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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace (1868)

by Leo Tolstoy

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I enjoyed this book. It's not as good as Anna Karenina, but it's still worth the read. I'll admit that I was bored by the war part. The development of the characters is amazing but the lengthy interludes of the descriptions of the Napoleonic battles ruined a bit of that for me. Those parts are probably very interesting for someone who has an interest in the politics and fighting of the Napoleonic wars.. Worth the read. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
Wow, what a book. I'd call it an extended essay on free will, inevitability, the causes of events, the bias of historians in recording events, and humanity's innate inability to understand its own existence. The novel, or romance, or whatever else you want to call the fictional part of the book, illustrates Tolstoy's thinking and, despite making up roughly 80% of the book, is an aside to the thoughts captured in the second epilogue. The book isn't a novel in the accepted sense of the word. It is a philosophy, a theory, an allegory, a history, a fable. It is confusing and frustrating, but above all wonderfully written. The characters are beautifully observed. The essay parts might be repetitive, pedagogical, didactic, but they are an interesting insight into Tolstoy's thinking. In the fiction, too, Tolstoy isn't afraid of tough plot developments, things that are true to life, things that other novelists might shy away from in favour of happiness and happenstance. I'm very glad I've read it. ( )
1 vote missizicks | Mar 12, 2014 |
I read this for the first time as part of a Basic Program class in the fall of 1990. While my reading was to be spread over ten weeks I soon found myself rushing ahead of that pace as the novel gripped my imagination. The book is an epic masquerading as a novel about the relationships among a small group of Russian families focusing on Pierre Bezukhov's individuation in particular. It tracks his journey of transformation from a strong thinking function orientation to a mature adult with a well-developed feeling function. Pierre put himself at risk by wandering around the Battle of Borodino watching and experiencing life close up to find out why men live, love, and go to war. He survived the front line, prison camp, and the falling temperatures of the French retreat march from Moscow and lived to return to Moscow.
Pierre's best friend, Prince Andrei, engaged to Natasha after the death of his wife in childbirth, became estranged from Natasha after her abortive elopement with Anatole. Andrei, mortally wounded on the battlefield, watched his friend Anatole die in an adjacent bunk during an amputation of his leg.

Later, during the evacuation of Moscow before the French army, Tolstoy put Natasha and Andrei in the same cortege of carts and they were reunited. Natasha nursed Andrew until he died in her arms. Now Nicholas, her brother, was free to marry Princess Mary (Andrew's sister), and Natasha, of course to marry her Pierre. In the book, both of the marriages were consummated and spawned children and happiness.
Tolstoy makes powerful points about war and He explains that historians construct neat scenarios to explain what happened, then what happened next, etc., but that these tight, rational schemes never existed in the realities of war and peace. Instead men placed themselves in dire situations and took individual actions (sometimes en masse) that are later seen to have been a result of some command or another.

The hero of the invasion and retreat from Moscow in Tolstoy's mind was General Kutuzov. The Russian commander-in-chief refused to allow his troops to fight in their exhausted state after Borodino, saying he preferred to lose Moscow rather than all his troops and Moscow. He withdrew his army beyond Moscow, leaving the Holy city of Russia wide open to the advancing French army. Once inside the Kremlin, Napoleon was abandoned by his army who busied themselves plundering Moscow, and he was trapped by the on-rush of the Russian winter. With supplies dwindling and no deputation from the Russians to sue for peace, Napoleon was forced to abandon a smoldering Moscow. The Russian winter's temperature plummeted to below zero and killed 90% of Napoleon's army during the disastrous trek back to France with Kutuzov's troops on their heels all the way to the border.
But in the end it is the families as exmplified by the Rostovs and Pierre that are at the heart of this epic novel. ( )
  jwhenderson | Feb 21, 2014 |
Learn about the Russian/Napoleonic wars and aristocratic Russian life while also being lectured about why the Great Men theory of history is bunk. It's no Dostoyevsky, but good albeit so time consuming ( )
  Achromatic | Feb 16, 2014 |
The epic novel that follows a small cast of characters from 1805-1820 during Russia's wars with Napoleon.

