War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

Other authorsRichard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
Hardcover, 2007

Call number

FIC TOL

Collection

Publication

Knopf (2007), Edition: 1, 1296 pages

Description

Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML: Napoleon's turbulent history with Russia including his doomed 1812 invasion provides the setting for Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Often referred to as the greatest novel of all time, Tolstoy's classic follows the tumultuous personal lives of two aristocratic families touching on all of the great human epochs; youth, matrimony, age and death..

Media reviews

Slightly Foxed
The title Tolstoy finally settled on was taken from the political theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhorn's book La Guerre et L Paix (1861) a title which means what it says and no more. But when Tolstoy completed and published the final version of his novel Voyna i mir in 1869, the word mir carried a
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number of connotations and meanings, including a slightly obsolete one referring to society, mankind. In this case the word could mean, roughly speaking, humanity. Tolstoy's novel is concerned not merely with war and the cessation of war, it is about human beings, for whom war is a vast muddle, which is the curse of society. It is about the triumph of the human spirit in time of war; and the side that wins the war is the side that displays the stronger spirit. Natasha's dance and Andrey's sudden understanding of what matters are triumphant leaps of the human spirit; each results in an inner joy, a peace.
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3 more
The novel is not just a masterclass in fiction, Ms Li believes, but a remedy for distress. At the most difficult times in her life, she says, she has turned to it again and again, reassured by its “solidity” in the face of uncertainty.
Stylist [Issue 338]
I had it on my desk for about a year, and now I've given up and put it back on the shelf.
Tolstoy’s singular genius is to be able to take the torrent of conscious experience and master it. There are countless moments in the book where this happens ...

User reviews

LibraryThing member tomcatMurr
(Reprinted from the Chatanooga Center for Really Asinine Phonography [ccrapcenter.com]. I am the original creator of this work, as well as the owner of CCRAP; it is not being reprinted illegally, in fact it is not being reprinted at all.

Legal Disclaimer: this review is a totally original work of
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genius. Any similarities to real persons, places, websites, books or other works is entirely coincidental and is not be considered an endorsement on the part of I myself or CCRAP or its affiliates, subordinates or facebook freinds.)

The CCRAP TOP 10: In which I, Ilie Terate, having no qualifications, background, skills or experience other than an overbounding ego and love of self promotion, internet connection and the right to free speech and the belief that all opinions are to be taken seriously, especially mine on the grounds that I have the right to express my opinion coz it’s a democracy, and that what I think is equally valid coz otherwise it’s, you know, elitist and I also have a really gorgeous asshole which I have photographed extensively and which you can see in my new book “19 Pictures of an asshole” (cost $90 through CCRAP only) and you can also follow my incredibly interesting life on facebook where you can see pictures of every cappucino I’ve ever drunk every meal I have ever eaten every outfit I’ve ever worn and every shit I’ve ever had (this one’s for free) and see my 8 million friends, read for the first time Ten so-called "classics," then write reports on whether they deserve the label, coz you know, what do thousands of minds superior to mine throughout history really know about it, and a label is what, exactly?

Essay #1: War and Peace (1880), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The book

So there’s this guy called Napoleon and he invades Moscow, everyone leaves, then the winter comes and Napoleon returns to his own country, on the way back lots of people die and get frozen in the snow coz they were not prepared for winter, there are a couple of battle scenes and that’s the war part. Then there’s the peace part, I mean the writer doesn’t separate them like this, but weaves them together, a good editor would’ve asked him to separate them so it’s easier to work out what’s going on, and in the peace part there’s this girl called Natasha who does a dance and falls in love with the Tsar and they have a sleigh drive through the snow and it’s all very romantic even though the pheasants are enslaved and don’t have enough to eat.

The argument for:

Most professors like it. It’s foreign, by an author with a really long name which ends in a ‘y’ and that always impresses people. It’s been constantly in print in every known language in the universe for about 100 years and everyone who loves reading reads it some of them more than once whoooooa radical right? and falls in love with it. But apart from that, folks, I really cannot see why this has classic status at all. I mean, where’s the relevancy? The writer based his story on that Hitler guy’s invasion of Russia in The World At War and there are lots of parallels which the careful reader can spot: snow, Russians, walking, stuff like that. Probably a good case for plagiarism here.

The argument against:

Ha, well this is really easy, it’s far too long!!! A good editor would have made sure it was much shorter and better organized. The battle scenes especially are waaaaaaaay too long and messy and it’s really hard to work out whom is fighting who and what’s going on, so that needs a bit of editing there’s also like this stuff about history and what it is which is really really boring like the writer never attended high school history classes or something coz everyone knows that history is what happened in the past duh! Right? Anyway, I really didn’t read those bits coz they are like too boring and difficult so I reckon they are not really part of the story and you can probably skip them anyway like a good editor would’ve cut them out anyway.

Another problem is the names. Everyone has like three names all ending in ‘y’ which is really weird, and then they have all these nicknames, like the names you give yourself on msn and youtube and facebook only not so easy why the writer couldn’t choose easy names like Jane or Dick Dick’s a great name, lots of really great guys called Dick Dick Nixon, Dick Cheney you can always trust a Dick, I’d love to be a Dick but I got lumped with this foreign name by my Romanian extraction parents whom fled to this great country from Europe which no one can pronounce so as I was saying the names are a real bummer.

The verdict:

Not a classic, dude.

(And don't forget that all my work is now available on the internet!)
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LibraryThing member japaul22
How do you review one of the greatest books ever written? I don’t even know what to call this book. Is it a family drama, historical fiction, an analysis of war, a philosophical discussion? I guess it’s all of these things. I’ll say that I enjoyed it most as a family drama but also as an
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analysis of war and war’s ramifications for both the countries involved and the individuals both fighting and at home. I couldn’t engage with most of the philosophical discussion, especially the ending, because I just didn’t have enough background to understand it and found it sort of irrelevant to my experience. I found that the last part of the Epilogue was sort of a downer as it ended with a philosophical essay that I just couldn't interest myself in. It's hard to end a book that you've loved that way - especially when you've committed to over 1000 pages of reading time!

However, I really loved watching the main characters grow and change throughout this work. I think Tolstoy successfully creates characters that morph according to their experiences and I appreciated that. His characters, though, are not easy to identify with or like though by the end of this long book I found myself invested in them. The characters in this book sometimes get dwarfed by the surrounding times they live in, but in pondering the book as I write this review, it starts to become clear that I did end up knowing them as people. Tolstoy changes the tone of the book as the times get more serious and the characters grow up. When I think about the beginning of the book – all the shenanigans of the boys drinking too much and causing trouble, and innocent, fun-loving, and naïve Natasha and Sonya – it’s just such a stark contrast from where the book ends. It makes me realize how organically the characters grow and change throughout the book. There are some very memorable death scenes and thoughts about death that I found moving and profound.

