what I wanted: Math!

Tolstoy's argument breaks down like this: 1. Someone does something. 2. Someone else reacts in a way that makes no sense. 3. Therefore, History is controlling things. The fundamental flaw, of course, is that Tolstoy's argument really boils down to nothing more than hindsight. Sitting in his armchair, decades after the fact, having never been on those battlefields, Tolstoy decides that the players on the scene acted dumbly, and he attributes that to cosmic events. A battle isn't lost because of bad roads, or obscured vision, or a shortage of ammunition (which are realities in all warfare, but even more prevalent in the 19th century). No, in Tolstoy's mind, it’s the Universe unfolding according to its whim.

Tolstoy also has a real axe to grind with Napoleon and he doesn’t hesitate to inflate his word count letting you know about it. (I suppose Tolstoy can be forgiven for hating Napoleon, but still, the book is 1,200 pages long. Enough). His analysis of the Corsican corporal is reductive and unenlightening. Napoleon was a lot of things (short, funny looking, brilliant, cruel, petty, brilliant, ambitious, oddly-shaped) but "stupid" was not among them.

Yet, there were moments when I loved this novel. Every once in awhile, War and Peace comes alive in that classic way; after plodding through a turgid essay, you’ll suddenly come upon a passage that's drawn so vividly you will remember it forever. There is the battle of Austerlitz, which is impeccably researched (so much so that a narrative history I read on the subject actually cites to Tolstoy) and thrillingly told, especially the fight of Captain Tushin's battery. There is Prince Andrei, wounded on the field of Austerlitz, staring up at "the infinite sky," realizing that he's never really looked at it before. There is Pierre, realizing he is in love with Natasha as he gazes at the stars and glimpses the comet of 1812. There is Napoleon suffering a cold on the eve of Borodino. There is Andrei watching a cannon ball land at his feet, its fuse hissing... There is Petya, the young adjutant, who rides to his doom chasing the French during their retreat.

Every once in awhile, there will also be something clever, showing you that Tolstoy isn't just wordy, but also inventive. For instance, there's a scene in which Tolstoy describes the thoughts of an old oak tree. Indeed! Among the hundreds of characters, there's even a tree.

I was also fond of a passage in which General Kutuzov, the Russian commander, holds a meeting in a peasant's house to discuss abandoning Moscow. Tolstoy tells this story from the point of view of a little peasant girl who, in her mind, calls Kutuzov "grandfather." (It's cute, but Kutuzov was no kindly old man. He was an indifferent drunk. The night before Austerlitz, he allegedly engaged in a four-some with three of the "comfort women" he brought with him on campaigns. Unfortunately, despite writing 1,200 pages, Tolstoy doesn't find space to devote to this occurrence).

The good, though, is surrounded by the bad or the boring. The flyleaf of the book said that Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei were three of the most dynamic characters in literature. I don't think so. Aside from Andrei, I was mostly unimpressed with the main characters (Napoleon was fun, in an over-the-top bit part). Pierre is a boob and a bore, and his sudden heroics during the burning of Moscow come from nowhere. Natasha is a flake. She's the stereotypical girl plucking the daisy: I love him; I love him not; I love him...

The end of the novel is (like Anna Karenina) a huge anti-climatic letdown.

As we approach the final pages, Tolstoy gives us a description of the battle of Borodino. It is a masterpiece of military fiction. The research and verisimilitude. The vividness. Pierre's confrontation with the Frenchman in the redoubt:

Now they will stop it, now they will be horrified at what they have done, he thought, aimlessly going toward a crowd of stretcher bearers moving from the battlefield.

Tolstoy’s Borodino is actually one of the great battle scenes I've ever read; afterwards, though, things fall of a cliff. There is no slow decline into mediocrity; no, it happens at the turn of the page. It’s like Tolstoy suddenly stopped taking steroids.

In an unseemly rush, Tolstoy has Napoleon move into Moscow, Moscow burns, Napoleon retreats. All of this occurs indirectly, through digression-filled essays on History. The characters recede into the background; all narrative vitality disappears. There are only a couple exceptions: one scene of the city burning, followed by one (admittedly powerful) scene of the French executing supposed arsons. During the French retreat, there is not a single visceral moment depicting their hard, frozen march. Instead we get Tolstoy nattering on about Napoleon’s stupidity.

Then come the Epilogues. When I reached them, I felt a bit like a cowboy in one of those old westerns who is riding across the desert and finds a well, except the well is dry and full of snakes and then an Indian shoots him with an arrow. We will never know the fates of the dozens of characters we've followed for the previous thousand pages. Tolstoy leaves their destinies to the imagination so that he can rant. It’s a stupefying literary decision, and reminded me of nothing so much as my Uncle Ed on Thanksgiving after five glasses of wine: You can't get him to shut up. Except at Thanksgiving, Uncle Ed usually passes out by the fourth quarter of the Cowboys game. Not Tolstoy. Not even death can quiet him.

War and Peace was an experience. There were times I envisioned myself reaching the end, spiking the book like a football, and then doing some sort of victory dance around the splayed pages. When I got there, though, I simply sighed, leaned back in my chair, and thought: At least this was better than Moby Dick.

Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,364 followers
November 22, 2008
So, I know you've all been on edge these past two months, and since I should be studying for the social work licensing exam tonight, it seems like the perfect time to put an end to your suspense.

After all my agonizing and the thoughtful suggestions below about whether I should mutilate my gorgeous hardcover Pevear and Volokhonsky translation in the interest of less hazardous subway toting.... Readers, I carried him. All 1272 pages. Every day, across five boroughs and three states, for nearly two months....

So the burning question on your mind is, "Should I risk misalignment and a redislocated shoulder in the interest of preserving a pristine edition that's inevitably going to get all banged up anyway, as I lug it across battlefields and through trenches, for what seems an eternity? Which is more important: the book's spine, or my own?"

Bookster, I am here to put an end to all this wondering! Here is what you must do: simply take a keen exacto knife (you might ask a helpful Cossack to sharpen it for you), and slice out the final "Epilogue" portion of this burdensome tome. You will do no damage to the book -- the epilogue's like an appendix (and hey, what the hell, cut that out too) -- as this part is not necessary, and in fact though it's theoretically only about 7% of the book, this portion is actually responsible for at least 63% of its weight. So slice that bitch out, and throw it away! Your vertebrae will thank you later.

Another advantage to getting rid of the Epilogue is that it will save you from having to read what is conceivably the most deadly dull and deflating ending to a vast and magnificently readable book, ever written. As a particularly exacting size queen, I demand that the glory of a huge novel's ending be proportional to its length. I feel this is only fair: I was loyal and patient, and devoted many hours to reading the author's story, and at the end I should be rewarded for my fortitude with a glorious finale. That's always been my philosophy, anyway. Apparently, though, it's not Tolstoy's.

What is Tolstoy's philosophy, you ask? In particular, what's his philosophy of history? Well, let me tell you! Or better, let him tell you. Cause he will. Over and over. And then again. And then, in case you were interested and wanted to know more, let him REALLY tell you.... and keep telling you.... and tell you some more.... and some more.... no, let him get into it finally now, in great detail.

Yeah, Tolstoy's that perfect house guest who crashed on your couch for nearly two months and you're just thrilled as hell the whole time to have him visiting, because he's just such a smart and great and interesting and heartfelt guy. Quel raconteur! Oh, sure, sometimes he gets a bit dull and wonky with his policy ramblings, but that stuff's basically okay. And then yeah, he's got these ideés fixes about history that are fine, you guess, but it's a bit weird how he's always repeating them and focusing on the same points over and over, and he will corner your roommate's friend or a classmate you run into at the supermarket, or an old lady waiting for the bus, to explain yet again why he thinks Napoleon really isn't that great at ALL, yeah, that's odd, but basically Leo is just super, and you're thrilled to have him -- even for such an extended visit -- because he really is so brilliant and diverting and nearly truly worth his weight in gold.... You are sad to know he's going to leave, but then his plane is delayed and you're happy you'll have him there just one more night, but somehow that's the night that he suddenly decides to come back to your house, completely high on cocaine. Leo then proceeds to stay up for hours drinking all your expensive scotch and talking your EAR off about his goddamn PHILOSOPHY of HISTORY that you really just could not care LESS about, and he WILL not leave and let you go to bed, he keeps TALKING, and it's BORING, and apparently he thinks your catatonic stare signals rapt interest, because he just keeps on going, explaining, on and on -- He WILL NOT SHUT UP! It is almost just like being physically tortured, by this guy who you'd thought was the best houseguest in the whole wide world. And so when Leo finally leaves again the next morning -- ragged and bleary and too dazed still to be properly sheepish -- you're not sorry to see him go, in fact you're very glad. And does one annoying night cancel out two months of the great times you had together? Of course it doesn't, and you remember him fondly, and tell anyone who asks how nice it was when he stayed. But the night does carry a special weight because it was the last, and when you remember dear Leo, your wonderful houseguest, your affection will not be totally untainted by the memory of his dull, egotistical, coked-out rantings, the night before he left for real.

By which I mean to say, the rest of this book was totally great! As my Great Aunt Dot (who's read this twice) commented, "It's really not a difficult read at all; there's a chapter about War, and then a chapter about Peace, so it never gets boring." War and Peace is hugely entertaining, and largely readable. Plus, it's enormously educational, as you will be forced to learn more than you ever wanted to know about the great Napoleon! (According to Tolstoy, he wasn't that great. No, I mean really, he wasn't that great.) War and Peace is a terrific date book, because it's got lots of bloody action and also tons of romance, plus you can make out during the dull parts where Tolstoy's talking for like twelve pages about various generals and strategies and his nineteenth-centuried out opinions about history.

If there's a standard I value more highly than my long-book-great-ending demand, it's the one that I call "Make Me Cry." I don't really think a book's that great unless it makes me cry. (No, this doesn't work in the other direction -- just because a book makes me cry doesn't mean it's great. I've cried at really silly movies before, and I used to cry regularly whenever I read the newspaper, which is one reason I stopped.) War and Peace made me cry like a colicky baby that's been speared with a bayonet, THREE TIMES! I don't mean I misted up or got a little chokey -- I mean I sobbed, wept, and groaned, thoroughly broke down and lost my shit on a very cathartic and soul-rending level. Hooray! I can't guarantee that War and Peace will also make you cry, but I bet if you're prone to that sort of thing, you've got a good shot.

GOD this book is good. See, you should really skip the Epilogue, because besides being crushingly dull, it's also very depressing (in the wrong way), and in addition to making you vow never to marry could make you forget how GREAT and AMAZING the rest of this is. What a GREAT and AMAZING book! Holy shit! I'm flipping through now, and it's all coming back to me. This was totally The Wire of 1868: If you like serious character development and plotting that unfolds over a long period of time, you should seriously read this book. I really didn't know much about this book before I read it, but I think I remember someone -- Jane Smiley? -- writing that War and Peace is about everything. I wouldn't go along with that (I'm not sure if she would either), but it is about most of the things that really matter. If you are someone who thinks at all about life or death, you might like this book. Here is a passage, from a character who's a POW marching barefoot through Russia in October:

In captivity in the shed, [he] had learned, not with his mind, but with his whole being, his life, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfying of human needs, and that all unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity; but now, in these last three weeks of the march, he had learned a new and more comforting truth -- he had learned that there is nothing frightening in the world. He had learned that, as there is no situation in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so there is no situation in which he can be perfectly unhappy and unfree. He had learned that there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom, and that those limits are very close; that the man who suffers because one leaf is askew in his bed of roses, suffers as much as he now suffered falling asleep on the bare, damp ground, one side getting cold as the other warmed up; that when he used to put on his tight ballroom shoes, he suffered just as much as now, when he walked quite barefoot (his shoes had long since worn out) and his feet were covered with sores. (p. 1060)

I just think that's great. Maybe it's not, out of context.... Anyway, one of the best things about reading this is how much of it is so strange -- Russia! 1812! OMFG! all so different! -- and how much is the same. The nuance, specificity, and instant recognizability of the characters in here is pretty amazing. I know this sounds dumb, but you really feel like you know these people, and in a way it's the minor characters -- Sonya, Anatole, Dolokhov (my favorite!) -- who are so perfectly drawn, and make you go, "Man! I know these people! Woah!"

I did appreciate having to think about war while reading this, because that's something I've never really done before. At the beginning I'd hoped that this would help me understand more about why wars happen, but it didn't. That might have been what Tolstoy was trying to explain in his Epilogue, but I have to confess that at that point, I wasn't really listening.