Reviewing such a massive novel in any sort of succinct and coherent way is beyond my skills. Instead, I'll simply state that if you've ever considered picking up this tome, don't let its reputation and size scare you away. The novel itself is highly readable and the narrative is compelling enough to keep the pages turning at a decent rate. The language (at least in my translation) is clear and the chapters are short, which makes the story feel like it's moving along quickly. As is the case with any epic novel, I had story lines and characters I preferred to others but no one narrative arc ever takes centre stage for too long. Tolstoy deftly weaves together scenes from major battles between the Russian army and Napoleon's forces with events happening in Moscow and St. Petersburg, preventing battle description fatigue. He also brilliantly creates a cast of characters who vary widely but are all highly believable (for the men anyway).

Of course, with any massive tome that takes weeks to read, there are also things that drive you crazy. In my case, some of Tolstoy's depictions and descriptions of women made me shriek in frustration at their misogyny. Also, Tolstoy's occasional digressions on approaches to history began to wear thin - particularly his extended discussion of it in the second epilogue (which I didn't read all of) - although happily these only take up a few chapters in the final five books.

A book I'm very proud to knock off the reading bucket list but not one I'm likely to revisit. ( )
  MickyFine | Jan 30, 2014 |
Strange book--a big novel, but not a novel. I was there with the characters, in the salons, in Moscow and Petersburg, in the country, at war, at peace. But there's also the puzzle, "What is history," and the question, "Why do men go to war?", both woven into the story being told by the narrator, who steps in an out of the tale. Wonderful book. ( )
  wrk1 | Jan 15, 2014 |
I've read this twice, the first time when I found it in a youth hostel years ago. People often refer to long, boring books as being like "War and Peace" - something only a few hardy people can reach the end of, like getting to the top of Everest. But there are plenty of fat, boring "airport" novels that are just as big, and are repetitive, tedious crap. War and Peace is interesting and entertaining, even if it does trail away at the end into essay-mode. Count Peter Bezukhov (or Pierre) might be the first recorded super-nerd in literature.
( )
  AMcBurnie | Nov 27, 2013 |
This story was a drag.

I tried I really did. In hopes of learning one of the great stories of history I decided to go with the Audio book. This is why it jumped out at me as it was the largest Audio Book in the library. 48 CDs. As far as an audio book production quality it was fairly well. The foreigner reading the English version was good, the end of each CD was properly announced, the beginning of the next likewise, and the track splits made sense. 48 CDs is a lot to manage, and I think about 3 or 4 MP3 CDs would have been better. The Library still had this item marked as NEW yet the box was already falling apart. That is a problem. Worst of all I couldn't renew it because the audio book was already reserved for someone else.

The story dragged on and on and on. After the first 6 discs nothing had really happened. Some guy died, someone else joined the army and a bunch of rich bastards talked about how great it is that French people kill other people, and how awesome it is to get drunk. After having to return the discs due to what was described above, I decided to watch the movie before I wrote this review. I got about half way through the 4 hour movie before I realized I still wasn't following it due to how much it dragged on and on about nothing.

Save yourself some time, unless you need to for a class, or you have a much stronger desire than I to read it just because its classic literature, don't. ( )
  fulner | Nov 18, 2013 |
Notes on War & Peace, halfway through (31 Oct)

