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4.4 out of 5 stars19
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 28 May 2016
book arrived as described
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on 28 December 2015
War and Peace is set during the Napoleonic era and the French invasion of Russia as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. I found this book intensely difficult to read let alone enjoy. It was an effort to force myself to pick it up again after each session and force yet another bout of drudgery. In fact such was the time between reading sessions that in the end it must have taken me 3 years to finish the book which I’m embarrassed to admit.
There are two types of reader in this world; the first is the type that can easily discard a book at any point during its reading if it fails to satisfy; the second (of which, unfortunately, I am one) is the type that will slough through more than a 1000 pages of reading toil just in case the work manages to redeem itself in the last 20 pages. For me, the last 20 pages of War and Peace were as unfulfilling as the previous 1366. Tolstoy himself said of War and Peace that it was "not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle." I could not agree more; and in saying so, I mean this as a criticism in the strongest terms. Part of my inability to discard a book that I’m not enjoying comes from a feeling that I have to earn the right to criticise it. Finishing the book was my tithe for this review.
I draw the reader to two facts and one hypothesis. First, Tolstoy utilizes of the order of 600 characters spread across 15 books and 2 epilogues. Second, portions of an earlier version of the novel, then known as The Year 1805, were serialized in the magazine The Russian Messenger between 1865 and 1867. The novel was first published in its entirety in 1869. My hypothesis is this; the most popular modern soap operas have ran for more than 25 years. Throughout the life of a soap armies of characters will play out perhaps hundreds of plots, thousands of sub-plots, and countless vignettes. However, each episode is delivered “in the moment”, makes complete sense and is coherent and in context. Of the army of characters that may be utilized over the life-time of the soap, typically only a fraction of this total character set will appear in an individual episode. Now, imagine the entire life of a soap opera – nominally thousands of serials being delivered in a single episode and you will begin to understand the difficulty I had with War and Peace. This book is the cerebral equivalent of visiting a large multiplex cinema and watching all 12-16 movies by spending 4 or 5 minutes on each screen before moving on to the next one. This continues until all of the screens have been visited and then the process starts again until all of the movies are finished - quite frankly an awful and completely meaningless experience, not to be repeated if one can possibly help it. From reading the book, the impression one takes away of Tolstoy is one of a rambling old man perhaps on the verge of dementia. The book is dry, disparate and horribly convoluted. The 600 plus characters with Russian names many of whom receive no more than a single mention do much to support the formlessness of this meandering manuscript.
It's really difficult to find negative reviews of War and Peace on the internet by 'notable' critics which for me is indicative of the intellectual dishonesty that pervades the literary world. In other words, I would venture that of all the reviews that have been written about this book, too many have been fabricated in order to 'keep up with the intellectual Jones's' by reviewers too afraid to criticise it for fear of being accused of "not getting it". Shame on them all for perpetuating a reputation for a work and its author that for me is both undeserved and overrated. Virginia Woolf said of the work “There remains the greatest of all novelists—for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?” Oh dear Virginia. I hypothesize that the less understood a piece of literary work, the more it is the subject of proselytization brought on by intellectual insecurity, artificially positioning the work in the Canon or even placing it there at all. This is as good a reason as any to treat the views and opinions of critics and reviewers (including this one) with suspicion.
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on 27 August 1999
War and Peace is a book that in no way can stand with the rest. The amount of description and time Tolstoy put in his masterpiece is what may just hold this novel in as the best ever. The book maybe long and at some points, endless in Tolstoy's dislike of war (which shows much in some of his writings), but you can always continue just waiting to see what the character will do or what they will have to hurdle next. I fell in love with the characters of War and Peace and so will you. From the energenic Natasha to the shy Princess Marya. The loveable Pierre and the perfect Nikolay Rostov. The book is a great masterpiece and the perfect book for anyone with intrest's in Romance, Action, History, War or Russia.
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on 28 August 2015
Worst book I ever read and I could not get into it. I did finish it but absolutely hated it. It was a massive chore from start to finish. I used to dread having to pick it up and invariably I nodded off so had to reread chapters again. Why use one word Tolstoy, when you can use a whole page or more to say the same thing? Boring, dragged out and unbelievable. How can anyone say this is the greatest novel ever written? Biggest load of drivel if you ask me.
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on 29 March 1999
Clearly a classic which today reads as easily as a popular novel. Easy to read but yet a vast portrait of pre-revolutionary Russia.
That being said the periodic discussions of Tolstoy's theory of history which from time to time are inserted amongst the novel are, let us be frank are silly boring to read and out of place.
The book however is a rarity. Anyone can read it with pleasure and come away richer for the experiance.
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on 14 July 1998
Is it possible to give this book anything but five stars? Everything I have read since, including many of the other classics seem to borrow from Tolstoy's style. There are many other original books out there, but remember that this is the original novel.
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on 22 July 1999
This was definitely a great book. It's not easy for a book to keep your attention for close to 1400 pages, but Tolstoy succeeds. The characters are incredible, especially Pierre, Prince Andrei and Natasha. Put this at the top of your list.
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on 10 May 1999
I thought that this book was the best book that anyone could ever read. When you start reading you just can't stop because you can't wait to read what is going to happen next. I am really glad I decided to read it.
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on 24 July 1998
I sometimes read War and Peace in the dull hours of the early morning. I find that the revolving interaction of the 5 familys during the wars leaves a lot unsaid: this I cannot appreciate. Anna Karenina was much more insightful and passionate. I always get a distanced feel from War and Peace, a feel that Tolstoy: never a soldier: did not know the battlefields he spoke of. And yet I continue to read it in those hours.
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