Anyway, I liked this book. It is long, though.
Profile Image for Dolors.
541 reviews2,283 followers
December 4, 2013
Before I turned the last page of this massive volume, which had been neglected in my bookshelves for more than six years, War and Peace was a pending task in my mental reading universe knowing it to be one of the greatest Russian or maybe simply one of the greatest novels of all times.
Well, in fact, it was something else.
I have a selective memory, I don’t know whether it comes as a blessing or as a curse, that enables me to remember the most insignificant details like for instance, where and when I bought my books, which are often second hand copies. When I pull one of them off my shelves it usually comes loaded with recollections of a certain moment of my life that add up to the mute history of their usually worn and yellow pages.

So, War and Peace was also a memory. This one had to do with an unusual cloudless and shiny afternoon spent in Greenwich Park eating the greatest take-away noodles I had ever tasted and browsing through my newest literary purchases, recently bought in one of those typical British second-hand bookshops, where I spent hours besotted with that particular scent of moldy ancient paper.
That’s what War and Peace meant to me until I finally shook my sloth off and decided to read it. It turns out I rather lived than read it, or maybe the book read me, but in any case, I curse my lazy self for not having taken the plunge much sooner.

This book is an electroshock for the soul. There is no division between Tolstoy’s art and his philosophy, just as there is no way to separate fiction from discussions about history in this novel. Without a unifying theme, without so much a plot or a clear ending, War and Peace is a challenge to the genre of the novel and to narrative in history. Tolstoy groped toward a different truth- one that would capture the totality of history, as it was experienced, and teach people how to live with its burden.
Who am I?, What do I live for?, Why was I born? These are existential questions on the meaning of life that restlessly impregnate this “novel”, which also deals with the responsibility of the individual, who has to strive against the dichotomy of free will as opposed to the influence of the external world, in the course of history. Fictional and historical characters blend naturally in the narration, which occasionally turns into a reasoned philosophical digression, exploring the way individual lives affect the progress of history, challenging the nature of truth accepted by modern historians.

Tostoy’s syntax is unconventional. He frequently ignores the rules of grammar and word order, deliberately reiterating mannerisms or physical details to identify his characters, suggesting their moral qualities. He uses several languages gradually changing their sense, especially with French, which eventually emerges as the language of artifice and insincerity, the language of the theater and deceit whereas Russian appears as the language of honesty and seriousness and the reader becomes a privileged witness of the formation of a community and national consciousness.
In repeating words and phrases, a rhythm and rhetorical effect is achieved, strengthening the philosophical pondering of the characters. I was emotionally enraptured by the scene in which Count Bezukhov asks himself what’s the meaning of love when he glances at the smiling face of Natasha or when Prince Andrey lies wounded in Austerlitz battlefield looking up at the endless firmament, welcoming the mystery of death and mourning for his hapless and already fading life. The book is full of memorable scenes which will remain imprinted in my retina, eternal flashing images transfixing me quite: the beauty of Natasha’s uncovered shoulders emerging from her golden dress, the glow of bonfires lit by kid-soldiers in the night before a battle, the agony of men taken prisoners and the absent faces of circumstantial executioners while shooting their fellowmen, the unbearable pain of a mother when she learns of her son’s death, a silent declaration of love in a dancing embrace full of youth and promise…

War and Peace is much more than a novel. It is a vast, detailed account - maybe even a sort of diary or a confession- of a world about to explode in constant contradiction where two ways of being coexist: war and peace. Peace understood not only as the absence of war, but mainly as the so much coveted state in which the individual gets hold of the key to his identity and happiness, achieving harmonious communion with others along the way.
Now that I have finally read this masterpiece, I think I can better grasp what this “novel” represents among all the great works of art created by men throughout our venturesome existence: the Sistine Chapel or the 9th Symphony of Literature, an absolute triumph of the creative mind, of the spirit of humankind and a virtuous affirmation of human life in all its richness and complexity.

My battered copy of War and Peace and I have fought many battles together, hand in hand. We have been gently soaked by the descent of moist beads in the misty drizzle at dawn in Paracas. We have been splashed by the salty waves of the Pacific Ocean only to be dried off later by the sandy wind blowing from the dunes of the Huacachina Desert. We have been blessed by the limpid droplets dripping down from branches of Eucalyptus Trees in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and scorched by the blinding sunbeams in Nazca.
Particles of ourselves were left behind, dissolved into the damp shroud of grey mist falling from the melting sky in MachuPicchu, and whatever remained of us tried to breathe in deeply the fragrant air of those dark, warm nights spent under scintillating stars scattered endlessly down the Peruvian sky.

With wrinkled pages, tattered covers and unglued spine, my copy of War and Peace has managed to come back home. I have just put it back reverently on my bookshelf for literary gems, where I can spot it at first glance. An unbreakable connection has been established between us as fellow travellers, as wanderers of the world. Somehow, we have threaded our own unique history; an unrepeatable path has been laid down for us. The story of this particular shabby copy comes to an end though, because I won’t ever part from it. My copy of War and Peace has come back home, where I intent to keep it, now for good. No more war for these battered pages but everlasting peace emanating from my shelves for all times to come.

War&Peace, my traveling companion.
My traveling companion in MachuPicchu.
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews511 followers
July 16, 2014
When I was growing up, the conventional wisdom was that War and Peace was the sine qua non of difficult books: the scope, the length, OMG the length! Conquering this Everest was The Test of whether you were a Man/Reader.

I have now read it. Thump chest and make Tarzan yell.

Actually, you know chump, big deal. The mountain really wasn't so large after all.

There are love affairs, there is a war, peace eventually returns to the Shire Russia. Sorry, got confused there for a minute with Lord of the Rings, another 1,000+ page work where there are love affairs, war and an eventual peace. (That's hardly a spoiler by the way. Not unless you've been hiding under a rock and don't know that Napoleon didn't succeed in conquering Russia.) Which is my point: With every half-penny fantasy potboiler these days weighing in at several hundred kilogrammes of war and peace (*cough*Wheel of Time*cough*), how can we still look at a book this size and feel fear? 1,000+ pages? Only? Pshaw! That's nuthin!. Spit out t'baccy chaw.

And yet, the notion still lives on about how HARD War and Peace is. So, if anyone out there still buys into that, is intimidated and deterred by that notion, well, really, don't be (unless, of course, the last thing you read was Green Eggs and Ham).

The thing is, to my surprise, I found it a rollicking good read. There are star-crossed lovers, suicide attempts, heart-rending death bed scenes, and battles aplenty where our heroes get knocked on the head and taken prisoner. Instead of Middle Earth, you get a fantasy-land of wholesome, loving Peasant Russia and you learn how True Self comes from Loving the Russian Soil. Okay, there's also the rather irritating and interminable philosophizing by Tolstoy about History and Its Causes, but you got through the interminable side songs in Lord of Rings didn't you?

In case any of you are thinking that I'm mocking War and Peace by this comparison, please note that it's not intended to be (wholly) facetious. I loved Lord of the Rings. If anything I'm mocking the awe with which we approach "Great Works". So, yeah, if you ever thought of reading War and Peace but were put off by its reputation, don't be. It's actually quite fun.

Profile Image for Emma.
108 reviews52.7k followers
June 1, 2021
"Who is right and who is wrong? No one! But if you are alive - live: tomorrow you'll die as I might have died an hour ago. And is it worth tormenting oneself, when one has only a moment of life in comparison with eternity?"
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,359 followers
August 16, 2017
This is one of those books that can be life-changing. I read this as a teenager and I remember exactly where I was (sitting on my bed, in my grandmother's house, in southern Germany) when I finished it. I must have spent an hour just staring out the window, in awe of the lives I'd just led, the experiences I'd just had.


I'm now re-reading this, enjoying it immensely and no doubt appreciating it much more than I did the first time. Tolstoy has the most amazing ability to make us feel, when he zooms out and examines historical events, that the individual is nothing--and then when he zooms in and paints intimate portraits of his characters, that the individual is everything. Breathtaking.

By the way, I'm reading the Anthony Briggs translation (Penguin Classics), and it's marvelous. I'm quite picky when it comes to translations and this is one of the best I've read.

It's in the sweeping battle scenes that Tolstoy shows how insignificant the individual really is--how even generals and emperors are at the mercy of random and unpredictable events. Then when Tolstoy switches to the intimate drawing room scenes, the entire perspective shifts, and nothing matters more than the individual consciousness that he depicts. The juxtaposition of these two feelings is just, well, genius!

I'd forgotten how mystical Tolstoy gets with respect to Pierre's "conversion" or "enlightenment" or "getting religion." It's fascinating how Pierre becomes animated by these great ideas and that's a sign of his maturity, whereas Prince Andrey matures in an almost opposite way: by eschewing his former great ideas regarding military heroism and focusing instead (at this point in the narrative) on his baby son.

The contrapuntal movement of Pierre and Andrey's development is only highlighted when they're together, debating whether one ought to try to improve people's lives (Pierre) or just focus on one's own happiness and leave the world alone (Andrey). It's actually a profound debate, which then ends when Andrey beholds the vast sky again and something stirs inside him, something long dormant, and we as readers can't help anticipating that Andrey will be "back."


One of the great glories of reading War and Peace is to encounter, in a novel, characters struggling with serious philosophical issues--not as airy abstractions but rather in terms of how they ought to live. Pierre and Prince Andrey are the prime examples of this. I kept thinking, as I read the sections in which they struggle earnestly with such questions, that contemporary American fiction has precious little of this. I wonder if it's because we've all drunk the kool-aid that says "show, don't tell," making contemporary novelists shy away from such material. But this little mantra, while seemingly objective, renders entire realms of fiction off-limits. Tolstoy is constantly "telling" us what Pierre and Andrey are thinking, and the novel is so much better for it.


Tolstoy's "peace" is of course anything but: it's full of anticipation and intrigue and philosophical yearning, from the bursting bewildering sallies of youth (Natasha) to the resigned feeling that life isn't what you dreamed when you were young, and perhaps you aren't either (Pierre). The deftness and sheer range of human drama is staggering.

And the war, when it returns, is no abstract matter. Everywhere there are people caught up in this great event, bewildered by it. Here's Rostov on seeing the French officer he's brought down: "This pale, mud-stained face of a fair-haired young man with a dimple on his chin and bright blue eyes had no business with battlefields; it was not the face of an enemy; it was a domestic, indoor face." Rostov can't help seeing him as a human being, and in that moment his "enthusiasm suddenly drained away."

It's interesting how, when Rostov chases the French officer on horseback, he thinks about the wolf hunt he was recently on. When I read the scene of the hunt, where the hunters capture the old She-Wolf and her cubs, I couldn't help feeling sorry for those animals, for that animal family hunted for pure sport. I wondered how that scene would come back into the narrative because of the obvious symbolic weight of it, and here it is, in the scene of war. The characters hadn't empathized with the She-Wolf in the same way that Rostov does with the French officer, but I wonder if we're meant to anyway, or at least be made somewhat uncomfortable (as I was) by such sport-killing, perhaps seeing it as a prelude to another kind of sport-killing altogether: namely war.


Tolstoy can't help wearing his patriotism on his sleeve a bit, as he describes Napoleon's advance and the rival Moscow social circles, one of which has eschewed anything French while the other clings to its Francophile ways. Of course the French-speaking social circle is that of Helene, who's cold and manipulative and whose brother schemed to snatch away Natasha in such, well, French fashion. But this is no bald tale of Russian virtue and French perfidy. Tolstoy is finely attuned to the chaos of war and to the humans that engage in it, so much more alike than not as everyone tries simply to survive and perhaps claim a little glory in the end.


I love how Tolstoy peppers his narrative with keen insights into human nature. Here he is, when describing the attitude of Muscovites on the approach of Napoleon: "At the first approach of danger two voices always speak out with equal force in a man's heart: one tells him very sensibly to consider the exact extent of the danger and any means of avoiding it; the other says even more sensibly that it's too wearisome and agonizing to contemplate the danger, since it is not in a man's power to anticipate future events and avoid the general run of things, so you might as well turn away from the nastiness until it hits you, and dwell on things that are pleasant."


Tolstoy describes the cavalcade of human affairs as well as anyone, and the evacuation of Moscow is a great example of it: so many little stories described with the deftest brushstrokes. The irony and humor also shine through when he describes Berg's ridiculous recitation of war stories or Count Rostov's childlike diffidence when it comes to the issue of whether they should empty their wagons of belongings in order to make room for wounded soldiers.


