War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Posted March 20, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

War and Peace by Leo TolstoyTitle: War and Peace (Goodreads)
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Aylmer Maude, Louise Maude
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1869
Pages: 1392
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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When people thing of big books often War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is mentioned. This Russian classic depicts the French invasion of Russia in 1812. True to Tolstoy form, War and Peace also looks at classes and the impact of the Napoleonic invasion on the Tsarist society. While this book can be considered an epic historical war novel, for me this was a work of philosophical ideas. This is one of the hardest books to review, not because I have nothing to say but rather there is so much to cover and I have no idea where to start.

Just to put things into perspective, I started this book in October and have been slowly chipping away at it for four months. It is a hard battle and you really need to take your time with a book like this because Tolstoy has a lot to say. This is the kind of book that feels like you‘ve climbed a mountain when you finally finish and you can just feel your pretentious levels rising. For those interested, I read the Oxford World’s Classics edition which has the translations by Aylmer and Louise Maude. Many people debate on which translation is the best but I thought going with an Oxford World’s Classics would be a safe bet; I love this publisher and know I’m always getting a decent copy of the book.

Right off the bat you are flung into this world and you meet so many people. Tolstoy has an amazing ability to give the reader a sense of a person with a few lines, so even the minor characters in this book get some sort of personality. There are hundreds (over 500) characters within War and Peace and I often found it difficult to keep up with them all but thanks to Leo Tolstoy’s writing ability I could relax a little because even if I forgot about a character, when they reappear further in the book I still had a sense of who they are. This is possible due to the way this book was originally written and I will talk more on that later.

Most of the major characters within War and Peace are members of the aristocracy and it is interesting to see them all fighting for a higher position in society, government or the military. People like Boris rise in society while others like the Rostov fall, Dolokhov gets demoted while Pierre plots an assassination. Not only do we have the Napoleonic war happening within these pages, a battle for social standing rages through this novel. It is all about power but paradoxically the people with the most power within this book are the ones that seem to give up control.

If you don’t have the knowledge of Russian or Napoleonic history, this novel accommodates the reader. I found myself at times looking up information about the history just to satisfy my curiosity but as the book progressed, my research subsided. It is in Leo Tolstoy’s style to give you as much information as possible, this does make the book longer but for me I think it was a huge bonus. But you must realise this is a work of fiction and most of the people are fictional. Tolstoy was telling a story of the invasion and the harsh nature of war. You can even look at the second epilogue and read more of the authors thoughts on the subject and the philosophical ideas held within this book.

War and Peace was originally serialised in the literary magazine The Russian Messenger between 1865 and 1867. This magazine plays host to many of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels. This means that originally people read War and Peace over the course of three years. This means at times the novel may feel repetitive and covering plot points done before but this is just a result of the original format. It comes in handy with characters as they are reintroduced and because I took my time reading this classic, it became a vital part.

There is so much going on within War and Peace and it took me a long time trying to work out what I wanted to say and what to leave out. This is the kind of book that needs to be revisited in the future, Tolstoy has a lot to say and I’m interested in exploring the themes. I loved this book; it is a roller-coaster of emotions and philosophical ideas. I’ve only scratched the surface of what is happening in this novel and then wrote a small amount of what I discovered. I can’t imagine ever being able to fully understand the brilliance of Tolstoy and War and Peace. For me, Fyodor Dostoevsky is a better writer but Leo Tolstoy has a unique ability to capture the lives of everyone involved in one war.


2 responses to “War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

  1. Marg Bates

    I started this book a couple of years ago and got about 200 pages in. I was really, really enjoying it, but I put it down to read something for deadline and just never got around to picking it up again. One day.

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