I found the look at the war interesting and thought that it was pretty fascinating to actually use Napoleon as a character in the book, not just a figurehead. I do think the whole thing would have meant more to me if I lived in the country just 50 years after the events had taken place, as those reading War and Peace when it was published were. Thinking about reading a book like this with that sort of closeness and perspective really changes the magnitude of it. As it is, though, it is still a meaningful look at war and a few specific battles.

This was a reread for me, but except for the first 200 pages or so, I felt like I was reading it for the first time. I expect that I just wasn’t ready for it when I read it the first time in my 20s. Overall this is not quite a 5 star read for me, but is close. I think the extended sections on philosophy and my lack of knowledge of Napoleon and this battle for Moscow didn’t allow me to fully connect with the entire book. This doesn’t mean I didn’t love the book, though, just that I can’t call a book a five star favorite that had my eyes glazed over quite this much. However, reading a book this long and complex is an amazing experience. I’ve read it pretty much every day over the month of January and it feels odd to say goodbye to these characters and this time period. I actually could stand a few more hundred pages to explore a bit more of the characters and times. I suppose that says more than anything else – that I wish one of the longest books written was actually longer.

** I read the Constance Garnett translation, done in the early 1904. I very much enjoyed it and found the writing smooth and flowing.
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LibraryThing member atimco
War and Peace... it's not an easy read. At my workplace, it's slang for a long and tedious email. I have a vague memory of reading this in my early teens, but it must have been an abridged version and anyways I remember nothing except a sense of the inevitable in the characters' lives. War and
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Peace was published in 1869 and is considered Tolstoy's most important contribution to literature. I'll be careful not to call it a novel since he apparently objected to that label. I'm sure someone has coined a term for this hybrid of history and narrative.

I'll be honest: this was a slog. I love Dickens and gulp down Hugo. Collins has no terrors for me (well, besides his Gothic-y ones) and I've plowed through Radcliffe without a tremor. I didn't think War and Peace would be so hard to get through, but it was. I started well but then just lost interest. Finally, several months later, I picked it back up and began, determinedly, to make my way to the end. I was going to finish it or be finished by it. Just under a year later, I read the last page and found myself both relieved and a bit sorry to be leaving that world.

Resignation, a prominent virtue in some of the characters, is important in the reader as well. Indeed, for me the substantial enjoyment of the book only began once I gave myself up to it. By approaching the digressive sections with the same attitude as the narrative portions, I began to appreciate it and see why it has been hailed as such an important piece of literature. I feel a little foolish, actually... only discovering how to enjoy it in the last three hundred pages or so.

The story sprawls and spreads in all directions, encompassing a wide range of characters who are all made real to the reader via Tolstoy's omniscient narrator voice. We get inside their heads and are privy to all their thoughts, recognizing our own mental landscape in their often illogical, self-absorbed thinking. Natasha is one of the most vivid characters I've ever read. Pierre, Andrei, Marya, Sonya, Nikolai, Petya... they all come alive and I remember them almost as people I knew rather than characters I read about.

Tolstoy has a very decided opinion on historical figures and events, and expounds on it frequently! He believes that history is determined not by the decisions and actions of single figures (like Napoleon) but by the interplay of thousands and millions of individual wills. Again and again Tolstoy picks apart the historical analyses of critical battles and tries to demonstrate that success doesn't prove there was brilliant planning, and failure doesn't necessarily indicate ineptitude. He says that the ancients gave us a model of historical events that focused on the actions and personalities of hero-figures, and we can't get used to the idea of history without them — so we fashion historical protagonists and endow them with our belief in their power. He's eloquent and persuasive, but I found I had much less interest in his digressions than with Hugo's novel-length forays into the Napoleonic battles or Melville's detailed descriptions of whaling. Perhaps it's the repetition and the almost-petulant tone of his arguments?

About halfway through the book, I watched the three-hour movie version starring Audrey Hepburn (perfectly cast as Natasha) and Henry Fonda. It was surprisingly faithful and we enjoyed it quite a bit. Of course the movie can't show the spiritual transformations several characters experience, like Prince Andrei's moment of illumination in the surgeons' tent, Pierre's slow maturation, or the fascinating mind and vitality of Natasha. Nor did the movie delve into Pierre's experimentation with Freemasonry, which Tolstoy describes in great detail. I wonder if knowing the end of the story actually helped me to enjoy the latter part of the book, seeing it all unfold with the details that the screen version simply can't convey.

I read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which is reputed to be among the best. My expectations were probably too high. There are definitely some awkward sentences, especially when Tolstoy is describing a character's inner thoughts and motivations, but it seems to be more what he wrote rather than a translator's misstep.

Books have been written on this book, and a quick review will hardly do it justice. And with my experience of the story spread out over a year, I'm not going to capture all my thoughts about it. I will just say: I am glad I read it and learned the art of literary surrender.
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LibraryThing member antao
I was standing at an airport lounge as a teenager many years ago, and suddenly realised I had no books to read for my family holiday. I was a SF geek at the time (still am, but I’m reading other stuff now), but had read everything that W.H. Smiths airport bookshelf could show me. In desperation
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and dread I turned to the classics... I'd read Frankenstein and other English literary classics by that point, and had found all of them tedious and obsessed with melancholy and/or an absurd idealistic idea of romance. Plots were contrived and you could see them coming a mile away. Of them all, only Dickens could make me smile and identify with his caricatures, but even he stopped short of fulfilling at times. If Victorian England had truly been like all of that that, then no wonder we were so repressed and messed up today. So in desperation and partly in arrogance I picked up this weighty book. None of my peers had read it, and it's size seemed to daunt many. I thought of the smugness I'd feel in saying I'd read it, even if it had been as dry and full of itself like so many others... The next two weeks were the best holiday read of my life thus far. From a stumbling start in the opening chapter and trying to work out who the hell everyone was, I slowly and surely found my way into one of the most beautiful and compelling novels I'd ever read... Tolstoy has a way of showing the inner spirit of everyone. From the bullying cavalry-man, to Napoleon himself and above all our principle characters. How I loved that bumbling, foolish and ungainly Pierre as he grew and flowered, and the impish Natasha who could melt your heart in the first paragraph you met her. Even thinking of it now, I am touched by tender thoughts and memories, interspersed with the grief of conflict and war and the nobleness of the human spirit.

But is it a perfect book? No book is perfect. War and Peace is a brilliant book that should be read and enjoyed at whatever age a person is. It truly is a book for every age and every person. Let yourself into a world that will enrapt you. And a little request: can we in 2000 stop using the phrase "is not perfect ..." when describing something. Nothing in life is perfect. No book, no movie, no age, no accomplishment, and so on. Consciously refuse to compare anything to perfection and instead just enjoy something for what it is. Comparing something to the unobtainable 'perfect' merely diminishes that something and our experience. Don't be put off by folk complaining about the philosophical bits. There isn't too much of that anyway.I reread “War and Peace” recently, in no rush and over three weeks and was amazed by its richness and the development of character. Make no mistake, this is a Russian epic and you will find few books in a lifetime of reading which are as memorable.

