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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace (1868)

by Leo Tolstoy

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[War & Peace] is very long, one of the longest novels ever published. My edition ran one thousand six hundred seventy-two pages. I read every word, even the Second Epilogue.I am glad I did. I'm proud I got through it unscathed.

This epic historical novel describes the 1812 Franco-Russian War and its impact on all strata of Russian society. Tolstoy creates a multitude of characters, many of them in the upper classes. You could say it's a soap opera—boys and girls grappling with their dreams and emotions, their naiveté, their parents and family connections (and the lack thereof), their rivals real or imagined. I have to say I was jarred by the realization that in these 19th century days and in this society, 13- to 16-year-old girls were consumed with the husband hunt—seeking out an eligible and above all suitable man to marry. Unmarried men likewise were trawling for eligible and suitable girls.

Set against this social whirl is the threat of war. Europe's bully-boy Napoleon Bonparte, having conquered Italy, Austria, and Prussia, squabbles with Russian emperor over…well…hurt feelings. That means WAR! From this start, the Russian army backs and backs and backs. Tolstoy exposes the politicking, the bowing and scraping, the tempestuous clashes amongst officers on the Russian side. Eventually the French arrive at Moscow, find it largely abandoned, plunder it, and allow it to burn. Napoleon loses interest and he and his army head home. Beset by snow and freezing cold, lacking rations, medical care and sheltered rest, and harried by marauding Cossacks, only a relatively small contingent actually gets home.

Throughout Tolstoy disputes the then (1860s) accepted history of the war, and more specifically the "Genius" dogma. He debunks historians' conclusion that Napoleon's earlier victories were results of his genius. Tolstoy wants it understood that this war was a resounding defeat for Napoleon, the French, and its allies. He depicts Napoleon as self-absorbed, often disconnected from the war, and very lucky. No genius he.

On the whole I liked it, especially through Part Eight. That's where I suspended reading for about a month. Upon returning to the book, the reading seemed slower, the digressions less interesting, the characters less engaging, the author more bullying, more didactic. I just wanted it to end.

I think—trying to be open about it—that taking that month-long break queered me for it (or it for me). Were I to reread it, I know I'd pick up details and viewpoints I missed and get a better understanding of Tolstoy's intentions. Reading the Wikipedia entry in full might clarify the novel for me, and I might do that. Reread it I will not.

I'm perplexed by readers who say they skipped the "war" passages because they were boring. Without some guide, how would you know what can be skipped? The characters—Prince Andrew, Nicholas Rostov, even Pierre—were caught up in the combat and influenced and drastically changed by their experiences. Napoleon is central to the novel, and his actions leading up to and in battle, are essential to understanding Tolstoy's point about the theory of "genius" in history. If you don't read those passages, you don't get the full story.

I think you'd do better to read an abridged edition. Maybe I should have done that, huh?
  weird_O | Mar 27, 2016 |
Tolstoy's "novel" is a loooong story about the Russian portion of the Napoleonic Wars, along with various discussions about history, religion, power, politics, and war strategy. When I first started this I only knew that there would be a plethora of characters and lots of battle scenes. That was correct, but that turned out not to be the "hard" part about reading W&P. The characters are indeed plentiful, but they get sorted out automatically after a while and the battle scenes are plentiful as well, but they too were less intimidating than expected as Tolstoy does a really great job at following the characters around and make them real people, rather than a random fighting force. What does slow down the reading significantly, however, are the parts that Tolstoy put in the book to make it not-a-novel, i.e. the numerous essays on various topics that are inherently interesting, but unfortunately very not interesting to me - I read this for character and plot, not to learn how to run a battle field. If you're about to read this, I'd recommend starting with the second epilogue as it is a really coherent explanation of Tolstoy's purpose in writing the book. I read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation because I understand that, although perhaps a little less poetic than others, it is the translation that comes closest to Tolstoy's original. ( )
  -Eva- | Mar 13, 2016 |
Wanted a visit with an old friend (some books are like treasured friends) so I picked up the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace my kids gave me a couple of years ago. And what a difference the translation makes. I loved the Garnett and Maudes' versions, but this one knocks it out of the park.