Hurtling toward the end now, and Tolstoy is hammering his theme that the individual is a slave to fate and mysterious forces. This adds much irony to his tale, and some biting commentary as well, as when he says: "These man, carried away by their passions, were nothing more than the blind executors of the saddest law of necessity; but they saw themselves as heroes, and mistook their doings for achievements of the highest virtue and honour."


In the final pages the scenes return to domestic life full of family, as the war generation ages and their children are born. So many mixed emotions in the characters and in me, the reader, as our story ebbs to a close, as this towering and monumental work of art draws ever nearer to silence. "Memento mori," the characters are described as feeling in the face of an old countess, and the same can be said of this entire work, which is a testament to the fragility and beauty and fleetingness of life itself.


And then, finally, we see Pierre and Natasha together, but the last lines of the dramatic narrative belong to young Nikolay, Prince Andrey's son, who thinks: "Father! Father! Yes, I'm going to do something even he would have been pleased with."

Tolstoy then delves more directly into a philosophical treatise on free will, capping his narrative with the final summation that "it is no less essential to get away from a false sensation of freedom and accept a dependence that we cannot feel."


With that, the book closes, and I feel again what a monumental work I've just encountered. I'll spend many days and weeks pondering these pages, recalling little scenes and thinking about Tolstoy's grand arguments. The scope is breathtaking and profound, yet on every page you feel the frantic beating of the human heart. Despite all its spiritual claims, it's a deeply humanistic work.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
March 19, 2018

So... I did it. I finally convinced myself to read War and Peace, partly because it's just something everyone wants to say they've done, and partly because one always needs a good excuse to procrastinate during the exam period when I should have been studying. And, you know what, I really enjoyed most of it. The novel is far less taxing than I imagined, I don't know if that's because the English translation goes easy on us non-Russians or because Tolstoy wrote it in a quite light-hearted fashion. I suspect I shall never find that out for myself.

Personally, I think a much better title for this book would be War and People. Because, though an in-depth look at history during the time Napoleon had ambitions to take over Europe, this is first and foremost about humanity and Tolstoy observes humanity and all its weirdness with a sense of humour and occasionally sadness. I don't like to make too many predictions about the older authors, some people will tell you that Bram Stoker was a feminist and William Shakespeare was a humanist, I think these are quite melodramatic conclusions to make about authors who lived in societies where they would struggle to be that.

However, Tolstoy may or may not consider himself liberal, forward-thinking, a humanist, and I wouldn't state that he is any of those things. But I think his perception of the human condition in the nineteenth century shows he is somewhat before his time in his ability to see almost every character as flawed, confusing but ultimately human. He manages to construct a comphrehensive view of humanity and Russian culture at the time in question, complete with betrayals and scandals and affairs. But though the characters may place blame on one another - like calling Natasha a hussy - Tolstoy appears to remain impartial. Those who stray from the conservative path of the nineteenth century do not do so without reason.

Another reason that War and People is a much better title for this book is because there is very little peace going on in here. There are times when the battles aren't raging, of course, but there is always something equally dramatic happening within the social world of Russian high society. People falling in and out of love, people having affairs, wealthy aristocrats dying and leaving their fortune to illegitimate sons. It seems to me that there's a constant war going on in this book, just sometimes it isn't on the battlefield.

And oddly enough, it was the real wars in War and Peace that interested me least of all. They were probably the reason this book got four stars instead of five - and because goodreads rating system is about personal enjoyment rather than literary merit. I felt much more entertained by the soap opera that was the lives of the Russian nobles than by the tedious and repetitive battle scenes. There were guns and canons and horses - riveting. But thankfully, like I said, Tolstoy's masterpiece is more about people than anything else and this is the reason that I saw this book through and enjoyed the journey.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews41 followers
August 4, 2021
(Book 857 From 1001 books) - ВОИНА И МИР = Voyna i Mir = War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, which is regarded as a central work of world literature and one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements.

The novel begins in July 1805 in Saint Petersburg, at a soirée given by Anna Pavlovna Scherer—the maid of honour and confidante to the dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.

Many of the main characters are introduced as they enter the salon.

Pierre (Pyotr Kirilovich) Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of a wealthy count, who is dying after a series of strokes.

Pierre is about to become embroiled in a struggle for his inheritance. Educated abroad at his father's expense following his mother's death, Pierre is kindhearted but socially awkward, and finds it difficult to integrate into Petersburg society. It is known to everyone at the soiree that Pierre is his father's favorite of all the old count's illegitimate progeny. ...

جنگ و صلح - لئو ن. تولستوی (نیلوفر) ادبیات روسیه؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: در سال 1978میلادی

عنوان: جنگ و صلح ؛ نویسنده: ل. (لی یف) ن. (نیکالایویچ) تولستوی؛ مترجم: کاظم انصاری؛ تهران، صفیعلیشاه، 1334، در چهار جلد؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان روسیه - سده 19م

مترجمین دیگر این اثر: بانوان محترم: «شهلا انسانی»؛ و «سوسن اردکانی»؛ و آقایان جنابان: «سروش حبیبی»؛ «مصطفی جمشیدی»؛ «داریوش شاهین» و «مصباح خسروی»؛ و ...؛ هستند

ادعای مورخی که میگوید: «ناپلئون»، به این جهت به «مسکو» رفت، که خواهان آن عمل بود، و به این جهت سقوط کرد، که «الکساندر»، آرزوی سقوط و نابودی او را داشت؛ همانند ادعای کسی است، که واژگون شدن کوه چند هزار خرواری را، که زیرش خالی شده، نتیجه ی آخرین ضربت کلنگ یک کارگر بداند؛ هم درست و هم نادرست است؛ در رخدادهای تاریخی، مردان به اصطلاح بزرگ، تنها برچسبهایی هستند، که برای نامیدن رخدادها، به کار میروند، و همانند برچسبها، کمتر از هر چیز، با خود آن رخداد، ارتباط دارند؛ پایان نقل از ص 675، لئو تولستوی

این اثر و چند کتاب پربرگ دیگر را در روزهای تعطیلات عید نوروز سال 1356هجری خورشیدی خواندم؛ برای دیدار خانواده، که در «تبریز» بودند، بهانه آوردم، و نرفتم، ترک عادت کردم؛ مجرد بودم، دوستان هم به سفر نوروزی رفته بودند، چند کیلو ماهی «ساردین از میدان (بیست و چهار اسفند یا انقلاب امروزی)» خریدم، خانه ام در «میرداماد»، در خیابان «اطلسی» بود، ماهیها را سرخ کردم، تا برای ناهار و شام و صبحانه، وقت تلف نکنم، تند و تند این دو مجلد، و چند جلد کتاب پربرگ دیگر را، در آن یکهفته خواندم؛ اما عنوان آن کتابهای دیگر یادم نمانده است؛

تولستوی، کتاب «جنگ و صلح» را در سال 1869میلادی نوشتند؛ این کتاب یکی از بزرگوار‌ترین آثار ادبیات «روسیه» و از مهم‌ترین رمان‌های ادبیات جهان به شمار می‌رود؛ در این رمان طولانی، بیش از پانصد و هشتاد شخصیت، با وسواس ستوده شده ‌اند، و یکی از باارزشترین منابع پژوهش و بررسی، در تاریخ سیاسی و اجتماعی سده نوزدهم میلادی امپراتوری «روسیه» است، که به شرح پایداری «روس»‌ها، در برابر یورش ارتش «فرانسه» به رهبری «ناپلئون بناپارت» می‌پردازد؛ ناقدان آثار ادبی، آن را یکی از بزرگ‌ترین رمان‌های جهان نیز می‌دانند؛ این رمان، «زندگی اجتماعی» و سرگذشت پنج خانواده اشرافی «روس» را، در دوران جنگ‌های «روسیه و فرانسه» در سال‌های 1805میلادی تا 1814میلادی به تصویر می‌کشد؛

مهم‌ترین شخصیت‌های این حماسه ی بزرگ: «شاهزاده آندرِی بالکونسکی»، «کنت پیر بزوخوف»، «شاهزاده ناتاشا روستوا»، «شاهزاده ماریا بالکونسکایا»، «شاهزاده نیکولا روستوف»، «دولوخوف»، «واسکا دنیسف»، «پرنس واسیلی کوارگین»، «الن کوارگین»، «آناتول کوارگین»، «پتیا رستف»، «ورا رستف»، «سونیا رستف»، «کنت ایلیا رستف»، «کنتس رستفوا»، «لیزا بالکونسکایا»، «نیکولانکیا بالکونسکی»؛ و «پرنسس آنا دروبت سوکایا»؛ و ...؛ هستند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 31/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 12/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews41 followers
August 5, 2021
(Book 857 from 1001 books) - War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, which is regarded as a central work of world literature and one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements.

Tolstoy said "War and Peace is not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle." Large sections, especially the later chapters, are philosophical discussion rather than narrative. Tolstoy also said that "the best Russian literature does not conform to standards and hence hesitated to call War and Peace a novel." Instead, he regarded Anna Karenina as his first true novel.

عنوان: جنگ و صلح - لئو ن. تولستوی (نیلوفر، صفیعلیشاه) ادبیات روسیه؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز نوزدهم ماه ژوئن سال 1978میلادی

عنوان: جنگ و صلح ؛ نویسنده: ل. (لی یف) ن. (نیکالایویچ) تولستوی؛ مترجم: کاظم انصاری؛ تهران، صفیعلیشاه، 1334، در چهار جلد؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان روسیه - سده 19م

مترجمین دیگر این اثر: بانوان: «شهلا انسانی»؛ و «سوسن اردکانی»؛ و جنابان آقایان: «سروش حبیبی»؛ «مصطفی جمشیدی»؛ «داریوش شاهین» و «مصباح خسروی»؛ و ...؛ هستند و همچنان باشند هماره سرفراز؛

نقل نمونه متن: (ادعای مورخی که میگوید: «ناپلئون» به این جهت به «مسکو» رفت، که خواهان این عمل بود، و به این جهت سقوط کرد، که «الکساندر» آرزوی سقوط و نابودی او را داشت؛ همانند ادعای کسی است، که واژگون شدن کوه چند هزار خرواری را، که زیرش خالی شده، نتیجه ی آخرین ضربت کلنگ کارگری میداند؛ هم درست است هم نادرست؛ در رویدادهای تاریخی، مردان به اصطلاح بزرگ، تنها برچسبهایی هستند، که برای نامیدن رویدادها به کار میروند، و همانند برچسبها، کمتر از هر چیز، با خود آن رویداد ارتباط دارند.)؛ پایان نقل از ص 675، کتاب «جنگ و صلح لئو تولستوی»؛

این اثر و چند کتاب پربرگ دیگر را، در روزهای تعطیلات عید نوروز سال 1356هجری خورشیدی، خواندم.؛ برای دیدار خانواده، که در تبریز بودند، بهانه آوردم، و نرفتم، ترک عادت کردم.؛ مجرد بودم، دوستان هم همگی به سفر نوروزی رفته بودند، چند کیلو ماهی «ساردین» از میدان (بیست و چهار اسفند یا انقلاب امروزی) خریدم، خانه ام در میرداماد، در خیابان اطلسی بود، ماهیها را سرخ کردم، تا برای ناهار و شام و صبحانه، وقت تلف نکنم، تند و تند این دو مجلد، و چند جلد کتاب پربرگ دیگر را، در آن یکهفته خواندم.؛ اما عنوان آن کتابهای دیگر یادم نمانده است؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 01/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 13/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,647 followers
March 21, 2020
In this frightening, isolated time, let me direct you to War and Peace. People resist this book - they do it because it's something of a punch line as a monolithic, difficult novel. But this is one of the frothiest soap operas of a novel that I know of, with far more narrative propulsion than the excellent (but sometimes slow) ANNA KARENINA. Two nations at war - great world leaders and generals, yes, but also trench life, and even more so, relevantly, now, the way war alters lives at home.

The thrills of this novel should not be spoiled, but the memories are indelible (a dramatic entrance in an opera house, a medical sequence as harrowing as it is moving, Pierre, in Moscow aflame). Tolstoy's creations in the book are near-perfect: Natasha, Andrei, and Pierre, that most lovable of teddy bears, and dozens of spectacular supporting characters, intertwining in complex ways. It is not a difficult book - just a long one. And it as spell-binding and transporting reading experience that I know of. Tolstoy is the ur-novelist for a reason. It's probably already on your shelf. It's been there for years, since college, maybe.