- A four star book. It's not all that - not the best thing I've read this year (Mason & Dixon and Life A Users Manual), nor the best major nineteenth century novel as far as I'm concerned (Middlemarch or Bleak House). But it's certainly not terrible.
- Changed from the Edmonds translation to P&V after about 100pp. Whilst P&V do make word choices that annoy me and sometimes sound too modern, there is a liveliness to their version that makes it quicker to read and easier to concentrate on. Given that I just want to get through the thing, that was the priority. (I can understand why some people call this book boring.)
- P&V's intro, notes and summaries of historical characters are great and mean it's almost possible to read the book without needing anything else. What they could really have done with adding, though, is a good selection of maps.
- Quite a bit of W&P is, in the pejorative, lazy sense, Jane Austen-ish: narrowly concerned with aristocratic society and the marriage prospects of young nobles & gentry of the Napoleonic War era. Though with a little more high feeling and scandal than JA would include.
- Emotions are frequently stronger than in British nineteenth century classics. (Oh, those Russians!) And there's an interesting dichotomy of greater insolence (saying or doing various things that would just be unthinkably bad form to the English, without consequence of being entirely shunned from all society) alongside greater worship of authority.
- I don't find Tolstoy to have any more startling insight into human nature than many other well-regarded novelists. Again, he's in no way bad, simply not exceptional among them. He is also overly fond of generalisations about human behaviour and types, a pet hate of mine in fictional narratives, though admittedly a nineteenth century ubiquity. He wrote the book at the age I am now, and I would say that one of the most important things I've learned as an adult is the importance of variation between people and that generalisations, whilst they are incredibly easy to make based on cumulative experience, get in the way of understanding and relating to individuals.
- Perhaps it's inevitable I'd say this being primarily a historian rather than [remind me what the term is for literature grads] but the political and military sections are a heck of a lot more interesting than most of the society stuff in town. (Though the country scenes and landscapes are what I love best. My favourite scene of all so far is Christmas at the Rostovs, which brought to mind the most joyful bits of Bergman's Fanny & Alexander.)
- They simply couldn't help it, being permitted so little access to more interesting things to think about and do, but most of the female characters are relatively dull, with the exception of Marya, with her religion, charity and quiet battle against and not to be like her tyrannical father.
- Religion and a religious message is more significant than in British novels of the time IIRC, though I can't say I'm bothered by it, it's just historically interesting.
- As I remember thinking when I read the first 150pp or so at the start of Oct, (the rest I've read this week) this is a book of fairly normal characters who are included in their mainstream society; there are no Steppenwolves in War & Peace.
- It's quite a relaxing book because - though there is the odd paragraph or scene - it rarely brings up sad memories or reminds me of people I've known.
- Pierre and Andrei are engaged in various sorts of philosophical journey, where what they are doing with their time, their relationships, and all of their lives tends to be bound up in a set of feelings and ideas that is a complete world view which changes over time. (Marya is perhaps similar, it's just that her philosophy is so far entirely static, whilst P & A each change over a number of years in a way I personally understand.)
- Tolstoy is rude about the appearances of so many characters in a way I can rarely recall from a serious writer. Some of these descriptions perhaps sound more pejorative nowadays, but there are people described as unattractive etc. At the start he also seemed fixated on describing characters' mouths but this has now worn off.
- Given the size of the book I do miss inclusion of significant characters from the middle and working classes in a way that wouldn't really be fair comment on a 300 page novel, or about one which wasn't so frequently described as all-encompassing, “a complete picture of the Russia of its day” etc. Tolstoy, and some of the protagonists, are evidently sympathetic to improving the lives of peasants, but it's all much more distant and marginal than in his English counterparts. (And probably worse conditions: a minor character recounts that he gave three families of house serfs for a pedigree hunting dog. How did their living conditions – as serfs or freemen - compare with those of Industrial Revolution factory workers? Tolstoy is not the place to find out.)
- Never would have occurred to me until I saw it frequently repeated in user reviews that W&P is not a typical novel. Perhaps because of the sort of thing I've been reading, it seems rather conventional in all but size. The other day I found that Will Self had written a rather good introduction to an edition of The Master & Margarita. Among other things he had phrased much better, and embellished, an idea I was also trying to get at in another post a few weeks ago. ...quite as wrongheaded as imagining Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote to be precursors of literary postmodernism. The truth is that all styles and modes of fictionalising were attempted before the crystallisation of the social-realist novel in the nineteenth century; that this one mode has become a deadening - near-Stalinist – orthodoxy says much about the extent to which literature is the complaisant poodle of post-Enlightenment progressivism, and very little about the rites that may be performed at the altar of high art.
- It requires a sort of zen will to endurance that's something I associate with learning or re-learning certain physical skills more than with reading. Though I remember noticing it when I read The Luminaries (830 pages) a couple of months ago. (Also, I reckon Catton got her "infinite sky" - at the start - from W&P.)
- Getting way ahead of myself! Was browsing editions of Proust.
- I'd agree with whoever it was who told me a few years ago that War & Peace isn't difficult, it's just long. It's much like sitting through a classical symphony by a composer not quite to my taste; the structural co-ordination is the most impressive thing about it.