Of course the story is rich and gripping and joyful and tragic and the characters are complex, wonderful people. I'm struck that even the 8th time around (I've read it at least that many times in four decades), I feel like I'm getting to know new aspects of Pierre and Prince Andrei and Natasha.

The BBC has some nerve to think they can do this, though come to think of it, the Russian direct Sergei Bondarchuk made a fantastic film of this probably twenty years back that clocked in just under seven hours. It's gorgeous (I think he had the Soviet Army available to act out the battle of Austerlitz), and he definitely hit the highlights.

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  seschanfield | Mar 7, 2016 |
Tolstoy's classic tale chronicling the lives of Prince Andrew, Natasha, Princess Mary, Nicholas, and Pierre is set when Napoleon invaded Russia. Yet the book is much more than a work of fiction. It contains a lot of philosophical dialogue interspersed throughout the book, and the final chapters are exclusively of this nature. Despite being one of the longest literary works, it is captivating and quite readable, especially in the Garnett translation. ( )
  thornton37814 | Mar 6, 2016 |
Book One (Volume One)
The novel begins in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, at a soirée given in July 1805 by Anna Pavlovna Scherer — the maid of honour and confidante to the queen mother Maria Feodorovna. Many of the main players and aristocratic families of the novel are introduced as they enter Anna Pavlovna's salon. Pierre Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of a wealthy count who is dying after a series of strokes. He is about to become embroiled in a tussle for his inheritance. Educated abroad in France after his mother's death and at his father's expense, Pierre is essentially kindhearted, but socially awkward owing in part to his goodhearted, open nature, and finds it difficult to integrate into the Petersburg society. He is his father's favorite of all the illegitimate children the old count produced, and this is known to everyone at Anna Pavlovna's.

Pierre's friend, the intelligent and sardonic Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, husband of the charming Lisa (the little princess), also attends the soireé. Finding Petersburg society unctuous and finding married life rather boring as well, Prince Andrei makes the fateful choice to be an aide-de-camp (called "adjutant" in many translations) to Prince Mikhail Kutuzov in the coming war against Napoleon.

Tolstoy then takes us to Moscow, Russia's ancient city and former capital, contrasting its provincial, more Russian ways, to the highly mannered society of Petersburg. The Rostov family will be one of the main narrative players of the novel. The Moscow Count Ilya Rostov family has four adolescent children. Young Natasha is supposedly in love with Boris Drubetskoy, a disciplined but boyish officer who is a relative. Nikolai pledges his teenage love to Sonya, his younger cousin. The eldest child of the Rostov family, Vera, is cold and somewhat haughty but has a good prospective marriage in a German officer, Berg. Petya is the youngest of the Rostov family; like his brother he is impetuous and eager to join the army when of age. The heads of the family, Count Ilya Rostov and Countess Natalya Rostova, are an affectionate couple but forever worried about their disordered finances.

At Bald Hills, the Bolkonskys' country estate, Prince Andrei leaves his pregnant wife with his eccentric father Prince Nikolai Andreivitch Bolkonsky and his devoutly religious sister Maria Bolkonskaya. He leaves for war.

The second part opens with descriptions of the impending Russian-French war preparations. At the Schöngrabern engagement, Nikolai Rostov, who is now conscripted as ensign in a squadron of hussars, has his first baptism of fire in battle. He meets Prince Andrei whom he does not really like. Like all young soldiers he is attracted by Tsar Alexander's almost inexplicable charisma. However, Nikolai gambles recklessly and socializes with the lisping Denisov and the ruthless Dolokhov.