Start it this evening. Trust me.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,996 followers
April 29, 2016
Holy cow! I am done! Not sure what to say . . . I feel like I should write a 1000 page review, but I will keep it short.

I finished the book while a passenger in a mini-van stuck in horrible Atlanta traffic.

The book was not quite as readable as some other BIG books I have read, but still pretty good. What amazed me is how few specific events occurred during the 1000+ pages - Tolstoy was just really detailed in describing the events. Only a few times, though, did I feel like it was too much.

This book may not be for everyone, but it sure feels cool to be able to say "War and Peace? Yeah, I read that!"
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book937 followers
March 23, 2022
War and Peace is a complex, composite, multi-layered, messy, lumpy novel. It is a multilingual book, 90% Russian, 10% French, with traces of German. It is an epic-scale chronicle covering the history of Russia from 1805 to 1820 and, more specifically, the Napoleonic invasion of 1812. It is a panoramic picture of a whole society with its cities, dvoryanstvo, muzhiks, political leaders and military campaigns. It is an enormous volume that focuses on massive historical events and a myriad of tiny, intimate moments. It is a treatise on the philosophy of history and the problem of determinism. It is a vast prose symphony that oscillates between moments of Beethovenian majesty and passages of soap-opera cheesiness.

Some characters are historical figures, slightly satirised: French Emperor Bonaparte, a plump arrogant buffoon with ambitions of world domination; Russian Tsar Alexander, a fretful biscuit eater; field marshal Kutuzov, a sleepy, heavy, one-eyed underrated military genius. Others are fictional but based on Tolstoy’s own family and friends and indeed feel more human, more real than the aforementioned “great men”: the cynical Andrei Bolkonsky, the starry-eyed man magnet Natasha Rostova, the revolutionary, idealist and socially awkward Pierre Bezukhov (the Tolstoyian heart of the novel), et al.

These main characters are, however, but the tip of the iceberg. War and Peace deploys an incredible ensemble of secondary figures; some of them are perhaps more memorable even than the protagonists. The wise captive Platon Karataev and the exuberant and sleazy French officer Ramballe, although appearing briefly and late in the novel (around the turn of Book IV), are utterly unforgettable.

Similarly, among all the chapters and scenes in the novel, some are absolutely remarkable: Andrei’s Ecclesiastes-type epiphany while staring at the eternal blue sky above the battlefield (I, 3, 16), the wolf hunt and the delicious troika ride on Christmas night (II, 4, 4-5 and 12), and of course, the Stendhalian plat de resistance of the novel, the Battle of Borodino, as seen through the eyes of Pierre Bezukhov, an improvised embedded journalist avant la lettre (III, 2, 24-37)—probably reminiscent of Tolstoy’s experience during the Crimean War.

And so, a substantial part of the novel focuses on three or four families, who periodically meet at Anna Pavlovna Sherer’s unshakable salon mondain in the course of the book: the Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, the Kuragins and the Bezukhovs. The lives of their members intersect on different levels, under two prominent influences:

Firstly, the influence of love: Pierre marries La Belle Hélène, but she cheats on him; Natasha loves Andrei, but Andrei goes away; Nikolai loves Sonya, but Sonya has no dowry; then Natasha loves the wastrel Anatole, but it goes badly; and then Nikolai meets Princess Maria; and then Natasha realises Pierre is charming… In short, much simping and ditching and friend-zoned bffs, and endless suchlike humbug. A significant slice of Tolstoy’s novel goes like that: Jane Austen style.

Secondly, the narrative progresses according to the influence of historical events and warfare: Andrei wounded at Austerlitz and glancing Napoleon; Nikolai seeing Alexander; Pierre at Borodino and Andrei injured a second time… This is a wholly different slice of Tolstoy’s novel, a sort of modern Iliad or Mahabharata or Henry VI, where the epic, brutal, warlike aspect of Tolstoy’s writing holds sway.

Underneath these two forces of love and war, a third undercurrent, philosophical this time, starts to rear its head every few chapters from the start of Book III and becomes an iterative soapbox interruption as the novel progresses towards its ending. The Second Epilogue is a downright philosophical enquiry on the nature of historical events, national movements, the origin of war, the laws presiding over “interconnected infinitesimal elements of freewill”, and the mistakes and fallacies of historiography. This last prominent slice of Tolstoy’s novel is indeed a theoretical, disembodied discussion with historians such as Adolphe Thiers or Joseph de Maistre and philosophers like Hegel, Schopenhauer and Carlyle; a conversation that heralds 20th-century history theory and economics.

Ultimately, War and Peace, with all its disjointed slices, cross-cutting layers, fragmented pieces, is a masterful example of what the novel is capable of—to move and fly swiftly, Hermes-like, between history and fiction, immensity and intimacy, macro and micro, aristocrats and enslaved people, emperors and privates, battlefields and drawing rooms, French and Russian, sky and mud, deep and shallow, feminine and masculine, romance and epic, comedy and tragedy, facts and theory, history and philosophy, war and peace. In short, what Tolstoy demonstrates is that the novel, elevated at this level of world-building chutzpah and demiurgic virtuosity, is as rich and complex as life itself, messy, virtually limitless and all-encompassing.

Nuff said, I need a shot of vodka now…
Profile Image for Kenny.
507 reviews936 followers
October 21, 2022
The strongest of all warriors are these two; Time and Patience.
War and Peace ~~ Leo Tolstoy

Much earlier in this year, I was speaking to my friend, Srđan. I had not come up with a reading goal for 2021. It was during that conversation that I decided I would make my 2021 goal to read big classics, delving into my bucket list of books unread & inhabit a new world each month. During January, I read all four books of The Little Women Series . In February, I took on WAR AND PEACE.

I have found tremendous comfort the past 12 months in reading the classics. These books ~~ books that have stood the test of time ~~ have proven to be a healing balm for my soul. I have found the classics to be a remedy for distress ~~ and at this most difficult time ~~ I am reassured of the goodness of humanity by reading the classics.

WAR AND PEACE is a thrilling read. Coming in at 1,615 pages, it is also a behemoth of a book. How could it not be? WAR AND PEACE is intricately plotted, and contains some the the most brilliant characterizations ever written. So good is WAR AND PEACE, I'm not even sure where to start in reviewing it.

WAR AND PEACE is an epic tale of transmogrification, personal growth & spiritual rebirth. In WAR AND PEACE, Tolstoy examines the minutia of life & the necessity of taking personal responsibility for our actions in this life. WAR AND PEACE startles and delights the reader by discovering beauty in the mundane, as well as the violent.

The fact that we are able to relate to the characters, so easily, is actually one of WAR AND PEACE's greatest strengths. It seems the nobility & gentry of the Motherland are not so different from you & me. Most of us tend to be more ordinary and stable than standard Russian literary characters, & it’s much easier for many to relate to a character like Natasha Rostov or Pierre Bezukhov from WAR AND PEACE than to someone like the underground man from Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky. Through the normalcy of his characters, Tolstoy is able to express the extraordinariness of everyday living universally.

Early on, Nikolai Rostov gambles his way into tremendous debt and comes home devastated. As he is contemplating suicide, he hears his sister Natasha singing. He's heard his sister sing countless times before, but this was the first time he had listened to her intentionally. While listening to Natasha sing, Rostov is momentarily transformed. He forgets all about his debts & his afflictions & can think only of that musical harmony & how it touched him. Tolstoy wrote Oh, how that third had vibrated, and how touched was something that was best in Rostov’s soul. And that something was independent of anything in the world and higher than anything in the world. In one simple setting, Tolstoy is able to convey how an ordinary event such as listening to music is actually quite extraordinary and transformational.


With WAR AND PEACE being so long, Tolstoy has the time for extraordinary character development. The reader gets to witness the characters as they go through trials & struggles through life in both war & peace. Some characters go from favorites to being reviled, to beloved once again as they go thru a rebirth. We were allowed to grow with the characters through continual observation. The effect on the reader of being given the gift to go on this journey with these characters is profound.

My Goodreads friend, zxvasdf, once said to me when discussing ULYSSES, "You'll always be far from finishing, even when you finish it. I don't think anyone can really appreciate Joyce's work in its entirety if they're not Joyce themselves; there'll always be mysteries abound". The same could be said of WAR AND PEACE ~~ "You'll always be far from finishing, even when you finish it ~~ mysteries abound".

WAR AND PEACE is as relevant to the modern reader as to the reader in 1867 who undertook this Herculean read because it’s a book about life. WAR AND PEACE expertly relays the beauty of merely being alive through its relatable characters, moving scenes & realistic character development. And this is no less valuable in a messy modern world, than it was when the novel was first written.

Profile Image for Ilenia Zodiaco.
267 reviews14.1k followers
January 1, 2020
"Sopra le vie sporche e semibuie, sopra i tetti neri c'era l'oscuro cielo stellato. A Pierre bastava guardare il cielo per non sentire la bassezza oltraggiosa di ogni cosa terrena in confronto all'altezza a cui si trovava la sua anima (...) Quasi al centro di quel cielo, circondata tutt'intorno da un pulviscolo di stelle ma distinta da tutte per la vicinanza alla terra, per la luce bianca e la lunga coda sollevata all'insù, c'era l'enorme fulgida cometa del 1812, la stessa cometa che preannunciava, a quanto si diceva, sciagure di ogni sorta e la fine del mondo. Ma in lui quella chiara stella dalla lunga coda raggiante non suscitava alcun senso di paura. Al contrario, Pierre guardava gioioso, con gli occhi bagnati di lacrime, quella stella chiara che dopo aver trasvolato a indicibile velocità spazi immensi nella sua traiettoria parabolica, all'improvviso, come una freccia conficattasi in terra, sembrava essersi attaccata a un punto che si era scelta nel cielo nero per fermarsi lì".
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,950 reviews436 followers
October 25, 2022
Read as part of The Infinite Variety Reading Challenge, based on the BBC's Big Read Poll of 2003.

I read this in tandem with the spectacular BBC adaptation and I will say now that my enjoyment of this piece of literature has been heavily influenced by that wonderful piece of televisual art. It just has. It's the same story, just told a different way. I will refrain from telling you to get over it.

Now, the book. It was written well, very well, in terms of all the stuff that should be done well: punctuation, spelling, grammar, and all that. There were some typos but that will be down to the publisher and not the writer.

However, we'll deal with the negatives first: it had some of the most tedious moments in a book I've ever come across. I realise the war was a very important thing, but my gosh Tolstoy was dire at writing of soldiers and fighting. I didn't enjoy those sections nearly half as much as I could have, which directly contributes to it not being-and never becoming-a perfect story. He was also well versed in tangents: I understand his intention of the book was exactly what he produced, but we can say that every writer produces their intention when they write a book so in this case I will say that I don't care about the authors intentions at all here.
There were also far too many characters. It's a nice idea to give everyone-including someone randomly delivering a letter-a name and a story, a background and a face, but for the reader it is too much.

But, that ending. I loved the ending (I preferred the BBC ending, but that's just me being all romantic) and I thought it was so fitting. I was happy-in a very understanding and moral way-with all of the deaths and thought they were all completely relevant to the whole piece. Perhaps they all came a little too at once and suddenly, but altogether they settled the whole affair so nicely. I found the romance of Princess Mary and the one of Pierre to both be very pleasing.

And I shall speak of Pierre now. How I love Pierre. He was, forgive me for saying this, quite English in his manner and that was delightful. I will refrain from going on about him, but I thought every description of him was just so wonderful: I very rarely get so clear a picture of a character in my mind (whilst I thought Paul Dano played him well, he did not embody the exact physical nature of Pierre that was conjured from the reading) and my favourite moment will always be when Prince Andrew looks out and sees Pierre trip and stumble.

I also loved it for teaching me more of history than I ever knew. To be very frank, I never even knew that Napoleon had invaded or even fought Russia: I suppose that is the curse of being English. We learn of our splendid Nelson but not much else. I find that literature fills in the gaps that education leaves, gaping wide and hollow.

If you've ever had any misgivings about this book purely based on length, please refrain from those thoughts. It is divided nicely in to chapters, books and parts that you can easily place it down for a while, leave it and come back very happily. It doesn't take all that long to get through, either. It is one of those myths that precedes, unfairly, on the work.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,225 followers
May 17, 2022
I always believed War and Peace was one of my three favourite novels. Now, after reading it a second time, I'm no longer certain I would include it in my favourite 20. Without question, to my mind, Anna Karenina is the better novel.