Take Pierre for example who goes from being a young buffoon worshiping Napoleon to become someone with a much more critical view, hoping at one point for the chance of assassinating him. This development does not happen overnight! He learns from his experiences in prison and through his relationship with Platon Karateyev. At the end you are left thinking that the story is not yet over. Pierre and young Nikolai Bolkonsky, patriots both - are thinking critically about society. Exile to Siberia is definitely a possibility if they get involved in anything too radical. Pierre is just one major character in this glorious book. Start when you can but don't rush it. Literature of this quality needs time.

Reasonable defenders of “War and Peace” at (one of) its current length(s) might absolutely agree with being anti-literary-flab, and simply argue that this book isn't actually flabby. For example, the "side-track stories" are not "padding" or "excess", but rather constitute the "pacing" intrinsically needed by the "content" itself- so goes a point of view which I think is more care-filled than that of a "fanboy". Take a look at vol. II, pt. 5, ch. VI (it's only a couple of pages). Natasha has accepted Prince Andrei's proposal, and has returned to Moscow to meet the prince's father and get ready to get married. She meets Marya Dmitrievna, a society dowager, who intrusively 're-assures' Natasha about "old Prince Nikolai" and his resistance to his son's getting married. A tiny moment, particularly in that nothing in the plot changes as a result of this vignette, but we are shown: the social realities that Natasha is growing to recognize and understand; and the ego-centrism, diminishing, that's still the dominant tone in her character (she really sees this man whom she loves, but she thinks she can marry and 'have' him without marrying his family and being his socially positioned and positioning wife). You see my point? The story of the story doesn't change because of this little chapter, but our alertness to what Tolstoy is showing us is colored, or deepened, or enriched, or nourished (or whatever old-fashioned metaphor you like!) by this small facet.

Not sure what, in "War and Peace", some people mean by "cliff-hangers" and "many-a-time abrupt endings" as I’ve read elsewhere. I don't think "serialization" works as either a fault-generator or a mitigation; the book in your hands either holds together as you read it or it's de-coherently "over-long". Think of cricket. If you savor the pace of the game as it is, a five-day Test, or seven-game series, isn't 'too long'-- it unfolds at just the length it needs to. If you can't stand the sport, each batter's innings or team's at-bat is already an eternity of boring nonsense; forget about a match or game. Either way, it isn't the length itself that's guilty of generating one's antipathy. I can't see which 'thousand lines' of War and Peace one would 'blot'...

I have always been vehemently anti-literary-flab. The lack of an author's ability to distinguish what is essential and what isn't and to pare away the flab has always seemed in my eyes a weakness and not a virtue. It does not mean that I do not like long novels in and of themselves, I just find long swathes of them to be gratuitous flab (well written and brilliant though they might be). The Russian masterpieces act as a great case in point. “Anna Karenina”, “War and Peace” and “The Brothers Karamazov” (the three classic doorstops) were all written serially for the magazine The Russian Messenger. They were written in weekly installments by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky with word count and longevity of project strictly in mind (not that Tolstoy needed the money...). Now, the two authors knew that they were padding things out with side-track stories and story-telling devices, but we the modern readers know the books as they are and can't imagine any paragraph being cut (or in fact added to the end to smooth out the many-a-time abrupt endings, which are also legacies of the serialization). We like those novels for what they are and not for what they could theoretically be, but that doesn't mean that the modern author doesn't have the burden to perfect the pacing and content of his or her novel by removing the excess. There seems to exist nowadays a fanboy-like reaction to works even in cultured matters. People zealously defend endless novels, for some reason equating critique of length with critique of the total merit of the book. One can love a book and still critique its faults - we're not football ultras, we're readers.

Basically I say that a modern-day author has no excuses for writing over-long. It's a shame that some Modern (and some not so Modern) Fantasy writers can't manage to edit down their magnum opus.

Bottom-line: If you haven't read it, please do persevere past the first chapter and the strange names. It will reward you over and over in a way so few books do.
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
This book was a watershed, in the sense that I decided if I could read this, the ultimate doorstopper, I could read anything. There was a rush of adrenaline when I got past the first hundred or so pages and realised that actually I could read it. It wasn't totally oblique, and in fact the deathbed
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scene early on in the book was quite funny.

Having reached the end, though, it wasn't a totally positive experience. Mainly I disliked the way that Tolstoy builds up a situation of high tension (eg the character who amasses horrendous gambling debts) only to dispel the tension just a page later (whoops his father's paid the debts off).

There were some sections I found fascinating from a historical viewpoint: life in Russia before the revolution where, like Michael Jackson's kids, everyone is a prince or princess. Also the modes of warfare, where telecommunications consisted of a bloke on a horse careering round letting everyone know what was going on. Except that by the time he got there it had changed.

All in all, I'm glad I read it, because otherwise I would have only wondered.
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LibraryThing member rainpebble
This book is written quite different from his Anna Karininan.
The is the story of the French and Russian war as told from the Russian front. At the beginning there are quite of few of the social aspects, the balls, parties, parlor visits, etc, but when it get into the war, Tolstoy really puts you
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there in the war. The logistics of war and wartime are laid right out there. The French were so not prepared for where their Napoleon took them. He didn't fight the war he had planned. And Alexander responded in kind. It very much came to the generals and commanders calling their own plays and battles. I much preferred Tolstoy's "War" to his "Peace". But I also liked how he wrapped up the story.
The very wimpy Pierre turns out to be the man after all. We get to see several sides of Alexander and of Napoleon. I had never read of Napoleon and so really found all that quite interesting. All in all, this is a great story and deserves to be read today and has it's place in literature today. I think it has proven and will continue to be proven a timeless epic of "War and Peace".
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I actually remember finding Tolstoy's Anna Karenina a good read, although it's been so long I'd have to reread it to relate what I found absorbing. War and Peace is a very different matter. It's a mammoth novel, one of the longest in the Western canon, roughly 560,000 words; it comes to over a
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thousand pages in the editions I've seen. I was determined to stick it out to the end because this is considered one of the greatest and most influential novels in literature, so I wanted to experience it first hand, and I didn't want to ever have to go back for another try again. I took it in slow steps, reading only one "book" of the 15 each day. Encompassing dozens of characters written in a God's eye omniscient view, it takes hundreds of pages before you get a sense who are the important characters. Among the LibraryThing reviews is an interesting comment by CS Lewis about War and Peace. It's meant to be complimentary, but expresses well exactly what I hated in it as a novel. Lewis talks about how Tolstoy negates what is "dangerous" in the novel form by never invoking the "narrative lust" to find out what happens next and instilling an indifference to the fate of the characters "which is not a blank indifference at all, but almost like submission to the will of God." In other words, you rarely care about what happens or about any of the characters.