[edit] Book Two (Volume Two)
Book Two begins with Nikolai Rostov briefly returning home to Moscow on home leave in early 1806. Nikolai finds the Rostov family facing financial ruin due to poor estate management. He spends an eventful winter at home, accompanied by his friend Denisov, met during the war. Natasha has blossomed into a beautiful young girl. Denisov proposes to her but is rejected. Although his mother pleads with Nikolai to find himself a good financial prospect in marriage, Nikolai refuses to accede to his mother's request. He promises to marry his childhood sweetheart, the orphaned, penniless cousin Sonya.

If there is a central character to War and Peace it is Pierre Bezukhov who, upon finally receiving his massive inheritance, is suddenly burdened with the responsibilities and conflicts of a Russian nobleman. He then enters into marriage with Prince Kuragin's beautiful and immoral daughter Hélène (Elena), against his own better judgment. He is continually helpless in the face of his wife's numerous affairs, has a duel with one of her lovers, and is anguish over whether it is his own character flaws that might be causing his marital woes. He later joins the Freemasons, and becomes embroiled in some of the Freemasonry's politicking. Much of Book Two concerns his struggles with his passions and his spiritual conflicts to be a better man. Now a rich aristocrat, his former carefree behavior vanishes and he enters upon a philosophical quest particular to Tolstoy: how should one live a moral life in an ethically imperfect world? The question constantly baffles and confuses Pierre. He attempts to free his peasants, but ultimately achieves nothing of note.

Pierre is vividly contrasted with the intelligent and ambitious Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. At the Battle of Austerlitz, Andrei is inspired by a vision of glory to lead a charge of a straggling army. He suffers a near fatal artillery wound which renders him unconscious. In the face of death, Andrei realizes all his former ambitions are pointless and his former hero, Napoleon (who rescues him in a horseback excursion to the battlefield), is apparently as vain as himself.

Prince Andrei recovers from his injuries in a military hospital, and returns home, only to find his wife Lise dying during childbirth. He is struck by his guilty conscience for not treating Lise better when she was alive.

Burdened with nihilistic disillusionment, Prince Andrei lives anonymously in his estate, working on a project that would codify military behavior and help solve some of the problems of Russian disorganization that he believes were responsible for the loss of life in battle on the Russian side. Pierre comes to visit him, and brings new questions: where is God in this amoral world? Pierre is interested in panentheism and the possibility of an afterlife.

Prince Andrei feels compelled to take his newly written military notions to Petersburg, naively expecting to be able to influence either the Emperor himself or those close to him. Young Natasha, also in Petersburg, is caught up in the excitement of dressing for her first Grand Ball, where she meets Prince Andrei. Natasha briefly reinvigorates Andrei with her lively vitality. Andrei believes he has found purpose in life again. However, the couple's immediate plan to marry has to be postponed with a year-long engagement, because the Old Prince Bolkonsky threatens to die if any other plan is followed and will in any case oppose the marriage.

When Prince Andrei leaves for his military engagements, Helena and her handsome brother Anatole conspire for Anatole to seduce and dishonor the young, still immature and now beautiful Natasha Rostova. They bait her with plans of an elopement. Thanks to her loyal friends Sonya and Pierre, this plan fails. For Pierre, it is the cause of an important change in relations with Natasha. He realizes he has now fallen in love with her. During the time when the Great Comet of 1811–2 streaks the sky, life appears to begin anew for Pierre.

[edit] Book Three (Volume Three)
Natasha breaks off her engagement with Andrei. Shamed by her near-seduction, she makes a suicide attempt and is left seriously ill. With the help of her family, especially Sonya, and the stirrings of religious faith, she manages to persevere in Moscow through this dark period.

Meanwhile, the whole of Russia is affected by the coming showdown between Napoleon's troops and the Russian army. Pierre convinces himself Napoleon is the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation through numerology. The old prince Bolkonsky dies from a stroke while trying to protect his main estate from French marauders. No organized help from any Russian army seems available to the Bolkonskys, but Nikolai Rostov does manage to show up at their place in time to help put down an incipient revolt of the muzhiks. It occurs to him that Princess Marya is not completely unattractive. Still, he has made a promise to Sonya.