On the positive side, it's astonishing how well Tolstoy knows all his characters and how vibrantly he brings them alive on the page. There's so much of life in this book. It's a marvel how brilliantly he dramatizes many of life's key emotions. The first four hundred or so pages are a joy to read. But then there's the war. He's brilliant at the action scenes but it's his digressions that wearied me. At one point I couldn't help imagining him on a soapbox at Hyde Park corner (perhaps alongside DH Lawrence, another brilliant writer who once he got an idea in his head relentlessly bludgeoned you with it). Towards the end it's almost as if his ambition is to make each new page even more unreadable than the previous one. It was like he become the drunken fixated bore at what previously seemed a promising dinner party.

I think one could make a strong case for only reading half this novel. But, in that case, is it really a great novel?
Profile Image for Carolyn Marie  Castagna.
290 reviews6,241 followers
June 1, 2021
All the stars in the sky are nowhere near enough stars I could give this book!

Give me every word from every language in the world, and I still won't be able to express my everlasting love for the words of Leo Tolstoy!
So, I'll let Tolstoy speak for himself...
"Pierre was right when he said that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and I now believe in it. Let the dead bury the dead, but while I'm alive, I must live and be happy."
"The whole world is divided for me into two parts: one is she, and there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness...I cannot help loving the light..."
" 'Love? What is love?' he thought.
'Love hinder's death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone...' "
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here."
We are asleep until we fall in Love!
Thank you Tolstoy!
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
967 reviews6,862 followers
December 16, 2021
The holidays always remind me of this book and the snow falling out my window onto the trees is the perfect backdrop for thinking about everything that goes on in Tolstoy's big epic. When I finished this book I found myself missing the characters as one would a friend. It's been a decade now and they haven't called, so maybe I should pick this up and visit them again. A pretty much perfect book, Tolstoy brings his narrative to life from so many angles and opinions that you feel like you've been there, lived with this characters and, in turn, become part of the the epic yourself.
Profile Image for ZOË.
202 reviews179 followers
May 30, 2022
Well, well, well. How to write a review for the book that changed me in ways I could never put to words? War and Peace transcends genre, categorization, and literature as a whole. It is a universal commentary on the brutality of war and how its violence affects everyone from soldiers on the battlefield to socialites in drawing rooms, and all those in between. Within its (intimidating I’ll admit) 1,350 pages you’ll find star-crossed love stories, the most vividly crafted characters ever written, head-spinning philosophy, raw depictions of historical events, and so much more. It is a story of life and dead, of love and loss, of solitude and companionship, of war and peace. And though this is certainly not the book for everyone, I believe that everyone can certainly get something out of reading it.

Before picking this up, I never believed that a work of literature could affect me so profoundly and in so many ways. While I predicted loving it, the extent at which I do is still hitting me like a ton of bricks and I never want the beautiful scars of reading it to fade.The many people dwelling inside these pages have become so personal to me, it seems impossible that I only met them a month ago. Natasha, Pierre, and Andrei, so delicately intertwined by fate, explode off the page and straight into your heart. After hours upon hours spent in their stories, they become dear as friends to whoever is reading. Tolstoy has crafted this book so intimately that after a certain point you feel not only as if you know these characters, but that you yourself are one of them. By the end of my experience I wasn’t weeping for them, but with them; our tears, love, and grief in harmony.

I owe so much to this story, for it has truly changed me for the better. War and Peace has transformed the way I see myself and other people, expanded my knowledge and views on war, gave me some of the first characters I could truly see myself in, reminded me how beautiful literature can be, and much more that I could never describe with words. A piece of my soul has fallen into this story, and I have no plans to fish it out any time soon. If you want a book with prose so breathtaking that you can’t see the words through your tears, one with such agonizing tragedy that your heart and stomach will be weights within you, or one with characters so real you could reach out and touch them… look no further!

Now I’m not going to sit here and talk about how I was never bored, understood every word, and enjoyed every second of my reading experience since that would be a bold-faced lie. In fact I’ll admit that if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to summarize any of the battlefield chapters… bye bye world, tell my mom I love her! Though there were many times where I felt like throwing this book across the wall and yelling at Tolstoy to shut up, in a way I’m glad for those sections because they truly made my connection to the characters stronger. Through the hours of yawning and glazed eyes I began to miss them, and when the story finally circled back to Natasha or Pierre or even Andrei (who I honestly hated for the first few hundred pages), it was like coming home to the people I love.

While reading this, I think it is important to note that Sofia Tolstoya (Tolstoy’s wife) had heavy influence on this work of art, and transcribed the manuscript seven times by hand! All the while being abused by her husband and caring for their 13 children single-handedly so he could write. It is vital to acknowledge that War and Peace, though an iconic masterpiece, was created at the expense of this woman’s life and happiness. Do not forget her or her contributions that history has attempted to erase!

I know many of you want to delve into this book, but are (rightfully) intimidated by its vastness and dense material. Starting War and Peace is what I can only describe as getting into a relationship. It requires commitment, time, and love. All of these you will need in order to be fulfilled in your experience.

My advice!

1. Put yourself on a schedule, and stick to it! I read 45 pages every day to finish it in a month (which is extreme and not what I’d recommend), but it’s so easy to put this book down when you hit a boring section and never pick it up again which would be a shame!
2. Read from the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation; it is known as the best, especially considering they were friends of Tolstoy and worked with him during the process. A bad translation can completely ruin a story and its prose, so double check your edition before reading it.
3. Annotate, annotate, annotate!!! Don’t be afraid to mark up your copy if you choose to buy one! You will get so much more out of this story if you do, trust me.
4. Gather some basic knowledge of the time period. I watched The Napoleonic Wars Oversimplified videos on YouTube, which helped me to better understand and retain the information presented in the text.
5. No one will skin you alive for skimming through the boring parts. You can skip a lot without missing too much of the central story, but always pay attention to dialogue and characters even in the war scenes.
6. Sit back and let the book wash over you! Reading War and Peace becomes so much easier when you don’t stress over all the characters and how they relate to each other; only about 10-20 of the 500+ characters you’ll meet will actually be important.

Reading War and Peace has marked a huge milestone in my life, and I’m so lucky to be one of millions who have been touched by its beauty. My heart is full of love for not only this book and it’s characters, but for life and the world itself. In the words of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, “I want to weep for joy.”

Books around the globe: Russia
Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews181 followers
June 17, 2021
This was a lengthy read but worth it's weight. To put it simple: there's war, there's peace, and there's human spirit set in early 19th century Russia. The foreground plot follows multiple key family-characters (Bezukhov, Bolkonsky, Rostov, and various historical figures) their interactions and interpersonal conflicts. The background plot is Napoleon's invasion into Russia.

Tolstoy can paint a picture in his storytelling. There was a romantic troika ride written a snowy-winter landscape:
Nikolay followed on behind the first sledge, and after him came the other two, crunching and grating. As they drove down past the garden, the leafless trees sometimes cast shadows right across the road and hid the bright moonlight. But once they were out of the gates, the snowy plain, glittering with diamonds in a wash of midnight-blue, opened out on all sides, quiescent and bathed in moonlight. pg. 576

...staring down at her face, bright in the moonlight. He slipped his hands under the coat she had thrown over head, put his arms around her, pulled her close and kissed her lips. Sonya kissed him back full on the lips, freed her tiny hands and cupped his cheeks with them.
That was all they said.
They ran over to the barn and when they returned to the house they went by different porches. pg. 581.

My favorite character was Pierre Bezukhov. He is described as 'quixotic' and I think that's spot on. Throughout the story he continually searches for the meaning of life. Some of his internal reflections include "What is bad and what's good? What should we love and what should we hate? What is life? What is death?", pg. 375. One of the more descriptive sections was when Pierre meets a Freemason and starts an inquisitive conversation. This leads him looking into Masonry and he eventually becomes a fellow Brother Mason. Over time, he becomes disenfranchised with the organization and leaves to continue his search in life.

The story's battle scenes are lengthy and well-written with descriptive imagery. A veteran during the Crimean War himself, Tolstoy was able to capture battlefield experiences on paper.
In one terrific bang shrapnel flew like matchwood with the overwhelming smell of gunpowder and Prince Andrey was sent flying to one side with one arm in the air, and he fell to the ground face-down. He was bleeding from the stomach on the right-hand side, and a great stain was oozing out all over the grass. pg. 900

The plot runs Napoleon's 1805 campaign, the Battle of Austerlitz, the 1812 campaign, and the Battle at Borodino. The appendix in the back contains map templates of all four offensives/engagements.

Overall I thought this was a remarkable story. The writing can be lengthy and tedious at times but is fantastic. I'm probably going to read this again because of stuff I missed first time through. I would recommend this masterpiece of literature to anyone. Thanks!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews988 followers
October 23, 2021
2009 review: Despite all the jokes about the size and density of this classic, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Originally written in Russian and with and a fair amount of French (as a literary device), this gargantuan work looks at the multiple effects of the Napoleonic Wars on Tsarist Russia via five Aristocratic Russian families.

Despite a fair amount of philosophical discussions at times, the book was surprisingly engaging and hats off to Tolstoy's writing and his amazing research centred around actually interviews he undertook with people who lived during the Napoleonic Age face to face! 7 out of 12
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,257 followers
February 10, 2017


That was the one thing I thought was missing from Leo Tolstoy's title, War and Peace. I was wrong. Love is in the title, you just have to look for it.

Certainly there is love in peace. It is the time of children, serenity, growth. The mother peacefully raising her children. The farmer lovingly tending his fields. The elderly passing their final days in comfort surrounded by family.

But there is love in war as well. The love for one's country. Such is a person's violent attachment to their motherland that they will die for it. To give up your own life so another should live, that is love indeed.

What is this preoccupation with love? Well, the Leo Tolstoy I've read is incomplete without this aspect within his writing. I knew this book would be about war, specifically Russia's involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, but I didn't right off see where the love would come in. It arrived in spades. There are peace-loving characters and there are those who are uber patriotic. Then there is man's love for the good he sees in another man's actions. And then there is the love that weds a couple for life.

Tolstoy's genius as a writer lies in his ability to dash his pen across all this with the same level of integrity regardless of whether his subject is a gallant officer in love with death or the daisy-fresh, springy step of a blossoming girl smitten by good looks and dash. Tolstoy transcends himself to become these hearty or hapless creatures. Then he marries them to our soul. Over these seemingly effortless hundreds upon hundreds of pages, these characters become family to us. We love them like brothers. We root for them. We are annoyed by them. We hate a few of them, but after all, they are family and therefore we must abide by them at least to a certain degree.

And when you step back from the book and see your attachment to these characters, it amazes you…and then it disheartens you, for you realize they are nothing but Tolstoy's puppets used in a grand way so that he may slash and burn the icon of his hatred, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Tolstoy seethes with loathing for this man. In large spurts through out, he devotes half the book to lampooning the man and his military deeds, and then as if that weren't enough, he piles on an average-sized book's worth of epilogue on essentially the same topic. In an effort to portray fairness, he also fillets his own. The Russian military leaders of the day come in for their share of condemnation. At times Tolstoy pours so much vitriol upon his own that you have to stop to recall who "the enemy" is.

Why is this a 5 star book? After all, it's not perfect, being neither fully a novel nor a military treatise, but rather both and not always successfully joined. For all its many pages, there was only a small handful of moments where I felt my heart fly or crash. Perhaps it is the vast scope of it all and the effortless way in which it is carried off. So much happens. Tolstoy gives us many rare experiences, puts us in battle after battle - whether it's upon the field amidst cannon and rifle fire, within the home during a dangerous pregnancy, or between an embattled couple bereft of love. Each of these scenes rings true, ringing to their own tune and yet all combining into one beautiful symphony.

PS: Here's my video review of this book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gfPf...
Profile Image for Piyangie.
530 reviews494 followers
February 17, 2023
This Tolstoyan masterpiece is one of the best-written books on War and its effect on people's lives. The War is the Napoleonic war where Russia was invaded by a strong French army conquering Moscow, and the subsequent defeat and flight of the conquering army. Although some of the previous battles such as Austerlitz have been included, the story's "War" was mainly centered on the 1812 Napoleonic campaign. The Peace is somewhat ambiguous but can be surmised as the everyday life of the upper-class Russian nobles and the effect of war on them. Tolstoy interlaces both these parts well and brings to the readers a memorable story.