2 Oct.
Why I Prefer Edmonds' Translation over P&V
Being someone who's picky about translations, I know very well how highly praised Pevear & Volokhonsky are. I read whole preview samples of as many translations as possible before choosing the one I'll read, and theirs jars and reads as if it was done by someone with an imperfect knowledge of English. On the first page alone I found three choices which sounded wrong. (I did, however, like the decision to show French in the main text and translate it in the footnotes, no doubt reflecting the effect of the original.)
- grippe was a new word then, used only by rare people
"Rare people"? Is Tolstoy's Russian word as comparatively odd in the context of the language's normal usage?
Edmonds: "grippe being then a new word used only by a few people". That sounds quite right.
- the entering prince replied
Does the Russian also feature a potential double entendre?
Edmonds: "replied the prince as he came forward". Reads smoothly - I can concentrate on this without starting to imagine porn/ Carry on Russia.
- which are proper to a significant man who has grown old...
significant? Again, it's just not the word we use. Edmonds: "a distinguished man who has spent a long life"
There are many more as it goes on, needless to say.

I want something I can read without constantly editing in my head and being distracted: that's what Edmonds provides. Perhaps if I were re-reading, a P&V edition with extensive footnotes on their word decisions would be interesting and educational, but it is not the text for me if I want simply to read a novel.
2 vote antonomasia | Nov 3, 2013 |
Does this novel truly need my five-star review? NO. Simply one of the best works of fiction ever written. ( )
  ErinKennedy | Sep 29, 2013 |
very indepth look at the French invasion of Russia, but the epilogue[about history, free will and necessity] killed it. ( )
  Bookstooge | Sep 26, 2013 |
I've tried to read this thing a billion times. Life's too short.
  KateBond | Sep 20, 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. ( )
1 vote Luli81 | Sep 6, 2013 |
I cannot say I thought highly of this book. It was very 1860ish and I simply don't appreciate the style and mood of those type books. I cannot say I thought the book as good as The Forsyte Saga, e.g., though War and Peace has a much greater reputation. Yet I would be a hypocrite if I said I liked it better. [I started the book in 1953 and then not till March of 1955 did I resume reading in it. I should have read it from beginning to end without such a big gap in the time I spent reading ir.] ( )
  Schmerguls | Aug 2, 2013 |
So ultimately, what do we have here? Over the course of 3.5 weeks in the summer of 2013, I spent 1-2 hours of my life each day (on average) to read the behemoth that is War & Peace. And to what end? To make me a better person? To the extent that being better-read can make you a better person, I suppose so.

Tolstoy, if he cared to (he wouldn't), would ask, "What caused Blake to read this book? Was it really his decision?" He would say not. He would say that it was the product of hundreds or thousands of little movements and actions on the part of the most insignificant lumberjack, miller, typesetter, teacher, parent, teacher of my parents, parents of my teachers, cafeteria worker in the school at which my teachers and parents attended, et al. that led me to this moment. He would then spend 50-100 pages criticizing historians for saying it could be any other way. And he would throw in an epic love story somewhere in his analysis and it might become another seminal work of world literature.

In all sincerity, I feel too insignificant to be able to meaningfully critique this book. But as with most of my reviews I want to register my thoughts and impressions so that I can personally look back on them. My thoughts on W&P are that it is most definitely not perfect, despite being captivating, heartbreaking, and magnificent in every sense of the word. A "Four-and-a-half" would be my ideal rating because "Four" is too low, but so it goes. It joins 90 or so other books among my favorites of all time.

