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4.4 out of 5 stars19
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HALL OF FAMEon 1 July 2005
How does one do justice to a work as monumental and vast as Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' in the short space this review grants? Indeed, I toyed with the idea of trying to encapsulate this epic work in 100 words, but failed. I do know of one review of 'War and Peace' that was even shorter; it read:
Napoleon invaded.
It snowed.
Napolean failed.
Russia won.
Perhaps that does encapsulate it. Tolstoy would have probably respected such as description, for, as verbose as he and other Russia novelists seemed to be (given a purely page-count analysis), he appreciated brevity and essentialism in the description.
This holds true for 'War and Peace'. I was amazed at the lack of what one might hold to be extraneous detailing in the text -- I would have expected long, drawn out and tedious renderings of situations, emotions or events, but such is not the case.
In Tolstoy's following of the Rostovs (poor country gentry) and the Bolkonskis (higher society), and a hero Pierre Bezuhkov, he illustrates basic truths in the way life is lived, and the way it ought to be lived. Tolstoy was a moralist, but no mystic in his writing (unusually so, given his general mystical sentiments in life). He felt it absolutely essential that the novelist should tell the truth, and mystical digressions lead away from that. His characters grow as we watch, and he recounts details that are important (such as Natasha and her doll as a child, and then later Natasha going to church -- these are two ages of the same person, to be sure, but not a simple updating of the character, as if an actress wearing a different costume).
Each circumstance, the day-to-day conversations and events, the family interactions, their dealing with life and success and death and defeat, all have an uncanny ring of truth about them. The family resemblance of characters leap off the page: the Rostovs all have a common element (beyond the basic social class attributes), and likewise there is and intangible similarity between Prince Andrei and his father.
'War and Peace' has been described as the Illiad and the Odyssey of the Russian people, with just cause. This is a work that speaks to the meaning and hope of life. His realism forced him to strip away much of the glorification of war and show the realities. Yet Tolstoy presents the events of 1812 as a moral crusade, and that the Russians won against the Napoleonic onslaught because of their adherence to simple, good and true virtues (as much as they relied on the snow to come to their defence). Even the upper classes, the urbane, wealthy and sophisticated Russians in 'War and Peace' have an underlying simplicity (contrasting to the French, and other foreigners', complexity and slyness) that gives them the moral upper hand.
One almost hears the echo of 'Simple Gifts' in this Russian epic:
Tis a gift to be simple...
Yet this is not a stupid or ignorant simplicity. It is a wise state of being. One could imagine Tolstoy being at home with the philosophies of Emerson and Thoreau, and while he might sympathise with Thomas Carlyle in moral and political terms, he would be opposed to his historical hero-worshipful stance, preferring to think of the collective of humanity as the true agent and mover in history.
'War and Peace' is often held up as an example of a long book that nobody can read. This is rubbish. I have three editions, each of which is fewer than 1500 pages (yes, I know that is quite a lot), fewer pages than the Bible, fewer pages than some anthologies of modern novelists. It is long, there is no denying that. But it can be read, and I contend, given the right translation, one might become so enthralled that one might wish it were longer. The Modern Library Edition is just such a translation.
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on 25 August 1999
Although my blind urge to read the Great Classics has (thankfully) faded somewhat over the years in favor of reading whatever I damn please, I finally decided it was time to give War and Peace a try. After all, how can anyone who enjoys novels resist the lure of "the greatest novel of all time"? And Tolstoy himself was an unusually interesting man -- not a screwed-up genius but one who seemed to eventually figure it all out. It took me maybe a hundred pages to get into the rhythm of the book and figure out who all those characters with multisyllabic Russian names were. After that, it was totally engrossing and surprisingly easy reading. There's no point giving you a book report on what happens -- you're supposed to read it yourself -- but I do disagree with some of the other reviewers who didn't care for the sections describing Tolstoy's philosophy of history. I found those sections (a very small proportion of the book) fascinating, albeit a change of pace. This is part of what makes the book great. War and Peace is not just a story of what happens to a bunch of made-up people, but a major work of art expressing the wisdom of a great man.
