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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace (1868)

by Leo Tolstoy

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17,70728097 (4.27)25 / 1955
English (262)  Spanish (8)  Dutch (5)  French (3)  Hebrew (2)  German (1)  All languages (281)
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I am so glad that the group read afforded me the opportunity to finally buckle down and tackle this one, which has been an albatross of sorts of my previous reading failures. If you, like me, have repeatedly struggled and abandoned reading this one in written form, may I suggest you consider attempting an audioread? Listening to the story as opposed to slogging through a physical read has made all the difference for me. Yes, the story is rather long-winded and I really found the war/battle scenes started to get to me - as did the sections where Tolstoy waxes philosophical on various topics - but I was rather surprised to discover that: 1) Tolstoy has a sense of humor; 2) he does an excellent job conveying his historical analysis of the War of 1812 and where he differs from the viewpoints of historians of his era; and 3) he really knows how to present well-rounded characters for his readers. I admit that I didn't take to all of his characters - thank goodness, I had plenty of characters to develop any love/hate relationship with! - prime examples in the first half of the book being a decided dislike I developed for Natasha and Nickolei. Okay, I admit that it was their youthful idealism that grated with me so I was glad to see then transform into characters worthy of some attention. I really enjoyed witnessing the transformation of a number of characters as the story progressed. I admit there were times when I had a bit of difficulty keeping all of the characters straight in my mind - seriously, the pet names, etc just added to my overall character confusion! Tolstoy, when in story mode (not waxing philosophical or in historical analysis mode), tells a really good story, filled with romance, social status and even a tiny bit of intrigue.

... but I still don't understand why the story had to be so darn long! Seriously, by the time I had reached the epilogues, I was done. That being said, I will probably re-read it at some point, with a focus on the philosophical aspects. Tolstoy does present some interesting arguments. I just wasn't in the mood to focus on those parts on this read.

Overall, really glad to finally be able to strike this one off my reading Bucket List. I think I am now ready to consider tackling Moby Dick. ( )
  lkernagh | Feb 6, 2016 |
Rarely has a novel with such a thumping thesis (Tolstoy’s rejection of the so-called great man theory of history) been so affecting, so charming at times, and so brutally honest at others. Once you give yourself over to it, it is engrossing and the pages (the many, many pages) seem to fly by. And perhaps not surprising for such a long and complex work, your allegiances to characters develop and shift over the course of the novel. Whether it is the moral development of the seemingly dense Pierre, or the reclamation of the overly proud Prince Andrei, or even the dizzying excitement of Natasha and its aftermath, the care that Tolstoy takes with his fictional characters helps humanize the necessarily violent battle sections of the novel. Despite the frequent authorial disquisitions on the impossibility of the will of one man, be that man Napoleon or Alexander, directing the outcome of huge events, Tolstoy regularly brings the focus down to single individuals in the midst of a battle and we see how personally meaningful their individual actions are for them.

There is no need for me to recommend this novel. It stands as one of the bulwarks of imaginative fiction and for that reason alone, if no other, it deserves to be read. But what I would say is how surprisingly funny and charming and at other times heart-poundingly tense it can be. So as well as being an important, possibly a necessary, read, it is also a good read. Enjoy! ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Feb 4, 2016 |
Love Russian literature ( )
  jimifenway | Feb 2, 2016 |
Since I have been thinking about reading the classics and then discovered that all the classics are available on Kindle and they are FREE I felt it a sign. During the holidays I a couple of "bookies" and I had a great conversation and I became inspired. So, here we go. ( )
  LouisaK | Feb 2, 2016 |
Since I have been thinking about reading the classics and then discovered that all the classics are available on Kindle and they are FREE I felt it a sign. During the holidays I a couple of "bookies" and I had a great conversation and I became inspired. So, here we go. ( )
  LouisaK | Feb 2, 2016 |
Since I have been thinking about reading the classics and then discovered that all the classics are available on Kindle and they are FREE I felt it a sign. During the holidays I a couple of "bookies" and I had a great conversation and I became inspired. So, here we go. ( )
  LouisaK | Feb 2, 2016 |
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 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. ( )
7 vote japaul22 | Jan 31, 2016 |
The first time I tried to read this was in around 2003/04 and I read the first 100 pages or so. The second time I tried to read it was in 2013 and I read the first 200 pages or so. It's quite good in parts, but just not good enough or compelling enough to justify the length and the time investment. ( )
  DavidGibson | Jan 31, 2016 |
There is actually quite a bit I want to say about this novel. First off, it's good - very good. When people said that they have read it more than once, I always thought, why on earth would you read it more than once - it's HUGE. But now I get it. It's a sweeping saga that unfolds on an epic scale. And once you have sorted the slightly intimidating cast of characters and their titles (not to mention the myriad of derivatives and nicknames), you become invested in their stories. I think that Pierre is my favorite character, but they were all well drawn and interesting. I would have liked to know more about the slutty Hélène and her slimy brother Anatóle, but that was not to be.