The novel centers on five interconnected aristocratic families, and if the novel has a chief character, it's Count Pierre Bezukhov. And he's a buffoon. When we first meet him, he's described as a "a stout, heavily built young man" with "natural" manners (meaning none) and he's such a social disaster his hostess follows him around to try to repair the damage of his ill-judged outbursts. He lisps, he stammers. He's easily led yet subject to grandiose delusions, he's absentminded and he's lucky he comes into an inheritance, because he had no idea what to do for a career, and lacks the basic competence to succeed. Soon after the party introducing him, he gets involved in a drunken incident where a police officer was tied to a bear and thrown into a river. Following him and his emo musings around for hundreds of pages wasn't a joy. It occurred to me that if we were in an Jane Austen novel, Pierre would be the comic relief--a Mr Collins or Mr Rushworth--not a character taken seriously. But it wasn't as if any of the characters initially popped out at me as distinctive or sympathetic or complex. Nicholas Rostov struck me as a fool, Prince Andrew Bolkonsky arrogant and callous, Boris Drubetskoy a mercenary social climber and all the Kuragins are despicable. Whenever I started to feel sympathy for some of the characters, such as Prince Andrew or his sanctimonious sister Princess Mary or the flighty Natasha Rostov, before long they'd do something to lose my liking.

Pierre and his loves take up a lot the peace part, which contain long drawn-out set pieces such as masonic initiations, aristocratic hunting parties and opera performances. The book does give you a sense of everyday life among the 19th century Russian gentry. But the book is also famously about the Napoleonic Wars, but if anything, I found that part even more wanting. Please understand, I've read and finished and enjoyed lots of weighty 19th century classics, and a lot of them have been very, very long. And I love history, too, having read plenty of books on the subject around as long as War and Peace. This also isn't a girl thing. I was fascinated by Shaara's novel Killer Angels centering on the Battle of Gettysburg. But Tolstoy's battles are on the whole as sleep-inducing as his ballrooms. Despite some gory imagery here and there, and some vivid passages, his battle scenes are rarely exciting except when one of the major characters are in danger of their lives or wounded--a few pages out of many dozens. Tolstoy expressed well the contingent, chaotic aspect of battle, but neither leadership nor the bond between brother soldiers is something his view of war encompasses. Any time there are flashes of brilliance in his battle scenes, you can be sure the momentum will be broken by endless, repetitive digressions on Tolstoy's one-note theory of history (complete with algebraic equations at one point).

Despite its reputation as the ultimate historical novel, I didn't feel as if I gained any insight into the history of the Napoleonic Wars and the personages involved. But then Tolstoy doesn't believe that leaders play an important role: "A king is history's slave. History, that is, the unconscious, general, hive life of mankind, uses every moment of the life of kings as a tool for its own purposes." Tolstoy scoffs at the very idea of military science or "military genius" determining outcome. His Napoleon comes across as a caricature. Tellingly, Tolstoy scoffs even at the idea that one can diagnose a disease--"no disease suffered by a live person can be known." Tolstoy at one point indulges in a long paragraph of national stereotypes--I had to shake my head at his characterizations of Russians, because it sounded so much like a description of himself as betrayed in his novel: "A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known." If you can't believe in knowledge, then you can't have knowledge to impart.

Ultimately, for me War and Peace was a monstrosity that steamrolls you with its very length. And boy, that epilogue? Tolstoy serves up two, with the second containing no story but only a rant on history and the Theory-Of-It-All (tm.) he'd been constantly expounding upon for hundreds of pages. I guess by the time most people get to the end of over a thousand pages, they want to think it worth it. I can't say I do. Well, except now I have bragging rights. I actually read from cover to cover--actually finished War and Peace! After this, even James Joyce's Ulysses and Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude can hold no terror.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
The idea of writing a review of War and Peace is daunting, to put it mildly. It’s such a huge, sprawling work, so ambitious, and in some ways so odd to a modern reader. But one thing for certain—it is an absorbing book that carries the reader along at almost breakneck pace, with few exceptions,
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for over 1200 pages. I’ve read it three times now, and each time have found it totally gripping—with the exception of the Epilogue.

Taking Tolstoy at his word, this is not really a novel although it most certainly reads like one. Even the digressions into Tolstoy’s philosophy of history, in the main part of the book, are interesting rather than distracting. But what carries the book forward are the two themes: the Napoleonic Wars culminating in the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and the effect on the lives of mostly Russian nobility, although we get some idea of what happened to ordinary Russians, especially the peasants. Although may times touted as a love story, in reality it is an examination of the relationships between men and women of the upper classes, focusing primarily but not exclusively on Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, Pierre Bezuhov, and Natasha Rostov.

However intertwined the two themes are, they’re treated separately and brilliantly. As someone who loves reading military history, I found Tolstoy’s account of the initial conflicts and then the battles of Austerlitz and Borodino utterly fascinating. I also appreciated his unromantic look at war, how it is waged, and the overall general mediocrity if not downright incompetence of most high-ranking military officers. Tolstoy ridicules Napoleon’s reputation as a military genius; I’m no expert on Napoleon so I can’t comment but it certainly makes for interesting reading.

The only problem I had with the book was with Part 2 of the Epilogue. Part 1 follows the lives of Pierre, Natasha, and the Rostovs after 1812, and is the dullest part of the tale. Part 2 of the Epilogue is about 30 pages or so of Tolstoy’s philosophy of history—page after page after page of examples, adding nothing to an argument he already makes within the body of the book. The last 10 pages or so—if you manage to survive the first 20—are interesting as a summary of his power vs necessity view of history and have merit, but I have to admit that this part drove me crazy, and only my grim determination to finish the book in its entirety kept me going. The Appendix, however, is worth reading. And I think that one should read the Introduction before tackling the book.

I, for one, didn’t find the huge cast of characters confusing or a problem.. The translation I read was the Pevear-Volokhonsky one; in this edition, there is an excellent list of characters at the beginning of the book. I referred to it for a while, but constant meeting up with the characters within the story soon made that unnecessary.

I would recommend viewing the 1968 movie version of War and Peace as a companion to reading the book. I have the Russian-made version, with a superb cast and the Soviet Army as the extras in the battle scene. It is a magnificent accompaniment to reading the book, since it is extraordinarily faithful to the book. It’s hard to believe that in this day of CGI battles, that you are looking at real human beings marching in set formations across a battlefield.