Having heard of Tolstoy in general and of this book in particular for over half my life (or since I read [b:Crime and Punishment|7144|Crime and Punishment |Fyodor Dostoyevsky|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347560919s/7144.jpg|3393917] in high school), I am proud of myself for finally reading it. It looms as one of those monuments of literature that every serious book-lover should read at some point, maybe as sort of an initiation. Overriding my pride, however, were my delight and amazement at encountering such a compelling and moving story, with characters whom I loved and for whom I suffered. In other words, it was not anything like the slog I half-feared upon beginning.

It was the soap opera aspect of the novel that most impressed me, particularly how much I found myself enjoying it. The only other story I've read that was even close in this respect was [b:One Hundred Years of Solitude|320|One Hundred Years of Solitude|Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327881361s/320.jpg|3295655], but Tolstoy's focus on just four or five characters over 15 years sets W&P apart. Such a tight focus allows you to know them intimately and grow with them over time, as opposed to Garcia's work, where you sort of feel like a parade of characters is passing in front of you and you're just there to notice them for a little while.

I'm not a soap opera fan in general, and Tolstoy used some of the worst aspects of them here -- predictability; uncanny, plot-driving coincidences -- but overall it worked well. It also bothered me that he tended to allow major confrontations and plot moments to occur off-page, only telling you later about them. But it's a quibble. The bottom line is that you love Pierre, Natasha, Andrei and even Nikolai and Marya at times. Their development is believable and organic. The details of their lives and personalities are crystal clear.

The war segments are also compelling although they suffer in comparison due to the lack of one or two characters who you really care about (Nikolai and Andrei make appearances but really play incidental roles). However, Tolstoy mostly makes up for it with his descriptions of battle and his biting commentary on the pathetic reality of military order and history, for him a complete sham.

These were the scenes that offered some of the most rewarding moments for reflection. Yes, his theory of history is repetitive and overly deterministic at best, yet some of his points are not only salient but difficult to refute: the fact that no commander-in-chief, neither Napoleon nor Alexandor nor Kutuzov or anyone else actually controlled any of the troops in a meaningful way; that the reasons for sending hundreds of thousands of people to their deaths were unpardonably weak; the incomprehensibility of battle as opposed to the narratives that emerge afterward. These are all vital statements on war and existence, and Tolstoy delivers them with the artfully effective touch of a master.

Moreover, the war segments had me realizing that this is one of the first existentialist/nihilistic works of literature, something I didn't know going into it. I know Tolstoy studied Schopenhauer during the writing of W&P, but when reading Camus, Sartre, Nietzche, or even Dostoyevsky, I haven't often seen Tolstoy's name mentioned among them for his existentialist tendencies. You certainly see the seeds of [b:Catch-22|168668|Catch-22|Joseph Heller|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1359882576s/168668.jpg|814330] in the absurdities catalogued here, or even the mystical ramblings of the film "The Thin Red Line." I had no idea that Tolstoy was one of the first.

The difference between Tolstoy and those other authors is that none of them can give you goosebumps as Tolstoy does when after 1000 pages of torment and suffering for the Russian troops, you see Kutuzov obtain one of his most cherished goals:Bolkhovitinov first reported in detail what he had been ordered to.

"Speak, speak quicker, don't torment my soul," Kutuzov interrupted him.

Bolkhovitinov told him everything and fell silent, awaiting orders. Toll began to say something, but Kutuzov interrupted him. He wanted to say something, but suddenly his face shriveled, wrinkled; waving his hand at Toll, he turned the other way , to the corner of the room with its blackened icons.

"Lord, my Creator! Thou hast heeded our prayer. . ." he said in a trembling voice, clasping his hands. "Russia is saved. I thank Thee, Lord!" And he wept.