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on 14 October 1997
Even Tolstoy refused to call it a book. Instead, think of it as virtual reality, 19th century style. Pursued at leisure, with time taken for dreams as well, War and Peace will transport you to Russia at the time of Napoleon, a time truly of love and hate, strength and suffering, life and death... That is Tolstoy genius, the facility to twine stories, moods, and scenes to make a distant time and country come alive. The characters live, they grow, they fascinate. Perhaps one can read and not be changed, but that same person would be one who could also love, and not change. A book to immerse in, to live in, to leave on the bookstand for months on end. A footnote: War and Peace has unfortunately slid into the same pit as Moby Dick, Silas Marner, Wuthering Heights, and everything that Dickens ever wrote. Ignore the company and read the book. Another note: Woody Allen said once that he had learned speed-reading and then read War and Peace on a plane flight from Los Angeles to New York. The verdict? "It's about Russia".
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VINE VOICEon 14 February 2016
Like, I am sure, countless people who are finally getting around to reading War and Peace now, in the early months of 2016, I have been spurred by watching the BBC production that had just finished. I determined, at the last minute, to take the book with me on a recent skiing holiday, and tried to find a version that had "whispersync", which is Amazon/Audible's name for the narration, voiced by an actor, which is synced to the words of a book. In the few minutes I had to make this last minute purchase I could not find one, so ended up buying separate audio and text versions of War and Peace. The unintended benefit of this has been the ability to compare he translation of this version with the audiobook one.

This has been an interesting experience - and odd too, as both appear to have been translated by the same person, Constance Garnett. She died in 1946, and I can only imagine that if this is indeed the case, her translation for the audiobook has been "modernised" in some way. In any event, it serves as a reminder as to how important the translation is when reading a book written in a foreign language.
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on 23 January 2016
This book is a masterpiece if people find it rubbish because they do not want a challenge the fault lies with them not the book.We are living in a consumer culture that invades us into thinking any thing that does not grip us easerly is not good. the classic novels and Shakespeare demand that we need to concerntrait and take time.
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on 5 February 2016
A bit wordy and in many ways dated, not least in its treatment of women and serfs, nevertheless War and Peace is in all other respects as valid today as when it was written. I have probably read it six or so times in my sixty years and still love the characterisation. Human nature really has not changed at all :-)
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on 3 February 1999
I started reading W&P as an assignment for my sophomore english class. I figured, if she wants me to read a classic, I might as well go with THE classic, right? So I checked out W&P. At first, I read it just to prove something to myself. Later, however, the book just kind of drew me in; I couldn't put it down! All of the details make you feel like you're there. You sympathize with all of the characters' anguish, and celebrate their victories. With Tolstoy's philosophical masterpiece in Epilogue 2 to tie it all up, War and Peace was definitely a great book.
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on 26 June 1998
War and Peace is a testement to the unchanging nature of mankind. As an amature novelist and voracious reader, I am constantly scouring the world of literature for hints of the true meaning of man's struggle in the universe. Leo Tolstoy has displayed the full nature of this struggle in dazzling magnificence. From the post-modernists to the magical realists to the lore of Faulkner and the like, I am constantly discovering ideas and themes within great modern literature that seem unique to our time, only to find that all of it -- the whole ironic gauntlet of living as a human -- has already been displayed by Tolstoy with such grace and splendid honesty that it would be impossible to surmount what he has already accomplished. From the spiritual turmoil of Count Bezukhov, to the avant garde lifestyle of Anatole Kuragin, to the madness of Nepoleon, every aspect of the human condition is rendered in such epic proportion and stark reality that the characters step from the black print into your mind with the easy of the master's endlessly flowing pen. Brillant!
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on 8 January 1999
This book was the first 'complex' book I read. I have now read it three times, and I wish to do so again. It is an interplay of the subtle and the obvious, from Pierre's struggle to find peace to the innocent young Natasha's love for Prince Andrey, and Bezuhov. But what affected me most was Tolstoys ruminations on the nature or war and life. His logic is concise, flawless yet has a depth beyond that of any other I have read. His final argument, that argues that we must depend on something we do not understand is so perfect I can find no flaw. It is the only argument that proves there must be a God that I can't attack. War and Peace is a large commitment to read, but once you have finished, you will be more than what you were. That is a guarantee.
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on 10 February 2016
BUT why oh why call him Prince Andrew? That is not russian
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