Back in Moscow, war-obsessed Petya manages to snatch a loose piece of the Tsar's biscuit outside the Cathedral of the Assumption; he finally convinces his parents to allow him to enlist.

Napoleon himself is a main character of this section and is presented in vivid detail, both as thinker and would-be strategist. We get to see his toilette, experience his customary attitudes and traits of mind, and watch as Napoleon's well-organized force of over 400,000 (with only 140,000 of them being actually French-speaking) marches quickly through late summer and the Russian countryside outside Smolensk. Pierre decides to leave Moscow and go watch the Battle of Borodino from a vantage point next to a Russian artillery crew. After watching for a time, he begins to join in carrying ammunition. From within the turmoil he experiences first-hand the death and destruction of war. The battle becomes a horrible slaughter for both armies and ends up a standoff. The Russians, however, have won a moral victory by standing up to Napoleon's seemingly invincible army. Having suffered huge losses and for strategic reasons, the Russian army withdraws the next day, allowing Napoleon to march on to Moscow. Two casualties include Anatole and Prince Andrei. Anatole loses a leg in a memorable scene of amputation in a military hospital and Prince Andrei takes a random cannon ball to the gut. Both are reported dead, but their families are in such disarray that no one can be notified.

[edit] Book Four (Volume Four)
The Rostovs have waited until the last minute to abandon Moscow, even after it is clear that Kutusov has retreated past Moscow and Muscovites are being given contradictory, often propagandistic, instructions on how to either flee or fight. Count Rastopchin is publishing posters, riling up the citizens and urging them to put their faith in Holy Iberian icons, or at least, their own icons, while at the same time urging them to fight with pitch forks if necessary. Before fleeing himself, he gives orders to burn the town. The Rostovs have a difficult time deciding what to take with them, and in the end, Natasha and her father overrule mother's desire to take some of the good china - they end up loading their carts with the wounded and dying from the Battle of Borodino. Unbeknownst to Natasha, Prince Andrei is amongst the wounded and not dead at all, yet.

When Napoleon's Grand Army finally occupies an abandoned and burning Moscow, Pierre takes off on a quixotic mission to assassinate Napoleon. He becomes an anonymous man in all the chaos, shedding his responsibilities by wearing peasant clothes and shunning his duties and lifestyle. The only people he sees while in this garb are Natasha and some of her family, as they depart Moscow. Natasha recognizes and smiles at him, and he in turn realizes the full scope of his love for her.

His plan fails, and he is captured in Napoleon's headquarters as a prisoner of war after saving a child from a burning building and assaulting a French legionnaire for attacking a woman. He becomes friends with his cell-mate Platòn Karataev, a peasant with a saintly demeanor, who is incapable of malice. In Karataev, Pierre finally finds what he is looking for, an honest, "rounded" person who is totally without pretense. Karataev is unlike those from the Petersburg aristocratic society, and also notably a member of the working class, with whom Pierre finds meaning in life simply by living and interacting with him. After witnessing French soldiers sacking Moscow and shooting Russian civilians arbitrarily, Pierre is forced to march with the Grand Army during its disastrous retreat from Moscow owing to the harsh winter. After months of trial and tribulation — during which Karataev is capriciously shot by the French — Pierre is later freed by a Russian raiding party, after a small skirmish with the French that sees the young Petya Rostov killed in action.

Meanwhile, Andrei, wounded during Napoleon's invasion, has been taken in as a casualty cared for by the fleeing Rostovs. He is reunited with Natasha and sister Marya before the end of the war. Having lost all will to live, he forgives Natasha in a last act before finally dying. He had been thought dead twice before in the novel, but now it has come to pass.

As the novel draws to a close, Pierre's wife Helena dies after receiving medical treatment (it is implied that she tried to have an abortion); and Pierre is reunited with Natasha, while the victorious Russians rebuild Moscow. Natasha speaks of Prince Andrei's death and Pierre of Karataev's. Both are aware of a growing bond with each other in their bereavement. Matchmade by Princess Marya, Pierre finds love at last and, revealing his love after being released from his former wife's death, marries Natasha.