(Vol.IV, Part Two, Ch. XVII)I also had another interesting experience with this book, which was an awakening as to the importance of the translation. I began with the Wordsworth Classic edition which used the Maude translation. However, the print was too small and I suspected it was causing headaches so I borrowed the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation from the library, ignorant of what it might mean to change translations "midstream." The difference is unmistakable. Whereas the former exuded a sterile formality, the latter ebbed and flowed in such a natural way, seeming to much more closely approximate Tolstoy's authentic style. Or perhaps it's not more authentic, but it's certainly more enjoyable. I will definitely be seeking their version of [b:Anna Karenina|15823480|Anna Karenina|Leo Tolstoy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1352422904s/15823480.jpg|2507928].

As a closing thought, I also must say that I really loved how unabashedly Tolstoy attacked Napoleon throughout the second half of the book. My knowledge of post-revolutionary French history is poor so I can't confirm or refute any of Tolstoy's arguments, but they were still richly entertaining and I admire his audacity. And in general, this book has done more to teach me about Russian society and history than the 15 or so other Russian books I've read combined. On top of its narrative merits, it works as an amazingly informative portrayal of one of the most formative eras of the Slavic people. ( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
Good, but no Anna Karenina ( )
  Brendan.H | Jul 21, 2013 |
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 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. ( )
1 vote chrisblocker | Jul 15, 2013 |
I've had this book on my shelf for a long time, but have always been intimidated by the length and the reputation of this epic story. I finally armed myself with the audio book, print copy of the book, and a copy of the character map from Wikipedia and began. After 4 weeks (1200 pages and 64 hours of narration), I finished the book... and I loved it.

The book is really two parallel stories. The first is about 4 different Russian aristocratic families, the Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, the Kuragins and the Bezukhovs. The book opens in 1805, when many of the main characters are on the brink of adulthood. Spanning 8 years, the characters grow from idealistic young aristocrats to mature adults who have experienced sacrifice and loss. The second story is about the Napoleonic War in Russia and features not only the main fictional characters, but also many historical figures of the time, such as Napoleon and Alexander I. Covering the complicated relationship between these 2 emperors, the epic story unfolds, from the initial war between France and Russia, to an uneasy alliance between the 2 countries, and finishes with the Napoleon's invasion that leads to his ultimate defeat.

Although the book is LONG, I found the writing descriptive and not overly wordy. I loved the descriptions of Tsarist Russia and the social strata between the aristocracy and the serfs. Even simple events, like a wolf hunt, were captivating and beautifully written. Although many people criticize Tolstoy for his preachy style when he discusses his views on history and the war, I found these diversions from the story very interesting. His philosophy on whether major events are caused by people (like Napoleon), the environment at that time in history, or society was fascinating.

I alternated between listening and reading. The audio version I had was narrated by Neville Jason, and it was superb. Overall, a great experience.

( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
It would need more than courage to start this one.
  Sumit_Nangia | Apr 20, 2013 |
Exhaustive account of five Russian families during the Napoleonic and French Wars. Never boring, but hard to absorb at times. Once I got used to the Russian names (and nicknames) it wasn't too bad of an expereince. A lot of details, but intriuging all the way. Not as memorable for it's story as it is for it's massiveness. Finally read it for bragging rights more than interest (even though it was on my TBR forever). ( )
  srboone | Apr 19, 2013 |
Read this book as a teen and I remember I really loved it. Wanna read again, this tiem in English. (The first copy was translated in Dutch) ( )
  Marlene-NL | Apr 12, 2013 |
War and Peace was one of those books I always intended to get round to, someday, when I had more time. Since I'm unlikely to find myself with more free time than I have now in the future, it's probably for the best that my dad dared me to read the whole book -- he was quite specific about this -- including the epilogue. The whole epilogue. In translation, obviously, although he did jokingly suggest I learn Russian first and try it then.

I have to say, I loved it. The quote on the spine of my edition is: "It's a book that you don't just read, you live." And to some extent, that's true. I started out reading it intending to read one hundred pages a day -- a pretty easy goal for me, and one I thought I could keep up, even if I found the book boring. Then one day I had quite a bit of free time and... I read three hundred pages in a single day. And after that, the book was virtually never out of my hand, unless I needed both hands to eat dinner or play a video game (or, to be realistic, type -- I live and die a ten fingered typist). It went everywhere with me.