What brings the book down a bit, I think, is Tolstoy's need to interject his own thoughts and theories into the narrative. This makes for a slightly jarring sensation - it throws the rhythm of the book off balance and feels like commercials have been inserted into the story. And now for a word from our sponsor... These asides are irritating and condescending, but also at times informative and insightful. Mostly they just make your eyes glaze over. I think he should have published these bits separately as a companion piece or put them together in the back of the book for further reading for those who were interested. So this is why, although I loved the book, my rating is not higher. I also made a slight deduction for the two epilogues. Two? No one needs two epilogues!! And let me just state right here that I did not and will not read the epilogues - they always annoy me and quite often ruin a perfectly good book. So no. Just no to the epilogues.

The other thing I want to address are the translations and the audio versions of this book. I listened to the version that is narrated by Neville Jason - this is a five star listen if you are judging the narrator's performance. I cannot recommend this version highly enough - he is fabulous! Every character has a unique voice, and that's saying something right there because there are a LOT of characters in this novel. Jason also does a great job with all of the accents and with reading all of the French in its original form and then directly translating it without it becoming awkward or weighty. Don't be intimidated by the fact that the combined audios (it's in two separate books) are more than 60 hours of listening time. I listened at 1.25x speed for the peace parts and 1.5x speed for the war parts. Ha! This audio version is from the Maude translation, which brings me to the final thing I wanted to address - in my opinion, the Maude translation is superior to the P&V translation. Just saying. I often followed along in print, and what I had was the P&V translation - this allowed me to see the variations between the two, and I was amazed at what a difference the translation makes. The Maude version is so much more lyrical - much better use of language and word choice. Because after all, cudgel and club bring to mind different images in my head even though they are synonyms. The same thing with flushed and embarrassed. SO I am thankful that I chose to listen to Neville Jason because I liked his voice and his style - if not, I would have missed out on the lovely Maude translation and been stuck with the much drier and less poetic V&P version.

One last thing. The humor that is scattered throughout was an unexpected surprise. And it was delightful:

p.242 "He could not simply tell them that they all set out at a trot, he fell off his horse, dislocated his arm, and ran to the woods as fast as he could to escape a Frenchman. Besides, in order to tell everything as it had been, one would have to make an effort with oneself so as to tell only what had been. To tell the truth is very difficult, and young men are rarely capable of it. They were expecting an account of how he got all fired up, forgetting himself, how he flew like a storm at the square; how he cut his way into it, hacking right and left; how his saber tasted flesh, how he fell exhausted, and so on. And he told them all that." ( )
1 vote Crazymamie | Jan 26, 2016 |
Considered by many to the greatest novel ever written, Tolstoy's masterpiece is a story of family life set against the backdrop of war. The novel begins in 1805, in the crowded and gossip-filled rooms of a St Petersburg party, and follows the fortunes of the aristocratic Bolkonsky and Rostov families as Napoleon's armies sweep through Europe, culminating in the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and Napoleon's defeat. Tolstoy's vast novel takes in both the epic sweep of national events and the private experience of individuals, from the keen young soldier to Napoleon himself, and at the heart of it all, the complicated triangle of affection that binds his central characters.
  HitherGreen | Jan 22, 2016 |
Awesome! ( )
  oel_3 | Jan 17, 2016 |
How do you give a plot synopsis of a 1,455 page book? In a nutshell (a very, very small nutshell), the novel follows the lives of two Russian aristocratic families, the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs, during the Napoleonic wars of the early nineteenth century. Each family has at least one son who is fighting in the army, and each has ladies and children who are left at home to continue attending balls and soirees, courting to find good matches for their daughters, and debating political situations they don’t really understand. The action covers ten years (not counting the epilogue) and spans the continent of Europe from east to west. I suppose epic is the best way to describe this novel (it’s certainly been described that way often enough).

The question of how to review the book is even more difficult to answer than the question of how to summarize it. There’s no question that it’s a great novel. The thing is, I didn’t really enjoy reading it, although that’s not to say that I disliked reading it. The “peace” parts were fine, but the “war” parts drug on and on. I’m not a fan of massive amounts of description because I’ve never been particularly good at picturing things in my mind based solely on written descriptions, so the long accounts of troop movements and battles bored me. I did enjoy the chapters about the families in Russia because they were not as heavy on description.