War and Peace is not so much a book as an experience, one that I’ve been through three times and one that I probably will have again. It deserves every bit of its reputation as one of the greatest literary works of all time.
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LibraryThing member seabear
I'll admit that I only read this so that I could honestly tell people I've read it. And yet it was extraordinary, the greatest novel I've ever read. As the Amazon spotlight reviewer says, it's long because it covers everything. Tolstoy surprises, reassures, and consumes at the turn of every page.
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He knows me. He knows my life. He knows how I will turn out and how my life will turn out. His characters are all so alive and realistic that when a knock on the door interrupts my reading and I go to answer it, I expect Prince Andrei standing on the other side. You'd think that it would be hard to get into the head of a Russian cavalry lieutenant from two centuries ago - the equivalent of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather - via the imagination of a Russian aristocrat who is the equivalent of my great-great-great-grandfather. But no. Tolstoy makes them feel like my friends. He describes war as the utterly confused and perpetually unjust mess that it must surely be (like the WWI poets), and covers so many other themes that it would take a work almost as long as W&P to do them any justice.

Especially when taken with Anna Karenina, which is almost as impressive and somewhat more coherent as a single story, Tolstoy seems more like the omniscient god of mankind's imagination to me than any religious "God" does. Bravo.

PS: The Oxford World Classic edition is great. The translation by Aylmer and Louise Maude was approved by Tolstoy himself and is never stilted - it hasn't even aged greatly. There are a handful of helpful maps, a list of characters, and a timeline. The typeface is easy to read and by no means small. The inner margin is wide, meaning that the words never run too close into the spine, which is itself quite strong. The endnotes are helpful and thankfully referenced by page number, thus not being difficult to find, unlike the accursed numbers-arranged-by-chapter format. The only drawback is the weight: one-handed reading will be uncomfortable for some, but on the whole I think the ever-so-slightly heavier paper will be appreciated. The price is certainly a bonus. For the record, this is the only classic which I bought and read straight away, right the way through on the first go!
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LibraryThing member dougwood57
So, no joke, I’m going to review War and Peace? Pointless? Presumptuous? Yes, so feel free to get on with reading this Great Work. Of course I highly recommend that you read War and Peace. Even if I thought it did not live up to expectations, so what? Read it and form your own judgment.

So,
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mainly for my own use, here’s my review. First, the fact that the book is one the Greatest of the Great Books (I mean, it’s *War and Peace*) does get in the way of just reading the book on its own terms, perhaps more than any work. But the book’s daunting length eventually cures you of that concern. Checking in at 1215 pages (including an Epilogue that is around 80 pages long), reading War and Peace is truly a marathon. I admit that at times it was a slog.

I read the new translation by Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky. From my limited research, the husband and wife seem to be generally considered as the best interpreters of Russian literature. How one judges a translation in a language one does not read is problematic, but so be it.

A short summary: In the words of Woody Allen, it involves Russia. Ha-ha. Tolstoy basically follows the lives and fates of three families, all of them rather odd. Of course, hanging over all of them is the Napoleonic War. The story swings back and forth between the home front and the battlefields. Tolstoy’s realistic depictions of battle still seem quite modern in many ways – the fog of war, the wildly mixed emotions within each man’s breast, and the suddenness of death in battle. He also depicts life of the soldiers and life of the generals.

The Rostovs are a noble family in Moscow who have hit hard times and are sliding toward disgrace. The story especially features the deeply annoying Natasha – what a helpless little drama queen! She moves from one crisis to the next, most of them either of her own making or exacerbated by her. Her brother Nikolai tries to perform heroic feats in battle. Little brother Petya provides the sudden tragedy. Over-protected Ma Ma provides the road to poverty with her witless insistence on living her normal life of luxury. The Rostoves are living examples of the need of proper Russian nobles to maintain appearances and of the men to be seen to protect the women (alas, not all Russian nobles are ‘proper’).

We meet Pierre Bezukhov in the books first pages at a fancy party in comparatively racy Petersburg. He is then and remains always extraordinarily introspective and entirely susceptible to the needs of others. He begins quite poor, but his father the count acknowledges his paternity on his death bed. The count dies and suddenly Pierre is the wealthiest man in town. He also moves from one thing to the next, but never by half-measures; no dabbler is he. He marries disastrously (this wife later dies, during the occupation of Moscow, if memory serves). He joins and devotes himself to the Freemasons. He seeks to live a moral life despite his riches.

Pierre always seems stunned like a duck that has been struck upon the head. ‘Dazed and confused’ might be going it a bit too far, but it gives the general idea. He is a space cadet. He is odd. He seeks out the Borodino battlefield and wonders around it. He narrowly misses being killed. At one point, Pierre ludicrously plans to assassinate Napoleon. Later during the occupation of Moscow, he is taken captive where he meets Karataev, a peasant with more sense than Pierre has ever experienced among the nobility. Well-rounded and grounded is Karataev and some of it rubs off on Pierre. He is eventually freed, falls in love with Natasha, and marries her in the first Epilogue – a fairy tale ending that Tolstoy somehow makes seem inevitable and necessary to the reader and thus acceptable.

The Bolokhonsky’s are a noble family of some military notoriety and now ensconced at their Bald Hills Estate. At one time, son Andrei is to marry Natasha Rostov, but the demands of Andrei’s strange father manage to chill that idea (and then Natasha totally destroys it with an ill-conceived and idiotic fling). When war comes, Andrei signs on as aide-de-camp to Kutuzov. Andrei is intoxicated with the idea of glory and honor. He does lead an heroic charge and later organizes an artillery squadron’s even more heroic stand, but Andrei is seriously wounded. His near-death experience sends him spiraling downward. His love for Natasha flares up again, but then he is mortally wounded. Carried home, Andrei dies a long and painful death in her care.

Tolstoy greatly admires the Russian general Kutuzov, who seems to have a mixed reputation among historians. He derides the ‘genius’ Napoleon. On the whole, however, Tolstoy eschews the Great Man approach to history. He regards the outcome of wars as controlled by great forces. In the second epilogue (Yes, there are really two epilogues!), Tolstoy makes it clear that he believes a divine power is the moving force behind man’s actions. He seems not mean, however, that this control occurs in a specifically direct way with the Big Guy with the Beard directing each step. As these things always do, the attempt to reconcile an almighty god with man’s free will becomes hopeless. Tolstoy would have done the reader a favor by leaving out the second epilogue. He should have left it, as he had developed through the course of the book, his rather fatalistic view that the great streams of history so control events that the ability of individual people to change its course is extremely limited.

I have left great swaths of the book untouched. Suffice to say that I am already beginning to think that I need to re-read the book, just a few days after rejoicing when I at last turned the final page. The book is so vast that I begin to feel that one only gets a general grasp on the first reading.
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LibraryThing member jeff.maynes
This review is of the Maude translation, which is the only version of the work I've read. As such, I am in no position to evaluate how well it captures Tolstoy's voice, but the literary style of the work is a joy to read.