[edit] Epilogues
The first epilogue begins with the wedding of Pierre and Natasha, in 1813. It is the last happy event for the Rostov family which is going through a transition. Count Ilya Rostov dies soon after, leaving the eldest son Nikolai to take charge of the debt-ridden estate.

Nikolai finds himself with the task of maintaining the family on the verge of bankruptcy. His pride almost gets in the way of him, but Nikolai finally accedes to his mother's wish. He marries the now-rich Marya Bolkonskaya in winter 1813 - both out of feeling and the necessity to save his family from ruin.

Nikolai Rostov and Marya then move to Bald Hills with his mother and Sonya, whom he supports for the rest of their life. Buoyed on by his wife's funds, Nikolai pays off all his family's debts. They also raise Prince Andrei's orphaned son, Nikolai Bolkonsky.

As in all good marriages, there are misunderstandings, but the couples – Pierre and Natasha, Nikolai and Marya – remain devoted to their spouses. Pierre and Natasha visit Bald Hills in 1820, much to the jubilation of everyone concerned. There is a hint in the closing chapters that the idealistic, boyish Nikolai Bolkonsky (15-year-old in 1820) and Pierre would both become part of the Decembrist Uprising. The first epilogue concludes with Nikolai Bolkonsky promising he would do something which even his late father "would be satisfied..." (presumably as a revolutionary in the Decembrist revolt).

The second epilogue contains Tolstoy's critique of all existing forms of mainstream history. He attempts to show that there is a great force behind history, which he first terms divine. He offers the entire book as evidence of this force, and critiques his own work. God, therefore, becomes the word Tolstoy uses to refer to all the forces that produce history, taken together, and operating behind the scenes.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Really excellent. BUT. Did it really nead ONE epilogue, let alone two plus an author's note? ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Αριστούργημα ( )
  varsa | Feb 28, 2016 |
"What is the power that moves people?"
"What force moves the nations?"

Neither as onerous as I feared, or as good as I hoped. Can I say that the great classic, ‘War and Peace’ was… just OK?

Much is made of the book’s ‘epic’ nature, but really, it’s mostly the story of Pierre (think: nerdy trust fund kid trying to ‘find’ himself) and his associates, in Russia during the years leading up to and during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.

Since the book was written around 50 years later, it’s definitely a ‘historical’ rather than contemporary novel – the equivalent to a WWII story released today. Still, it gives a lot of insight into the social realities of a certain time period in Russia – served up with a heaping portion of Tolstoy’s own philosophies regarding war, politics, religion, social issues – you name it. Some of his ideas (especially regarding the evils of war) I certainly agreed with, others I certainly did not (especially the proper role of women). (He’s specifically anti-feminist, and thinks a good woman’s job is to be a good ‘listener’ and helpmeet to her man.) The character in the book whom I liked/sympathized with the most was definitely Helene Kuragin, which, I’m sure, would horrify Tolstoy, who clearly wants his readers to sympathize with Natasha, who is just horribly boring.

Still, there’s a lot of interesting things going on here. The whole dynamic of a nation at war with a country whose culture it idolizes is fascinating. And there’re duels, battles, tragedies, romances… you name it, there are plenty of pages for it. (Although, honestly, plenty of today’s ‘epics’ are far longer, due to this multiple-book thing we’ve got going on these days.)

One thing I did not get. What was up with the whole thing about Marya could not marry Nikolai if their respective siblings (Andrei & Natasha) married each other? Does Russian culture have a taboo on more than one marriage between two different families?

One note - although the portrayal of the complexities of social interactions and the forces that work together and against each other to form history is a great strength of this book - the writing is not. The phrasing is frequently surprisingly awkward and repetitive. I wondered if it was due to the translation, but I checked several passages in different translations, and retained my opinion. I did also read an essay on Tolstoy that noted that he was not known as a prose stylist. Ah well.
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  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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 Napoleonic Wars 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 |
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