I also enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel. A friend of mine is a history professor who studied this book extensively for a college class, so he was able to fill me in on a lot of extra information about what was really going on during the time period. What I didn’t enjoy was the start of every section where Tolstoy would break away from the narrative to philosophize about the influence of great men versus the masses on history. It got even worse in the epilogue, where he spent the last 50 pages beating me over the head with his point as hard as he could. I figured out fairly early in the novel that Napoleon’s a jerk, the Russian aristocracy is useless, and the outcome of historical events is determined by ordinary men. I didn’t need him to cram it down my throat every hundred pages or so.

So, to sum up, the four-star rating is an average of quality and enjoyment. I feel bad that I didn’t like the book more than I did, but I think Tolstoy could have made it shorter without losing the point he wanted to make or changing the effect of the novel. Regardless, I’m glad I read it, and I definitely appreciate the place it holds in literature. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
So glad I finally read it! ( )
  Lynsey2 | Jan 15, 2016 |
Tolstoys sprawling epic set in Russia during the Napoleonic wars, this tells the story of the war from the point of view of several families.

I expected this to be a tough read instead I was pleasantly surprised I found I cared about the characters and wanted to know what happened to them, yes the war sections did drag a bit but overall it was well worth the commitment. ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
“History takes as its subject not the will of man, but our representation of that will.”

Some two and a half months after beginning War and Peace, I’ve at long last finished it.

I find the idea of writing a review for this book challenging for a few reasons—for one, it defies the structure of a traditional novel. There’s no exposition, no rising action; one can’t point to an exact moment of the climax, and there’s really no single main character. That being said, though, I’m amazed by how well I could keep characters straight for 1300 pages—and I cared about them as though they were human beings. None of these characters was perfect (far from it), but their individual foibles and characters really stood out. (I am definitely partial to Natasha, Marya, and Pierre.)

A couple gripes, just for the sake of balance: The war was really long. I would much rather have heard more about the families’ lives—even Helene’s, disgusting as she is—in St. Petersburg and Moscow than about the Russian army’s chase of the French as the latter fled Russia. Tolstoy also got really preachy at times, especially in Part II of the epilogue; and I consistently got annoyed when the Tolstoys made an appearance as members of the army.

All in all, though, I’m impressed by this massive novel, and I definitely want to read Tolstoy again in the future. ( )
  forsanolim | Jan 14, 2016 |
Of course a masterpiece. This is a wonderful translation making the language very readable. Great characters especially the ever seeking Pierre. ( )
  DoToBu89 | Jan 13, 2016 |
Took me a month to read, but definitely a masterpiece. It took a notebook to keep all the characters straight for the first half of the book. There was a bit too much about battle techniques contained, but all in all I can see why Tolstoy is considered a master as he can amuse, horrify, entertain, and make one weep during the very same story line. I especially liked seeing how Tolstoy developed his characters and then transformed then or their circumstances. One of the story's main characters, Pierre Bezukhov has his epiphany while being held captive by the French as he befriends Platen, a peasant, and learns to be happy, no matter the situation. The author certainly raises/discusses issues such as ideas of free will, fate, and providence Tolstoy has certainly nailed Napoleon, if other historians are correct. ( )
  tess_schoolmarm | Jan 9, 2016 |
War and bloody Peace eh? Started June 12, 2013, finished August 26, 2013! How am I supposed to review this?! I'll apply my usual rambling slapdash technique I think.

War and Peace looks like a formidable challenge for the average reader, in term of length and legendary status, this is not "just another book" you can just read and forget. Personally I read fiction mainly for entertainment purposes ( the best past time I know), some books I read purely out of curiosity, Some books like Moby Dick I even read for a bragging right (that did not turn out well!). Any way, as far as War and Peace is concerned it's a combo of all three, I am glad to report (not brag) that the result turned out to be more than satisfactory as far as I am concerned. The most daunting part of reading this book is when you tentatively start on the first page and constantly feel aware of the remaining thousand or so pages, I think the trick is just to ignore the remaining page weighing down your right hand and just follow the characters along and see what they get up to. After all you don't need to read the entire book if you don't find the first few chapters to your liking. For myself I kind of cheated and went the audiobook route which add up to more than 60 hours in total (read with consummate skill and probably gallons of coffee by Alexander Scourby). I pity the poor chap who read it but then I remembered he probably took well over a month to finish the reading it.