If one sections out the story, one finds three distinctive yet interconnected parts: the war, the peace, and Tolstoy's musings. The war occupies most of the book and dominates the story. Tolstoy with his brilliant writing brings out the brutal side of the war in detail. The atrocities committed by both sides of the army - Russian and the French, the callous and cold-hearted actions of the two opposing camps against one another forgetting that they are, after all, human brothers, and the absolute butchery that takes place in the name of fame and glory are spilled from Tolstoy's pen without any scruple. It was hard to stomach it all, knowing that somewhere in history, those deeds were actually committed. However, Tolstoy is determined to show the moments of humanity, in between battles, when the men of war are relaxed and can think for themselves rather than following the commanding orders. It seems that he wanted to counter the hellish side of the war by showing that the men preserved humanity to some extent without totally turning themselves into monsters in the heat of the action.

When the parts of the war are taken out the rest of it occupies the lives of the upper-class Russian nobles. Their ambitions, hopes, and dreams, and their love, loyalty, and betrayal are all portrayed in a fascinating bundle. The Rostovs - Natasha and Nikolai, the Bolknoskys - Andrei and Marya, and the Bezukhovs - Pierre (mostly) and Helene run the show while few other interesting characters - Dolokhov, Denisov, Vasily, and the villain Anatole Kuragin brings up the rear. This is a work of countless characters both historical and fiction, but it still can be narrowed down to a considerably small number for the purposes of the story. The inter-relationship between Natasha, Andrei, and Pierre is instrumental in exposing the themes of love, loyalty, tolerance, and the need to forgive. With sensitivity and a clear mind as to true human nature, Tolstoy has voiced efficiently on his favourite themes. However, I had trouble connecting with the characters. Although I didn't dislike them, I couldn't embrace them with my whole heart either. They were distant and a little cold, and at times, inconsistent. The only steady character was Andrei (to me at least) and his role doesn't run through to the end.

Finally, Tolstoy's musings fill in the gaps wherever a gap can be found. And it is quite often, I assure you. :) As in all Tolstoy literature, the meaning of life runs as an undercurrent here too. It is quite relevant given that death is an expected consequence of War. Some of his thoughts are quite interesting, although he can be exceedingly preachy. His thoughts also run on the deterministic nature of history and a detailed analysis as to the causes that determined the historical events are presented in the form of a second Epilogue! E. M. Forster has once said that Epilogues are for Tolstoy. If you read this complete Epilogue of War and Peace, you'll understand what he meant. :)

I'm really happy to have read this masterpiece of Tolstoy. It was by no means an easy read, but I made it in a little more than two months. The credit goes entirely to Tolstoy's writing. It is simply breathtaking. Tolstoy is a great master of creative compositions, yet, in my view, War and Peace is the best literary product of Tolstoy when it comes to writing.
Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,127 followers
February 15, 2016
I tried for five months to write something more polished, less rambling. This is all I've got:

"While he is alive, the morning is still fresh and dewy, the vampires sleep. But if the sun sets, if father Tolstoy dies and the last genius leaves - what then?"
-Alexander Blok, as Tolstoy lay dying at Astapovo

"[War and Peace] is positively what might be called a Russian Illiad. Embracing the whole epoch, it is the grandiose literary event, showcasing the gallery of great men painted by a lively brush of the great master... This is one of the most, if not the most profound literary work ever.
-Ivan Goncharov

“Anna Karenina is sheer perfection as a work of art. No European work of fiction of our present day comes anywhere near it. Furthermore, the idea underlying it shows that it is ours, ours, something that belongs to us alone and that is our own property, our own national 'new word' or, at any rate, the beginning of it.”
- Dostoyevsky

"[War and Peace] is the greatest ever war novel in the history of literature."
-Thomas Mann

And of course:
"If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy."
-Isaac Babel

Damn, right? Intense. These are just some of the glowing, adoring quotes that I have drawn from the absolutely glittering gallery of homages that have been written to Tolstoy. On the one hand, it’s hard not to get caught up in the high, especially if you’ve experienced any of it first-hand yourself. But on the other hand… it kind of makes you want to kick back at it, doesn’t it? It makes me understand muckraking tabloid journalism. This is definitely the sort of moment where we could all use a cooling off article about the tax fraud he committed for years or some pictures from a bar fight he started.

Here’s the thing, the wonderful thing about Tolstoy: I think that he feels the same way.

One of the many reasons I love the movie version of The Last Station (which covers the last year of Tolstoy’s life) is the way that it frames Tolstoy’s struggle to control his own identity. The movie brilliantly explored the grand old man standing at the same crossroads over and over again as people tried to force him to take one path or another: either to buy into his own mythical propaganda, or at least to use it to some good purpose and become the sort of icon that Russia needed to begin to undertake serious reforms, that is, to act the part of the pure saint that he often wished that he was and live the way that others felt he owed it to them to live or whether he could simply be and live as the complicated, imperfect, sometimes silly, sometimes angry, loving man that he actually was. At that point, was his life really his own any longer to decide what to do with? What did he owe to the millions who knew his name and thought they knew what he stood for? Did he have the right to be less than what he was constantly told people needed him to be?

I think that Tolstoy struggled with the issue of Great Man syndrome long before he became the purported saint/icon that he was made into at the end of his life. War and Peace is, as so many have noted, about a lot of Serious Ideas and Movements. And here’s the thing, he’s really, really good at writing about them. Although some of his ideas can seem silly from the vantage point of the 21st century, the process that is put into them does not seem so. And at the time, there seemed to be no one who could come up with the words to refute him in any satisfying way. I’m sure that his reputation had a lot to do with it, his place in the social-political fabric as much as his literary talents, his extraordinary position that seemingly allowed him to speak out under an autocratic government. But nonetheless, whatever you might say about the legitimacy of how he got there, it doesn’t change what ultimately happened, which is that both Tolstoy and his ideas ended up elevated into a rarefied sphere where criticisms were fairly ineffectual or easily dismissed.

Under all the rage about Napoleons and Alexanders, it seemed to me that perhaps the major underlying theme of War and Peace was just this: The search for that Great Man (or equivalent idea) that could make Tolstoy stop seeking and asking and live content. It seemed to me that Tolstoy would give anything if he felt he could give up seeking and rest in full trust. This whole book has his thinly veiled author proxies searching for something to give themselves over to, wholeheartedly and without regrets. The read I got was that Tolstoy wanted to find this Great Man, be his servant, follow his dictates and trust that when the day comes that he questions them, the Great Man will be able to justify what he tells him in a way that admits of no argument. He wants to be able to go home satisfied and feel that when he comes back the next day the Great Man’s next set of instructions will always be just as wise, just as inarguable, and just as moral in statement as well as action as they were the day before. More than this, he wants this Great Man to be able to change him and purify him of what he sees as his petty enjoyments, loves, hatreds and cynicisms, and make him into a perfect vessel of love and generosity to those around him, who is only inspired by the greatest of good-doings and rejects worldly pleasures.

So, you can see where this is going, right? Tolstoy isn’t looking for a Great Man, or perfect human or amazing idea at all: he’s looking for God, incarnate. This was the heartbreaking thing about this book for me, watching him try to find this impossible ideal, because it seems like he really thought that this was possible, in his heart of hearts. He never could get rid of the thought that The Ideal, the Utopia, the Perfect Heaven, existed somewhere and he was just missing out on it.

Tolstoy’s two most direct author proxies, Pierre and Prince Andrei, spend this whole novel seeking what I can only call with a capital H, their Happiness, some platonic ideal of Heavenly Bliss in which their souls will no longer question or feel discontent or dissatisfaction. Between them, these two men place their hopes in, respectively: Napoleon, carousing and living for the moment, money and societal success, the quasi-Christian cult/society club that was the Russian Freemasons, and finally Love With That Girl Who Was Too Good For You (Pierre) and the army/war, the Emperor(s), familial obligations, meritocratic success and professional heroes, The Love of A Fresh, Pretty Young Girl, the Army Part II, and, finally, the forgiveness and redemption of Jesus (Andrei). Other members of the vast cast show up to take over the baton for a few moments and chime in about the glories of the Emperor(s), God, the brotherhood that can be found in the army or idea of The Fatherland, and, on the part of the women, religious obsessions, the love of children, and the perfections of a man who deigns to marry them.

It’s rough to watch these people’s hopes get shot down that many times. This book is a thousand pages long. It happens a lot of times, and to almost all the characters that we have any sympathy for. It’s hard to watch these characters put their 110% into something or someone because we know that there’s just nothing in this world that can withstand that sort of pressure. It’s tragic, to think what some people expect of others, and, I think, one of the most powerful insights to come out of this book: there are no ideals, and those who spend their lives trying to find them will be inevitably disappointed.

This is something that Tolstoy clearly struggled a lot with. But God was always the out. It happened in W&P and in the “oh holy shit, I feel like a bad person,” screeching brakes of an ending on Anna Karenina. But of course, this ideal is unknowable and insubstantial in many ways, it’s mysteries therefore customizable and different for everyone who encounters them. God allowed him to hold onto the idea that the Ideal existed and allowed him a vessel into which to pour all his hopes after everything else, inevitably, disappointed him.

It’s really unfair, of course, for Tolstoy to have expected mere humans to do anything different if he’s going to put that kind of insane expectation on everyone and everything around him. It’s almost laughably arrogant to expect that the world will live up to the way that you think that it should be and that it should change itself to suit you. Sometimes I felt like I was the Cary Grant character in The Philadelphia Story, wanting to face down Katherine Hepburn and tell her that she needed to have some regard for human frailty.

If Tolstoy was like that, it would be easy to dismiss him. His rage would have no power. It would be simply a delusion, not an ideal. But he does understand it, is the thing. To his great despair. Tolstoy is afraid of that frailty and spends this whole book running from it. This was some of the great power of Anna Karenina for me, as well as this book. He can’t sustain that fire and brimstone condemnation of the sinful for long. He understands the flaws far too well. In the same way, he can’t sustain his belief in a system, a person, or even a religion for too long. He keeps having to find something else to believe in, something new to try, in just the same way that his characters keep having to “renew” themselves after doing something that they feel is sinful. Tolstoy’s protagonists are always too active in their minds and hearts to settle down to something forever, state their belief and call it good. They keep changing and evolving for a very specific reason: because they keep living. It reminded me of something something he wrote in Anna Karenina about the blissful period after Anna and Vronsky run away together:

He felt that the realization of his desire had given him only a grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires. At first, after he had united with her and put on civilian clothes, he felt the enchantment of freedom in general ...but not for long. He soon felt arise in his soul a desire for desires, an anguish."

People who keep living don’t get to live happily ever after. They get to keep living, and that is all. Tolstoy’s metaphor for this in this novel is Natasha. Natasha, like Anna, is a unique female figure for this time period in literature in that she gets to live, think and love very much as a male protagonist would do. She gets her own inner soul and feelings and Tolstoy is very firm about protecting that, no matter what ideals the men want to project on her from the outside. Natasha is flighty, self-involved and changeable in her feelings depending on the moment or situation. Natasha loves acting the part of romance, but finds that she cannot sustain her feelings long enough to make it worth it. This puts her in sharp contrast to most of the other women in this novel: her childhood friend and cousin Sonya, who remains self-sacrificing and self-effacing and loyal as a dog to the man she declares she loves (in ways that are often humiliating), being one example, and the religious, blushing, pure Princess Marya being another. Natasha’s joys and worries are the simple, straightforward, predictable and all-too-recognizable feelings of a teenage girl:

”Natasha was going to the first grand ball of her life. She had gotten up that day at eight o’clock in the morning and had spent the whole day in feverish anxiety and activity. Since the morning all her powers had been directed towards getting all of them-herself, mama, Sonya-dressed in the best possible way...”

“Natasha was interested neither in the sovereign nor in any of the important persons that Mme Peronsky pointed out-she had one thought: “Can it be that no one will come up to me, can it be that I won’t dance among the first, can it be that all these men won’t notice me, who now don’t even seem to see me, and if they look at me, it’s with such an expression as if they were saying: ‘Ah! it’s not her, there’s no point in looking!’ No, it can’t be!” she thought. “They must know how well I dance, and what fun it will be for them to dance with me.”

