Book Review # 41 - War and Peace

War and Peace


Leo Tolstoy

A New Translation by Anthony Briggs

Front Flap: "At a lavish party in St. Petersburg in 1805, amid the glittering crystal and chandeliers, the room buzzes with talk of the prospect of war. Soon battle and terror will engulf the country, and the destinies of its people will be changed forever. War and Peace has as its backdrop Napoleon's invasion of Russia and at its heart three of literature's most memorable characters: Pierre Bezukhov, a quixotic young man in search of life's meaning; Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, a cynical intellectual transformed by suffering in war; and the bewitching Natasha Rostov, whose impulsiveness threatens to destroy her happiness. As they seek fulfillment, fall in love, make mistakes, and become scarred by conflict in different ways, these characters and their stories interweave with those of a huge cast, from aristocrats to peasants, from soldiers to Napoleon himself. Battles, love affairs, births, deaths, changing family fortunes, unforgettable scenes of wolf hunts, Russian dancing, starlit troika rides, the great comet of 1812--the entire spectrum of human life is here in all its grandeur and imperfection."

I just finished reading "War and Peace" and just have to say -- Wow! What a ride! When I started reading the book, I had never read anything by Leo Tolstoy, nor did I have any preconceived ideas about the story. From the very beginning I was captured and couldn't put the book down. I started it on Saturday, March 21st at 8:10 p.m (Father made me write it down) and finished it this morning at 8:53 a.m. I would have finished it last night, but the Epilogue was blowing my mind and I decided to read it while my brain was fresh.

The Anthony Briggs translation stays faithful to the original Russian but takes out all the thee's, thou's and thy's for easier reading. Also included is a list of characters in the back of the book you can refer to, because there are many, many characters and if you don't pay close attention, it is easy to get them confused.

Tolstoy blends history with fiction to create an interesting, educational, classical story about war, love, family, and power. In the latter part of the story Tolstoy mixes in his analysis of the actions of Napoleon, Alexander and the people surrounding them. The Russian Commander in Chief, Kutozov was one particular person whom Tolstoy felt should have been honored over Napoleon.

"For Russian historians (strange and terrible to relate) Napoleon, the least significant instrument of history, who never once in any place, not even in exile, displayed a trace of human virtue, is an object of admiration and enthusiasm; he is one of their 'great men'.

By contrast, Kutozov, the man who from start to finish during his period of command in 1812, from Borodino to Vilna, never once let himself down by word or deed, an unparalleled example of self sacrifice and the ability to see today's events with tomorrow's significance, this Kutuzov is conceived of by the same historians as a rather pathetic, nondescript character, and any mention of him in relation to the year 1812 always causes a stir of embarrassment.

And yet it is difficult to think of any historical figure whose activity shows a greater determination to focus continually on a single aim. It is difficult to imagine a more noble aim, or one more closely attuned to the will of an entire nation. And it would be even more difficult to find an example anywhere in history of a historical personage accomplishing his declared aim more completely than Kutuzov did after total commitment to it in 1812." pg 1208

In the Epilogue, Tolstoy analyzes how historians apply the actions of one person and represent it as the action of an entire people. He discusses the actions of Napoleon, the question of power and whether power is taken by one person or given to that person by a select few or the masses.

"How did these individuals compel whole nations to act in accordance with their will? pg 1317

What is the meaning of power and what happens if no one follows that power. What is the meaning of free will and if people are influenced by the actions of those around them or if it is all meant to be. His examination of the events of 1812 is very interesting and gives you much to think about.

Not only did I fall in love with the characters, I was fascinated by the whole story, how events unfolded and one person's actions affected not just one person, but everyone.

Highly recommended!

Previous Reviews by other Bloggers

Matthew - A Guys Moleskin Notebook

War and Peace is a grand undertaking of humanity that is both epic and intimate."

Eva - A Striped Armchair
"Well, I finished War and Peace. I’m now in that state of post-reading experience stupor, when I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. Read a book? But what can follow Tolstoy?"

Matt - Imaginary Magnitude
"There is a time and place for everything. The trick is having a sense for timing; the place will take care of itself, which I believe is an as-yet undiscovered Newtonian law."


  1. Okay, you have inspired me that I should read this book. It is one I have avoided for such a long time. Thank you! It's goin' on the list. :)

  2. I've been trying to wait till I was halfway through before treating myself to your review, but I decided 1/4 of the way through was close enough. :-)

    Good thoughts! You breezed through it much more quickly than I'm going to...

    Interesting to think of it as a critique of historical method. It's true that the cast of characters is incredibly diverse. They can't be lumped together and treated as one consciousness.

  3. I am almost finished with it! Its been about a month. I am a history major in my senior year, and I have to say, this book made me think about interpreting history differently. (A less cause and effect approach, and one of a contingent nature.) I plan on teaching history one day, and this will be on my list for my research paper writers refer to when attempting at historiography... certain pages and passages of course....Yes! The Briggs translation is the absolute best for a modern reader.

  4. I love reading it!

    I think, War and Peace is too much of a book to even attempt to sum up, and it does not easily yield to being broken into bight-size chunks. In fact, I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is at all - only that is is. And for that, it must be read.


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