In term of entertainment and readability War and Peace easily met these basic requirements for me. It starts off lightly enough with a "soiree", there are several soirees in this book, they seem like high society dinner parties which I avoid like the plague at every opportunity. The reader is gently introduced to the current situation of the day and some central characters also make their first entrances. The narrative then moves from house to house and we soon meet all the central characters which there are surprisingly few in number. Yes, it's a whale of a book with a large cast of characters but there are only a few protagonists for you to concern yourself with. This book is more about the characters than about two countries at war. Looking at the title I believe it is more about peace than about war, if anything it seems like an anti-war book to me, the message is not communicated through humor and satire like Heller's [b:Catch-22|168668|Catch-22|Joseph Heller|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1359882576s/168668.jpg|814330] but through Tolstoy's profound psychological insight and humanity. This makes it more serious and dryer than Heller's book and I did doze through the odd passages but over all I found it much more rewarding.

The main source of pleasure for me are the beautifully developed main characters they really came alive once I settled into the groove of the book. My favorite character is certainly Pierre Bezukhov, a chubby, sensitive, thoughtful and compassionate gentleman, not your archetypal heroic figure but certainly not an anti-hero. The best part of reading the book for me was to share Pierre's thought processes. He does tend to overthink things and is prone to changing his mind about what the meaning of life really is (a bit like me but with high IQ); following his internal is akin to some kind of telepathy. The other central characters are also very nicely fleshed out and believable, particularly the main female character Natasha Rostova who practically grows up before the reader's eyes. A few real life individuals such as Mikhail Kutuzov and Napoleon Bonaparte are presented to us as part of the novel's cast of characters, whether their fictional representation is true to the real people I can not say but to live inside their heads is a fascinating experience.

The prose style (from the English translated version of it) is just stupendous, Tolstoy seems to casually toss in phrases like "sorrowful pleasure" and put it in just the right context. People who like to pick quotations from a book will have a field day with this one. Nary a page goes by without finding something quotable. Here is a couple I picked almost at random:“Here I am alive, and it's not my fault, so I have to try and get by as best I can without hurting anybody until death takes over.”

“Because of the self-confidence with which he had spoken, no one could tell whether what he said was very clever or very stupid.”
There are dull chapters and passages in several places of the book, the practical side of warfare is of little interest to me, but those are far outweighed by wondrous materials that feed the brain and the heart. At least I picked up some knowledge about "scorched earth principle" and Kutuzov's military genius. Special mention should be made about the epilogues, the two epilogues total moire than 100 pages, the first one wraps up the story of the protagonists and their settled down lives after the war. The second epilogue is something like a treatise on the nature of power, the real causes and meanings of war and so forth. This part of the book is so dry you may want to read it while in a bath. Still, if you have the capacity to patiently absorb what Tolstoy has to say about these weighty matters you will probably be the wiser for it.

Basically, the best way to read this book in whatever format is to immerse yourself in the story, the length becomes fairly insignificant once you are along for the ride, of course, you need to have a lot of patience and don't expect to race to the end of the book. Come to think of it reading it just for the bragging right is probably a waste of time. I personally like this book more than Tolstoy's equally legendary [b:Anna Karenina|15823480|Anna Karenina|Leo Tolstoy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352422904s/15823480.jpg|2507928] which I also like, but I find War and Peace more emotionally resonant. Certainly I am glad I read it, and some day (a few years from now) I would be quite happy to read it again. ( )
1 vote apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
What can I say? Immense, convoluted, sweeping. Occasionally a chore to read. Would probably never make it past the slush pile of a modern publishing house. But brilliant? Oh yes. ( )
  MariBiella | Dec 6, 2015 |
Suurteos, joka kuvaa venäläistä aatelistoa ja 1800 -luvun aikaista yhteiskunnallista tilannetta Napoleonin sotien aikaan. Mukaansatempaavaa ja taidokasta kuvausta ihmisten välisistä suhteista ja maailmasta, jossa he elävät. ( )
  Iikku | Nov 20, 2015 |
Leo, old man, you're preachy. ( )
  Fernenanda | Nov 5, 2015 |
A masterpiece, marred only by some overblown philosophical waffle. The depth of the characters, the description of the Napoleonic Wars, the description of the lives the the aristocrats... this book has it all. Once I got into it, it was an easier book than I'd feared. ( )
  martensgirl | Jul 29, 2015 |
I have often been bored by books that take princes and princesses as their subject. I am even a little jaundiced when they deal with the love between them. But I have to say Pierre is one of the great characters of European literature and it does not surprise me that Tolstoy was an expert on the Napoleonic wars and would show people in detail all the battles with his models.

( )
  Daniel_Nanavati | Jul 19, 2015 |
Unforgettable and fantastic, well remembered after 35 years. ( )
  ted_newell | Jun 20, 2015 |
Never wrote a review for this, but I'm halfway through writing an honors thesis on it! Somehow writing the thesis is easier than writing a goodreads review. ( )
  Proustitutes | Jun 11, 2015 |
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3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

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