Natasha hasn’t a single thought about the greater good of Russia, God, or, really, her family. Natasha wants to be young and admired and have a wonderful time every day of her life. It makes her selfish (she doesn’t want to hear ANYONE’s opinion if they contradict a desire of hers). It makes her heedless and reckless. It also makes her at least the temporary desire or deep love of almost every man that comes into contact with her in this novel. She is another one who throws herself into every moment of her life 110%. But she’s just much more honest about the fact that what makes her happy changes frequently. People judge her for this constantly, which gradually gives her a self-conscious complex which I think has a lot to do with why she agrees to marry Prince Andrei under the worst idea-ever-in-the-world circumstances.

Is anyone surprised when the engagement fails? Anyone? You can say what you want about the repentance afterwards, but the way that Tolstoy sets it up, it is difficult to judge Natasha for the way things go down. She’s sixteen and has been abandoned by her much older fiancé for reasons she hasn’t a prayer of understanding involving the passive aggressive fights of fathers and sons that never end. As far as she knows, she's been told not to live or love for a year, and girl does not play like that. Natasha tries her best, but she’s living proof that we keep on living and being people and having to get through the day no matter how many oaths we swear or how many good intentions lie on that road paved to hell. This is like people who think that Bluebeard’s wife should be condemned for going inside the secret room or that Pandora is the worst for opening the box. You put her in a situation that was completely incompatible to her temperament and personality, made her undergo a test to prove something that you don’t really want her to be anyway and all because YOU got cold feet and realized that maybe you weren’t ready for the reality of marrying a beautiful, passionate sixteen year old who loves society and is probably being set up for Anna the Sequel to happen, especially if you are going to insist on your tortured, strong-and-silent thing continuing, which I am fully sure it would have.

Natasha is loved and adored because she symbolizes passionate, uninhibited, it-goes-on- Life. She hasn’t got a single complex to speak of. Natasha is almost the only one in this book who deals with her feelings honestly and doesn’t hide behind philosophies or false generosity to make herself feel better. She even throws herself fully into the passion of the guy she’s cheating on Andrei with. If she feels bad afterwards, it’s because of pure, human guilt, not because Jesus told her that doing that was bad. She doesn’t like hurting people, especially not the person that she had made her Romantic mind up that she was going to marry and live happily ever after with. Again, human love. When she collapses when she finds out the guy she loves is already married, it’s not out of a feeling of sin, it’s out of grief for the love she feels.

Like every other protagonist, she wants forgiveness and purification for her sins before she is able to be well again. But she wants forgiveness from a man, from Prince Andrei, not from a philosophy or a religion or a government. She wants to be able to love and have her love be worth something in her eyes and anyone else’s. Love is at the center of her own sense of self, and if she is not allowed to give love she feels that her life is not worth anything.

Natasha’s erstwhile fiancé, Andrei, is allowed to find peace and purity before he dies. He is allowed to give himself entirely over to Jesus and find the serenity that he has always lacked. But here’s the thing, he only does it through feeling inhuman:

“Yes, love.. but not the love that loves for something, for some purpose, or for some reason, but the love I experienced for the first time when, as I lay dying, I saw my enemy and loved him all the same. I experienced the feeling of love, which is the very essence of my soul and needs no object… To love everything- to love God in all His manifestations. You can love a person dear to you with a human love, but an enemy can only be loved with divine love.”

All this and martyrdom too so that he can somehow find a way to express and get over what he feels is his unacceptable anger at a woman who betrayed him. But she’s around and he suddenly starts to feel human, not God-like love again. He starts thinking about the man who she cheated with and how he wanted to kill him. He thinks constantly about how near she is in the room. He starts to hope and negotiate with death. But life is too scary for him to do that. He ends up retreating away from confusion into death.

Seriously, screw the men in this novel. If there’s a hero here, I think it is Natasha. I would argue that the gauntlet thrown down to all these characters at the start of the novel is to find their way to honesty and peace. Natasha is the only character who consistently tackles the world with honesty, so she is the only one who can lead us to peace. Draw your wider metaphors for the implications for world affairs.

Which, you will notice, I did not touch on in this review. This is because they could not possibly matter less, except as a manifestation of everything else I am talking about here, just on a bigger and more impersonal scale, for those who can only recognize Truth when it is stated to them in a titanic voice with pomp and circumstance attached.

Partway through the novel, Tolstoy puts these words into the mouth of the Freemason who converts Pierre:

”Look at your inner man with spiritual eyes and ask if you are pleased with yourself. What have you achieved, being guided by reason alone? What are you? You are young, you are rich, you are educated, my dear sir. What have you done with all these good things that have been given to you? Are you content with yourself and your life?

Tolstoy’s never done asking these questions, which is why he was never able to find that Great Man in reality and lay down his burdens. It’s sad, in a way. From reading his two great works of fiction, it seemed like the one thing he always wanted. But on the other hand, he already told us, implicitly, that if he ever found the ideal he always said he was seeking, he would be dead inside. He would no longer be human. He would be God. Nirvana. Whatever you want to call it.

Is this really what he wanted? Or did he want to want it? Did he want that feeling of wanting it… that intense passion that only a human could feel? That desire for desires that never went away. There’s no way to know.

But for God’s sake, if these thousands of pages have taught me anything, it’s this: We’re pretty much stuck with being human. So we’d better make the best of it.

Find joy where you can. And realize, in a quote by Stoppard that I will never tire of repeating, “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.” I wish Tolstoy could have found God in that ideal, if he had to have one. I feel sure that that is perhaps the one way he could have avoided being disappointed.

Tolstoy is two for two on breaking my heart with words. And yet I feel sure that I’ll be back again for him to break my heart a third time.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,185 followers
March 12, 2019
500th review!!!

The "Abridged Classics for Lazy People" comic summarizes "War & Peace" as follows: "Everyone is sad. It snows." Hmmm. Accurate, but I have a bit more to say about it than they do. This book has left me full of thoughts and words the way few books have done before.

Though to be fair, how exactly is one supposed to review this? This book might be titled “War & Peace”, but it’s also about the human experience as a whole: the high, the lows, the beauties, the agonies and pretty much everything in between. There are schemes, passionate encounters, fancy soirées, massacres, religious conversions, suicide attempts, duels! The title, in hindsight, is actually a bit reductionist… Everyone knows that the story focuses on four families living in Russia on the eve of the French Invasion led by Napoleon, and how this conflict impacts and changes them - directly or indirectly. This format enabled Tolstoy to create a detailed, layered tapestry of a country and culture – while keeping his readers entertained with what is basically a HUGE soap opera! Albeit, a very well written, very engaging one, with deep philosophical mussing interjected throughout. But let’s be honest here: this is Russia, so melodrama is as inevitable as snow.

I had planned to read “War & Peace” in small increments, spread over a few months, so it wouldn’t feel too imposing – and so I wouldn’t give myself carpal tunnel syndrome carrying that massive doorstopper of a book around (I am usually an absolute fetishist for paper books, but in this specific case, a Kindle copy is the only sane way to travel around with it). It turned out to be so damn good that I plowed through it much faster than anticipated (less than a month!). However it is too epic and intricate for a traditional summary: there are simply too many characters and too much stuff going on in there. So I will do what I did with my review of “Les Misérables” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and give you my likes and dislikes about this beautiful, sacred monster of a novel.

I liked:

-Pierre Bezukhov. Because I just love bespectacled, awkward people out of solidarity, but also because he is a man who decides to work on himself following a series of particularly dumb situations (am I the only one who feels bad for the bear?!). There is not a mean bone in this man’s body, which is truly remarkable, but since he naively assumes other people are as honest as he is, that gets him stuck in quite a few pickles. He takes a good, hard look at his life and begins to evolve in an unexpected way. He peels the layers of shenanigans away, and realizes that he is full of kindness and honesty, and tries to do the best he can for the people he cares about. Sometimes, he is very clumsy about it and it can get frustrating to watch him bumble around, but it comes together in the end.

-Andrei Bolkonsky. I didn't like him at first, because he's kind of a dick to his wife, but as soon as he started talking about how sick he was of the superficial high society the silly woman loved so much, and of how he couldn't stand being around dumb and vacuous people, I just nodded and said: "I hear you, dude." Of course, it's a bit extreme to prefer facing the French guns rather than endure more stupid salons, but I sympathized nonetheless. His blend of honor, philosophy and cynicism eventually melted by literary panties, and his epiphany about the senselessness of war after a close brush with death fully redeemed him. Natasha has a bit of a manic-pixie-dream-girl effect on him, where he is shaken out of his funk by her perkiness; that trope usually annoys me, but by that point, I was madly in love with him and just wanted him to get a little bit of happiness (he has officially joined the pantheon of fictional characters I would run away with in a pinch, along with Newland Archer, George Emerson and Gabriel Oak). His ultimate forgiveness towards Natasha and Anatole is deeply moving (though I would have cheered just as much if he had punched the depraved pervert in the ‘nads); I want an alternate ending where the battle of Borodino goes differently for him…

-The struggle those two guys go through to try and apply the philosophy they love so much to the way they live their lives. Sounds weird, huh? But as someone who practices a form of Buddhism that can be defined as a “philosophy of action”, I have a great appreciation for how tricky it can be to take lofty principles and try to act on them in a reality that is very often ethically imperfect. When Pierre joins the Freemasons, he is called upon to live in the service of others, to forgive those who have wronged him and to strive for what can be best be called “enlightenment”. There’s quite a few false starts to his efforts, the world being a complicated mess of a place, but he never gives up, even when if stumbles quite a bit on his way there (after all the masonic stuff, how, exactly, did you think assassination would work out, Pierre?). Similarly, after both of the major battles he gets caught in, Andrei gains a deep understanding of the beauty of the world, of the importance of loving everyone, but in a very different way from Pierre: he first begins by isolating himself to protect the world from what he might do to it (as a result of guilt), he opens up again when he meets Natasha, and eventually buries his pride by forgiving her and Anatole. I am not exaggerating when I say that the image of a forgiving hand extended towards the person who has hurt you the most in the middle of their own suffering is something I might never stop thinking about…

-The fact that the story is set over the better part of a decade allows the main characters to truly grow, evolve and reflect on their lives in ways few characters can in more modern literature. Silly Natasha, for instance, starts out just turning thirteen and by the epilogue, she’s a twenty-eight years-old married woman and mother. Her silly brother Nikolai also changes his views and ways as experiences leave their marks on him. Which brings me to the mastery of characterization I had already admired so much in “Anna Karenina” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Tolstoy wrote deeply flawed characters who wrestle with their nature to try and do the right thing for themselves and the people they love. None of them are perfect, and each and every one of them are so real they might as well crawl out of the book, sit down next to you and tell you their stories – and that is just amazing.

-Tolstoy’s praise of intelligent women: he clearly thinks the ditsy ones are uninteresting, and his leading men always go for the clever ones (with the caveat that they seem to accidentally lose their intellect after marriage...). Even Marya, who does not give herself much credit, is smart enough to know when she’s being played for a fool, and how to deal with rather dire situations. In fact, the further I go into the story, the more I grew to appreciate Marya, whom I had originally dismissed as a religious nutcase. She isn’t: she just needed to get out of under her father’s thumb.

-Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky. I have always had a soft spot for crotchety old misanthropes, and this one uses gruffness to hide a tender father’s heart, and I often found him appalling and hilarious simultaneously. Besides, stuck in the middle of nowhere with Lise and mademoiselle Bourienne, wouldn’t you also get cranky? I know I would!

I disliked:

-Hélène Kuragina. Obviously. What a piece of work. She is ultimately the architect of her own downfall, and I felt sad for her near the end, but she is so selfish, manipulative and vicious. I don’t care who she sleeps with, I care about how miserable she makes everyone! Of course, she is using her sexuality, one of the very few powers women had back then, but her deliberate attempt to corrupt Natasha, out of spite towards her husband who admires the young girl so much, is simply egregious. She eventually forgets that despite being married to the richest man in Russia, some mistakes are just not easily forgiven. I mostly felt bad for Pierre, whose feelings for her were genuine at the beginning (yet even he knew something was not quite right with her), and who realized too late that he basically married a viper. Tolstoy is rather coy about her various escapades, which I confess I was slightly disappointed by: I would have enjoyed more sordid details about this notoriously depraved character.