War and Peace is simply a magisterial work. In an essay included in an
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Appendix to this edition, Tolstoy tells us that this work is neither novel, poetry nor historical chronicle, and I think he is quite right in this. The book has a sprawling narrative that takes a long time to come together, and even when it does, the reader is often following a number of distinct plot lines. At the same time, Tolstoy intersperses digressions on the nature of history and our overly simplistic understanding of world events. If one were to read the work as a straight story, it would feel disjointed and scattered I suspect.

Yet it accomplishes a pair of goals with such power that one cannot help but be awed by the book. First is the incredible set of characters which he assembles. Tolstoy begins with a guiding idea for each character - Pierre's attempts to reconcile his spiritualism with his daily demeanor in contrast to Andrew's rationalism, or Natasha's overwhelming youth to Sonya's "sterile flower" approach to the Rostov's. These are typically coupled with a physical description that is repeated a number of times throughout (Pierre's size, Mary's eyes). From this simple base, the characters grow to be complex and subtle people. My hypothesis is that it is Tolstoy's mastery of written conversation, in which we get glimpses of real people, rather than bundles of preordained qualities.

His characters also show fragmentation, and this makes them real. Throughout the work, Tolstoy illustrates his claim that events are determined by an immense nexus of causal forces (such as the "spirit" of the arm), rather than the seemingly free decisions of people and leaders. This comes through in his characters. Even while Pierre is undergoing his Masonic transformation, he finds himself unable to change when with friends. Natasha is swept up by the glamor of the theater and Helene and into a terrible mistake. Nicholas' betting scene with Dolokhov stands out as perhaps the best example of this. The underlying virtue of these characters does not make them immune to the situation they find themselves in. Just as our characters are not nearly as unified as we intuitively think they are (see work in situationist psychology), the same holds for Tolstoy's characters. I suspect that this is a vital contributor to their depth. (Indeed, Tolstoy is far better at revealing his characters than he is at describing them - the passages in the Epilogue describing Nicholas and his intuitive relationship to his peasants is a bit jarring in its simplifications and idealization, but it is followed with a set of moving glimpses of his character in his interaction with Mary and in an important conversation with Pierre.)

Indeed, as the characters become more realized to us the readers, the plot is bound together. As the novel progresses, the simple sketches are rounded out, and this brings us along throughout the many branches of the plot.

I have already gestured at Tolstoy's second goal, which is the illustration of his thesis that history is determined by the complex causal history of an event. In a number of chapters he defends this view explicitly, and it gets a full treatment at the end of the novel. While not all of his arguments are entirely convincing (and at times he seems to reify "the spirit of the army" rather than using it as a shorthand for a more complex phenomena), he illustrates his thesis very powerfully. The battle scenes (Austerlitz stuck out to me in this regard) show how military action is determined by small decisions and events, rather than grand strategy. The "great man" thesis is far more intuitive than the one Tolstoy develops, so by showing us how this happens he makes his own view that much easier to grasp.

There is much else one could say about War and Peace. It is the sort of work that envelops you for a long period of time. One ought not read it for a thrilling series of events (though there are many such passages), but rather for a grand sweep of ideas, times and characters. It is an immensely rewarding read.
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LibraryThing member norabelle414
In 1805 Pierre Bezukhov returns to Saint Petersburg to the bedside of his dying father, and ends up inheriting Count Bezukhov’s title and all of his assets. Suddenly, he’s the most eligible (and most socially-awkward) bachelor in all of Russia. All the ladies are after him, and he is very
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confused, so ends up ill-advisedly marrying the seductive and manipulative Helene Kuragin, who is probably sleeping with her equally debauched brother. Whoops! Meanwhile, war is about to break out between Tsar Alexander and Emperor Napoleon, and all the young men want in on it. Pierre’s friend Prince Andrei Bolkonsky wants to go to war to get away from his very amiable, very pregnant wife. 20-year-old Nikolai Rostov of Moscow wants to go to war to prove he is an adult (and he has a huge platonic crush on Tsar Alexander). Nikolai’s best friend Boris wants to go to war because he’s broke, and in love with Nikolai’s 13-year-old sister Natasha. As is everyone else. These men are all very rich and they think war is very glamorous. Turns out, it is not.

The inter-personal plot of this epic tale is quite excellent, but boy is it bogged down by both detailed descriptions of troop movements and battles, as well as Tolstoy’s personal axe-grinding against his contemporaries. It’s possible that it was insightful at the time of publication, but now, not so much.

These characters though! The main characters (especially Pierre and Natasha) are mostly boring and insufferable and deserve each other. But the villains and minor characters are so delightful. Boris’ eventual wife Julie (who is only in about 10 pages of the book) is SUPER GOTH - Boris woos her by writing poetry about death and drawing her a picture of a grave. Pierre’s wife Helene is an awful person but boy does she know how to work with what she’s given. She sleeps with EVERYONE – her brother (a great villain), Pierre’s houseguest Dolokov (also a great villain), Boris (boring except for his great taste in women), a government official and a Catholic priest (playing them against each other in an elaborate plot to divorce Pierre), and dies in a botched abortion. Truly a legend. Tolstoy is not particularly great at writing women, certainly not by today’s standards, but just due to the fact that there are 600 named characters in this book, by default some of the female characters have to be unique and interesting. Good job! On the flip side from the villains is sweet Denisov, Nikolai’s mentor and Natasha’s first suitor. His only characteristics are that he is nice to everyone and he talks with a lisp and he likes to eat sausages while writing letters.
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LibraryThing member wordygirl39
I've waited ten years for Pevear and Volokhonsky to translate War and Peace so I could read it in a GREAT modern edition. I'm reading it now and love it. A good translation makes all the difference. Garnet's translation was good for its time--but this one is amazing.
LibraryThing member Dands47
I really enjoyed this epic novel, yes it is long but ones life is long, one can not tell the story of a period in many lives in 300 pages! The character list is lengthy and I did sometimes loss track of who was who, especially as the character often have formal and informal lives.

I read this in a
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week and it was time well spent, it is a compelling read that I truly enjoyed the characters are engaging and I couldn't wait to get through the pages to find out what became of them all.
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LibraryThing member yooperprof
I read W & P for the first time as a teenager, when it meant everything to me, and completely changed the way I looked at the world. Now, re-reading the book shortly before my 50th birthday, I have to admit that it meant less to me on the second go-through.

Perhaps I'm less tolerant of the lecturing
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tone that Tolstoy employs through so much of the text.

I still think that there are chapters in W & P that are as brilliantly written as anything written by anyone anywhere. (c.f. Natasha's first big ball, the big Rostov hunt scene, Prince Andrei's reflections before and after meeting Natasha, Pierre wandering about on the Borodino battlefield.) But maybe the proportion of these "good scenes" is smaller than I remember.