The characters in this book came to life in my head. I loved the Rostovs, aww'd at Pierre, and adored Andrei. I didn't think I'd like the old Prince Bolkonsky, but I ended up loving him too. The characters are written so well. There's so many of them, yet they all stick in my head. Every single one of them had some life, even if they whirled in and out of the story and had only a handful of chapters they even appeared in. Obviously, I'm no judge of the accuracy of the translation, but I liked the way it was written.

The thing I didn't get on so well with was the philosophising about war. I'm not very familiar with the period in history discussed, so I had a little trouble following that. The second part of the epilogue struck me as both unnecessary -- the main narrative got all those points across -- and extremely boring. In fact, I sort of wondered how Tolstoy had got a time travel machine and sat in on my Religious Studies A Level, because a lot of the stuff about free will came right out of my syllabus. (I concluded he was probably a soft determinist, in case anyone wanted to know.)

I'm giving it five stars because it sucked me in so much and made me care so much, despite the bits I didn't so much enjoy. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Oh gosh. This is one of the books that I really, really want to be able to read. It's a classic! But the book is just to heavy, I can't push myself through all that information-packed, slow paced, text over several several pages. Maybe another time...! ( )
  Wilwarin | Apr 7, 2013 |
This book does two things.

First, it tells a sweeping saga of four interrelated Russian families before, during, and after Napoleon's invasion of Russia, covering the years 1805-1820. You could say that in a way it's the template for the later American novel Gone With the Wind. But the latter book is much more of a potboiler. Tolstoy's book is much more psychologically complex and realistic. Not only in terms of knowing what makes people tick, but in terms of showing how irrational, fickle, and foolish we can be. The big-hearted Pierre is one of the most lovable characters you'll meet in literature, as is the initially tomboyish Natasha. But they are only two of the hundreds of characters you'll meet. Also worthy of mention is the ne'er-do-well Dolokhov, who for all his cruelty, becomes a real asset to his country in time of war.

Some of the characters are really put through the wringer. Those that reach the very border of life and death find therein an unexpected sense of peace. And upon returning to life as they knew it (if they make it) find a new perspective that enriches them. There's a little of everything here. Battle, politics, society intrigue, bucolic festivities in the countryside, and, to be sure, heart-tugging love stories.

The other thing this book is, is a philosophy text. By saying that, I don't want to scare you off, but peppered throughout the book are sections where Tolstoy tells you how he feels about the "great man" theory of history, reserving especial scorn for Napoleon, who he characterizes less as a military genius than a very lucky, and very spoiled man-child. The last hundred pages of the book (the second epilogue) are a treatise, where Tolstoy tears down various theories of history and the concept of free will. He calls for a unified theory of history, which would explain both large bodies (nations and mass movements) and individuals, explaining their actions in the context of their time, place and circumstances rather than dwelling on freely made decisions, which he doesn't believe in. This last section reminded me a lot of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and made me wonder how much Tolstoy influenced Asimov's creation of Hari Seldon, the great fictional psycho-historian and predictor of future events.

Seriously, a book club could spend a month of meetings on this book. I haven't even touched on other things in it, such as religion, freemasonry, the French Revolution, and Tolstoy's idea of an ideal marriage. I could go on and on. ( )
  EricKibler | Apr 6, 2013 |
Wow. The classics get to be classics for a reason. The first couple hundred pages were very confusing and slow, but then the book (and the whole state of humanity) opened up and engulfed me. I wallowed in it, and am still unable to shake it off. Once is not enough, though, to get any of the finer points. I think I'll have to read other translations at some point, for comparison's sake. A magnificent book, with just a little too much war for me. I wanted more of the peace and the ruminations and less of the brutal battle scenes which are far too topical again. ( )
1 vote satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
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