-Natasha Rostova. What can I say, her irreducible bubbliness eventually got grating. I don’t tend to warm up to teenage girl characters, even in classics like this one. And what she did to Andrei, in my humble opinion, is unforgivable. I get it, girl: hormones are a thing, and Anatole is a hot scoundrel, but Jesus! Go sit in a snowbank or something, and calm down! It does get better after the burning of Moscow, when Marya’s calming influence finally gets her to simmer down a bit, but her sixteen-year-old delirium drove me insane. I think what I mostly hated about Natasha is that marriage turns her from a spontaneous and lively creature into a bossy matron almost overnight. This may be simply due to weird societal expectations of women at the time, but it’s no less annoying. Her personality simply vanishes! And you based that character on your wife, Leo? Safe to say her and I would not have been good friends.

-Nikolai Rostov. I know he’s young, ambitious and spoiled, but he could have definitely used a good throttling. If you are going to gamble your family fortune away with a psychopath, don’t complain when your parents pester you about making a marriage of interest! It’s called being a responsible adult, Nikki! Marya and Sonya are too good for you.

-Boris Drubetskoy. Slimy little social climbing creep, you gross me out.

-Amélie Bourienne: why is she there?! To save Marya from making a really bad decision, I know; I still wanted to chuck the book out the window every time she talked – but that might have knocked out an innocent pedestrian. She’s a composite of all the worse stereotypes about French women, and they should have left her behind to deal with Napoleon’s army at the Bolkonsky estate.

-Speaking of stereotypes, Tolstoy’s occasional bouts of patriotism get weird: the French are all petty snobs with inflated egos, he describes the Germans as a bunch of disorganized “sausage makers”… Jeez.

-Battle scenes and rambling passages about military strategy that last too long. Though to be fair, Tolstoy isn’t as long-winded as Hugo when it came to these (short chapters really help with that). I get why these events are part of the story, and I understand that my modern reader’s sensibility simply isn’t used to this. But gawd, I was happy when the fighting was over and done with and we could get back to talking about people! Tolstoy, who was a humanist and a pacifist, wanted to convey to his readers the barbaric and senseless nature of war, and that fighting for glory is an imbecilic notion: no one can say he didn’t reach his goal, but I guess there is no shortcut to make that point!

-Speaking of shortcuts, you can stop reading at Part 2 of the epilogue, because the rest is a long essay about the nature of history and how it was recorded, and how it should be recorded. It can be interesting, but by then, the actual story is over...

I was hoping that keeping the enormous book at home and reading it relatively slowly would mean “War & Peace” wouldn’t take over my life, but it kind of did anyway. I talked about it constantly as I was reading it, to my husband and to anyone who was silly enough to ask me what I was reading these days. I am not sure why Russian literature does this to me, but the exact same thing happened when I read “Doctor Zhivago” earlier this year (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... I just became completely obsessed. I read up on Tolstoy, on the French Invasion, on the various adaptations of the book that have been brought to the screen (this article especially drew my attention: https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/2/15... ); it truly became an experience. I knew I would enjoy “War & Peace” when I picked it up, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. It really got under my skin like few books have done before.

To Tolstoy, writing about the generation who fought off Napoleon is a bit like someone my age writing about their grandfather who fought in WWII, there is certainly a certain amount of idealization injected in the story that one needs to be aware of as you travel through this book, as these people were to Tolstoy what the so-called Greatest Generation is to us: we tend to overlook their less honorable moments and focus on their awesomeness. It certainly makes for more exciting storytelling! He also wanted to convey the idea that history is something that is both influenced and felt by everyone, not just the big names: his slightly outdated theories of historiography aside (feel free to skim his appendix on the subject), the idea of showing the impact of major social and political upheaval on the everyday life of a select group of people does shine a light on the fact that we are all affected by what goes on in the world, in small and big ways. In many instances, his musings about events having not one single cause but a multitude of small ones brought to mind teachings about co-dependent arising, which surprised and fascinated me.

As usual with massive classics like this one, they get a bad rep about being too long and dense, the language being too flowery and ornate. That doesn’t usually stop me, but I must say that the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of “War & Peace” I read was neither ponderously written or excessively florid: they seem to have worked very hard to keep Tolstoy’s style alive in their translation, with his use of repetition and rhythm, French passages embedded in the text (in context, this makes total sense), etc., and it was a genuine pleasure to read. This edition also included a helpful list of characters with full Russian names (including patronymics), nicknames and common French versions, so you can untangle who is who as you go through the story if you are not familiar with it. I still think a book this massive requires a good dose of patience, but dismissing its quality based on its age or page count would be a terrible mistake. It is not a perfect book, but it is nevertheless magnificent, very entertaining and important. I know this might sound difficult to believe, but I had a hard time putting it down, as my sore wrists can attest to. Everyone should read this at least once; I know I’ll be re-reading it, and that it has established a new benchmark as to what “amazing literature” means to me.

Too lazy to plow through over a thousand pages of epic Russian storytelling? The 6-part BBC series is very well acted, beautifully shot (with some amazing images having been conjured for some key parts of the story), and my darling James Norton’s glass-cutting jawline is quite lovely to look at (and will definitely put you on #teamAndrei). It’s no substitute for the book, if we’re honest (lack of inner monologue makes some events seem a little bit random at times), but it’s fun, pretty and covers all the important bits very faithfully. And yes, I know the 1956 film with Henry Fonda, Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn is a classic, but may the divine Miss Hepburn forgive me, I found it dated and too clean… It was clearly tailored for its audience, and tiptoed around the more debauched and sordid details – which I happen to enjoy.
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,476 followers
February 19, 2022
I read this yonks ago as a teenager, while wishing to appear more intelligent than I actually was. I even seem to remember contemplating the wearing of lensless spectacles at one point!
Set against a backdrop of Napolean's invasion of Mother Russia, Tolstoy delves deep into the collective human soul of Russian high society to bring us a sweeping soap opera that alternates between the dissimilarity of costumed balls and muddy battlefields.
What is unforgivably true is that I periodically skipped entire chapters, such was my hurry to finish the blessed thing! It is hard work; don't believe anyone who says it isn't. Most probably also trying to pretend that they're cleverer than they actually are! : )
But I can't blame Leo Tolstoy for my teenage incapacity. I knew it to be a magnificent novel then and I certainly know it to be true now.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
June 15, 2017
One commentator of War and Peace wryly remarked,” war and peace … that about covers everything.”

That is as succinct a book report as can be given to a work of this magnitude. This novel does contain just about everything; war and peace, battles, hospitals, military strategy, love and romance, marriage, estrangement and divorce, death, birth, families, relationships, friends, enemies, hatred, jealousy, fear, gambling, dueling, hunting, dances, music, religion and politics, mysticism, philosophy, economics, aristocracy, nobility, peasantry and farming, merchants, horses and cavalry, traveling and most all things Russian, European and universal.

A critic could cynically remark, with some truth, that if you put enough words on enough pages, you can talk about everything, but to do so in this epic, historic narrative is an extraordinary accomplishment. About a third of the way through it occurred to me that I had never read a book like this, at once on an epic, grand scale and yet at the same time personal and with great attention to detail. Of course the truth is that I never have read another book like this because there probably is not another book like this, it is unique, even among other literary masterpieces.

Tolstoy may indeed have created the greatest novel ever, because I’ve never before read such a complete work on such a grand scale. Tolstoy uses an abundance of literary devices and techniques, from irony to metaphor and simile, analogy, imagery and symbolism, foreshadowing, epiphany, characterization and all under the very approachable omnipresent, omniscient realism of the author’s voice. There are even elements of surrealism, absurdism and humor. Himself a veteran of the Crimean War, Tolstoy has an adept ability to describe life in the army and to detail military scenes. And it’s a good story.

What is it about? Four families living in the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the invasions of Russia. Just as many people today regard the WWII generation, my grandparents’ generation, as our greatest, Tolstoy wrote about these events as Russia’s greatest generation, his grandparents’ generation. These were the people, after all, that had defeated Napoleon.

Many historic personages are present in the story, including Napoleon and Alexander, and also a whole populace of counts and countesses, princes and princesses, generals, officers, sergeants and soldiers, statesmen, freemasons, servants and serfs. Tolstoy has a rare gift, akin to Dickens, at characterization, painting most all characters in a realistic, multi-dimensional brush. The leading protagonists are almost all dynamic, evolving and complex and the inter-relationships are rich.

Finally, this is a vehicle for Tolstoy to expound on his philosophic and theological views, commenting on the inherent irrationality of man and at the same time man’s small place, even as an emperor, in history.

Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
May 6, 2017
Just finished my second reading of War and Peace. Couldn't have loved it better. Maturity and knowledge of the times certainly helped my enjoyment. It didn't feel as long as it actually is. I loved all Tolstoy's meticulously created characters.

I hope to write more soon.

Not to be missed!

I read Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace a long, long time ago. However, I still remember how I enjoyed this epic, even if I might have been too young and lacked the knowledge about Russian history that would have allowed me to enjoy it even more. Anyway, it inspired me to keep reading, just for that I am grateful for Tolstoy.

If I didn't have so many unread masterpieces in my to-read list, I would revisit it. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for فؤاد.
1,067 reviews1,762 followers
May 5, 2017
چقدر حرف که راجع به تولستوی می شه زد. موندم که از کدوم بگم.

تولستوی و روسو
در سال های بعد از انقلاب صنعتی، شهرها ناگهان گسترش پیدا کردن و شیوه ی زندگی جدیدی ایجاد شد. زندگی در فضای بسته ی شهرها و نظم ساعت وار کارخانه ها، تنگی معیشت طبقات فرودست و بی معنایی زندگی اشراف. همه ی این ها و علل فراوان دیگه، دست به دست هم داد تا به اعتراض گسترده ای علیه این حکومت عقل حسابگر شکل گرفت، به نام نهضت "رمانتی سیسم". بیشتر این معترضان، هنرمندها بودن، ولی گهگاه بینشون متفکرهایی هم دیده می شد، از جمله "ژان ژاک روسو".
از نظریات سیاسی روسو که بگذریم (که منجر به تشکیل حکومت هایی مثل هیتلر شد) در نظریات اجتماعی، روسو می گه: انسان تا وقتی که باقی بر طبیعت دست نخورده ش باشه، تا وقتی که احساسات و غرایزش تحت سلطه ی عقل در نیومده باشن، پاک و شریفه. این تمدن و قانون و عقله که انسان رو تبدیل به موجودی بی عاطفه و پلید و گاه جنایت کار می کنه.
من نمی دونم که آیا تولستوی مستقیماً از روسو تأثیر گرفته یا نه، ولی حرف هاش تا حد زیادی، مشابه حرف های رمانتیک هاست: این که انسان فقط در یه زندگی ساده، با زیبایی های ساده و محبت های ساده می تونه خوشبخت بشه. نه در زندگی پر پیچ و خم شهری امروزی.
هر چند، به شیوه ی رمانتیک ها آزادی بی حد و حصر غرایز رو طلب نمی کنه. برای مثال می شه مقایسه ش کرد با نیچه که یکی دیگه از بزرگان رمانتیک هاست.

تولستوی و تولستوی!
خیلی جالبه که تولستوی خودش رو تکرار می کنه. یعنی یه تصویر آرمانی رو در چند رمانش با کمی تفاوت میاره. البته این تصویر این قدر شیرین و دلچسبه، که آدم خسته نمی شه ازش. من دو تا از این شباهت های تولستویِ جنگ و صلح و تولستویِ آنا کارنینا رو که به ذهنم رسید نوشتم:

شخصیت لوین و کنت بزوخوف: هر دو شخصیت های خجالتی و ساده دل و پاک و مهربان، و هر دو به شکلی سرگشته و به دنبال جواب.
شخصیت ناتاشا و یکاترینا: هر دو دختران نوجوان پر شور و مهربان، که ابتدا جای نادرستی دنبال عشق می گردن (یکاترینا در ورونسکی و ناتاشا در جوان هرزه ای که می خواست باهاش فرار کنه) اما در نهایت جذب پاکی و مهربانی دو شخصیت فوق (لوین و بزوخوف) می شن و با ازدواج با اون ها به خوشبختی می رسن.
با توجه به تکرار وضعیتی کمابیش مشابه در رمان "رستاخیز"، انگار این، تصویر ایده آل تولستوی از یک زوج خوشبخت بوده: مردی ساده دل و زنی پر شور. یا به عبارت دیگه: مردی درونگرا (که احتمالاً تصویری از خود تولستوی درونگراست) و زنی برونگرا (که احتمالاً زن رؤیاهاش بوده).
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