And however much you have to respect the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, it really seems clear that Count Tolstoy could have used a good editor.

In summary, I guess I'd argue that every serious reader needs to read W & P once in their life. A second time? Prolly not really necessary.
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LibraryThing member conniekronlokken
This one I also "read" long ago. Actually it was read to me by Alexander Scourby on long-playing records in 1969 because I was able to get "books for the blind" at the time. I still hear the prose in his deep, resonant voice. I was a big fan of Russian literature at the time, and this has never
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ceased. I was especially glad to counteract the Dostoyevskian Christianity I had been taught with Tolstoy's idea that the kingdom of God is within you.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
I was surprised once I finally read this book. It was much more readable then I expected, and much more of a novel - romantic, even - then I expected. The philosophizing at the end was heavy-handed and detracted from the whole.
LibraryThing member AlCracka
So, I read this. It took a couple minutes.

Some of it is the same old stuff I remember from Anna Karenina: huge numbers of rich people screwing each other over. But the other stuff - I guess that's the "War" stuff, although it's mostly all war, one way or another - the stuff about Napoleon
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surprised me because I don't think Tolstoy saw this as "historical fiction." I think he saw it as some fiction parts, and some history parts, and during the history parts he really meant for you to almost switch gears entirely. He did original research: interviewed veterans, visited battlefields. He wrote an enormous novel, interspersed with an enormous history book. Neat, right? It's like a mashup. A really, really long mashup. Holy shit! It's like when Danger Mouse released that album-length mashup of the Beatles' White album (representing history) and Jay-Z's Black album (representing rich people screwing each other)!

Now you know exactly like War & Peace is like. I'm so much awesomer than Sparknotes.

I didn't like this as well as I liked Anna Karenina. Maybe it's because I read AK first, so Tolstoy's tricks - the sprawling casts, the terrifying knowledge of human nature - aren't new to me anymore. Or, maybe it's because W&P is too fucking long. You know this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy? Ha, Tolstoy was such an asshole. And that 40 pages at the end...whew. That's some Ayn-Rand-near-the-end-of-Atlas-Shrugged BS right there (my wife's point, not mine), and you know how I feel about Atlas Shrugged.

That said, though, saying "I liked Anna Karenina better" is like saying "I liked having sex with whats-her-name from Weeds better." The bar is high. War & Peace is a very good book. And I liked the historical stuff, even if it's pretty clear that all that high-minded talk about history's drift could have been summed up as "I totally hate Napoleon."

Translation(s) Review
I read the Briggs and Pevear & Volokhonsky translations alternately. Just swapped back and forth at random. I don't recommend it. They spell names slightly differently, and Briggs has Denisov speak like Barbara Walters for some reason, so the switch is confusing. But here's my verdict: they're both fine. I give the edge to Pevear & Volokhonsky, but only if you don't mind some French; it feels like a lot, but it's only 2%. I do think Briggs can be a bit clunky - and I now know, from P&V's amusingly catty intro, that Briggs wussed out on a bit of Tolstoy's weird tendency to repeat words like six times in a paragraph. (But Briggs' afterword, by Figes, is better.) Really, you're good either way.
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LibraryThing member cait815
I am no longer afraid of the big ass Russian novel.* Who knew it would be so readable? The most difficult thing about it was keeping all of the characters straight, but even that was only in the beginning. By the end of the book, the characters were so fully drawn that I couldn't believe that I'd
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once had to rely on a cheat sheet remember who they were or what relation they had to one another.

I'm kind of peeved that I can't give this book 5 stars**. Overall, I thought it was fantastic. I even liked the war sections. Well, the "action" war sections that featured our characters, not the "strategy" war sections where Tolstoy basically repeated his views on history and the war over and over and over again. That and the second epilogue kept me from being completely enamored. Come on, Leo! End it with a bang, not a whimper!

By the way, I'm totally Team Andrei.



*Or the big ass French novel, for that matter. I'm still kind of scared of the big ass American novel (looking at you, Herman "whale anatomy" Melville), and I sometimes have PTSD-like flashbacks from my monthlong run in with the big ass Irish novel (you know who you are, James "snotgreen
scrotumtightening sea" Joyce).

**Give me a year and I will forgive you for your whimper of an ending. This book was pretty freaking amazing.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
It took Tolstoy five years to write this bad boy. It took me four and a half years to read it. Though massive, size alone is not the reason it took me so long finish one novel. Life sort of got in the way. I started the novel in 2009, knowing it would take some months to complete, but then I
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started an MFA program and, well, there just wasn't room in my life for War and Peace. I could've jumped right back in once I graduated two years ago, but there were always excuses: it's summer, you can't read Tolstoy in the summer; but I'm right in the middle of such-and-such; I can't read that tome now, it'll hurt my reading challenge for the year. What a whiner I can be. Anyway, I decided this year I was going to bear down, read some of those massive works I've been eager to read, among them War and Peace.

I love Tolstoy. I have for some time. My love for Tolstoy is in part a love for the writer and his work, but it probably has just as much to do with Tolstoy the person. I feel Tolstoy and I are in many ways like-spirits: his paradoxical personality, his so-called radical morality, his asceticism. I can identify. Hell, if there's one person I know who's likely to have a fit in the middle of night in the middle of winter and wander off and die, it's me. And when I'm 81 years old, I want to have a beard just like that.

So my appreciation for Tolstoy's written work is probably greater than it would be if I didn't consider the man a direct line to the divine. Even so, I love Tolstoy the writer. Yes, sometimes he got lost in his thoughts, taken away by some philosophical rant that in hindsight doesn't seem that insightful. But that's because his thoughts have been ingrained on us in 2013. Radical non-violence is commonplace as we occupy streets from New York City to Pittsburg, Kansas, but to Gandhi and the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US in the 60s, Tolstoy's writings, particularly The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were momentous. So Tolstoy rambled quite a bit, and War and Peace was certainly no exception. Throughout the novel his views of historians were expressed. He ends the novel with a very long rant, presenting his theories of history and historians. It's a horrible ending, grinding down the novel's greatest moments into a blunt and worn thin point. But it's Tolstoy, so first of all, it's expected, and secondly, his epic tale makes up for it.

Tolstoy put together such a wonderful cast of characters, weaved them throughout a story that was interesting and beautiful. And I fell for it. All the guys go ga-ga over Natasha, and I'm like WHY? She's shallow, immature, and not even very pretty, but—oh wow, Natasha, I think I'm falling in love with you. There's the impulsive Pierre, whose awkwardness eventually grew on me. And Andrei, he does some jerky things, but through his epiphanies I was eventually able to empathize with him. Then there were the four hundred or so other characters, many of whom I loved. I guess spending nearly five years of my life (granted, off and on) with these characters attached me to them.

So Tolstoy rambled and he got wordy and he occasionally showed his own shallow ignorance (that which he had at a tender Tolstoy age of forty), but War and Peace is still one hell of a novel. It's not for everyone, and those not particularly interested probably shouldn't read it; stick with something shorter by Tolstoy (which would be any of this other offerings). I'm glad I got it out of the way first because I'm fairly confident much of Tolstoy's later writing will appeal to me more. In fact, I'm eager to get started. It may have taken five years to read this puppy, but I'm hopeful that I will have knocked out several of Tolstoy's other works by 2018. And if not, I'm sure I'll have many great excuses why I didn't.
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LibraryThing member BookAddict
I had to read this book because a lot of other Russian literature refers to Tolstoy's works, especially this one. It was interesting but challenging to get through.
It is definately an elitists view of Russia. I would now like to read the same thing from the peasants point of view! :)
The characters
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were entirely frustrating and I wasn't really fond of any of them. The women were all portrayed as a bunch of airheads. Natasha, who is supposed to be Tolstoy's depiction of the ideal woman, is the most annoying, trivial, brainless person I have ever read of. Marya is supposed to be Tolstoy's ideal of the good spiritual woman. I didn't see her as spiritual at all but she was religious. Everyone in the book fell in love at the drop of a pin. It seems you can be madly in love by just looking at a complete stranger LOL
The most impressive thing about this book by far was the battles, Tolstoy's view of how the war between Russia and France unfolded and concluded, and the philosophy. I also learned a lot about the 'lack' of art and strategy of the old sword and cannon combat style of warfare. LOL It's these qualities that make it Russia's greatest novel.
Glad it's finished! :)
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LibraryThing member ErnestHemingway
“I’ve been reading all the time down here. Turgenieff to me is the greatest writer there ever was. Didn’t write the greatest books, but was the greatest write. That’s only for me of course. Did you ever read short story of his called The Rattle of Wheels? It’s in the 2nd vol. of A
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Sportsman’s Sketches. War and Peace is the best book I know but imagine what a book it would have been if Turgenieff had written it. Chekov wrote about 6 good stories. But he was an amateur writer. Tolstoi was a prophet. Maupassant was a professional writer, Balzac was a professional writer, Turgenieff was an artist.”
Letter to Archibald MacLeish, 1925
Selected Letters, pg. 179

"Tolstoi made the writing of Stephen Crane on the Civil War seem like the brilliant imagining of a sick boy who had never seen war but had only read the battles and chronicles and seen the Brady photographs that I had read and seen at my grandparents' house."
A Moveable Feast, pg. 133-134

"...Books should be about the people you know, that you know, that you love and hate, not about the poeple you study up about... Then when you have more time read another book called War and Peace by Tolstoi and see how you will have to skip the big Political Thought passages, that he undoubtedly thought were the best things in the book when he wrote it, because they are no longer either true or important, if they ever were more than topical, and see how true and lasting and important the people and the action are. Do not let them deceive you about what a book should be because of what is in the fashion now."
By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, pg. 184
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Finally!!!! Yes, it was sort of fun in a snobbish way, to carry around this door stop of a book and have people comment on the fact that I was reading it--if they really believed I was reading it and not just carrying it around to look smart. But I am more than glad to have finished this behemouth.
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Of course, now I have to try and review it, which is liable to expose my less than intelligent reading of it shamefully obviously. So let's just lay it out in the open, I am not nearly intelligent enough to read this anymore. (I say anymore because once upon a time I was truly smart and could read brain-challenging things like this, get something out of them, and converse thoughtfully on them. Not so much anymore.) So. My opinion of War and Peace? It's more like a novel and a philosophical treatise mashed into one and this less than discerning, very superficial reader found this an uneasy pairing. I think I read somewhere that Tolstoy most liked the bits I didn't so I probably missed the entire point of the book. What I liked: the domestic scenes, the characters' lives and interactions which showed war and peace perhaps better than the instances I didn't like. What I didn't like: the authorial intrusions discussing what makes a great military leader or the nature of war, and the extended accounting of troop movements and the intricacies of battle made my eyes glaze over with boredom. These bits were eminently soporific and contributed to the length of time it took me to read the book since I would page forward to see how long I had to endure what I was reading before getting back to the actual characters and when I saw with dismay the sheer number of pages of this ahead of me, I promptly stashed a bookmark in the book and took a nap. I have caught up on my sleep until 2010 (I had a lot of back sleep to catch up on) as a result. Had we managed to stay with the Bolkonskys, the Bezukhovs, the Rostovs, and the Kuragins, among others, I would have been a much happier reader, as the twists and turns in their lives and fortunes was most engrossing for me. As it stands though, War and Peace contains both halves and so while I feel a sense of accomplishment for having read it from cover to cover, I'm not sure it's something I can recommend to any but those who already want to check it off their lifetime reading lists.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Oh my God. All of life, not all at once as my conventional phrase goes, but in a rolling, sprawling inexorability and you think, oh yeah, no book can be true if it's less than 1443 pages. A character makes his entrance and his exit, and in between you know him, you think "It's Adam!" or
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"lj_starksnow!" or whomever the hell, and you know, if he tried to do what his loose modern descendents, the Urises and Rutherfurds &et at try to do, say "It's only truly representative and the story of a people if it's the story of ALL the people," and put in lots of peasants and junk, well, you'll be on the side of the angels in class-struggle terms, but you'll also fail. With this extended family, this tiny world, that controls the whole of the biggest widest nation in the world, if it was any bigger it would crumble and if it was any smaller it wouldn't tell the story of a war and a people. And yeah it's a kind of cheat, but there's also that wonderful Hogwartsianness of it, and out in the world things are going on and then trouble visits you at home. Napoleon is pretty much Lord Voldemort, is what I'm saying.

And the plundering of the French destroys the city and the plundering of the Russians resurrects it, and that blew my mind harder than anything else in a pretty long time. And what he does to Natasha, well, I can't accept it, but I can and do twig that it's a challenge, that he's saying "This it what it means to truly love life, so fucking swallow that shit," and who knows? maybe it'll come to that for me one day too. In the meantime - I finished "War and Peace," Mr. Dodds, and today I am a man. Best book ever.
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LibraryThing member DRFP
There's always a worry with such great works like this one that they won't live up to the hype.

For 2/3 of its length W&P *does* and is an excellent read. Everything is suitably grand, as is Tolstoy's style, and his prose is wonderfully easy to read as well.

However the final 1/3 of the novel,
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starting with Napoleon's invasion of Russia, drags the rest of the epic down. From there on in Tolstoy goes into historian mode, spending many chapters reiterating the same points over and over again, temporarily forgetting all about his characters.

Some of that context is nice, but Tolstoy certainly over does it. If most of it were edited out then I might just give this work the full 5 stars. As it is, just 4 will have to do.
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Pages

1296

ISBN

0307266931 / 9780307266934
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