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on 6 February 2011
This book has been on my reading list for a long time, but for some reason I have avoided picking it up - Perhaps because of the size (I am against Kindles in principle), or perhaps because of the stigma attached to this mammoth classic, I just assumed it was going to be beyond my mental faculties and I was certain I was never going to be able to finish it.

I could not have been more wrong. It took me a month to read, it was never a chore to pick up and now that I have finished it, I miss it.

This book is many things - It is a study on how war affects life of men and women, it is a detailed analysis of the was tactics during the Napoleonic war with Russia, it is a family saga, a coming of age tale, a quest for the meaning of life, a romance, an ode to Russia and, above all, a 900-odd page tale of what makes us human.

Don't let the huge cast put you off, as the central cast is small enough, and the characters vivid enough to pose no problem in telling them apart. We have large, awkward, well-meaning lost soul Pierre, illegitimate and massively wealthy, and his devastating and unfaithful wife Helene. Then we have Prince Andrew; moody, elegant, intelligent, capable, vulnerable, a perfect masculine hero. His pious sister Princess Mary is one of the strongest female characters; She starts out plain, timid, terrorized by her father, resigned to her destiny as a spinster, but as we get to know her we see she has a heart of gold and incredible strength. Then we have the Rostovs, with the distre Count Ilya at the head of the family slowly driving them to financial ruin, the over-bearing and hysterical Countess and her children - Nicholas, Petya and not least, Natasha - Enchanting, innocent, impetuous, full of life and energy and vivacity. There is Sonya, the poor relation living with the Rostovs whose only comfort is her unwavering love for Nicholas and her satisfaction in sacrificing herself for her benefactors. There are beautiful villains like the dangerous Dholokov and Helene`s selfish, spoiled brothers, Anatole and Hippolyte. Then you have comrades in arms like Denisov, the hairy, loud well meaning friend of Nicholas Rostov and Platon, Pierre`s companion as a prisoner of war. There are cameos by Napoleon himself as well as Tsar Alexander, and a myriad of characters slipping in and out of the tale whose only importance is to create the rich, detailed and heady backdrop of this epic tale.

I found myself gasping, laughing, crying and shuddering (make no mistake - the scenes of war and its aftermath are - as they should be - graphic and disturbing), as well as blown away by some of the profundity of Tolstoy's observations of human habits.

I think this book should probably be read more than once, as all the intricacies are too many and too tightly packed on the page to be picked up in one read-through. My advice is, invest in a hard-back copy, try to rid yourself of any preconceptions before you pick it up for the first time, and go back to it every now and then. This is the hum-dinger of all classics, and an absolute must for all dedicated readers.
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on 16 February 2015
Tolstoy writes of people and places so clearly and plainly that you may ‘know’ them better than your own memories. Something I remember as clear as day from my first, but hopefully not last, traversal of War & Peace, is the air within each scene! I don’t recall Tolstoy mentioning it once; it’s simply there, before my memory, clear as day! Amazing! Before you get to that level of absorption however you need to get to grips with two things; both require nominal effort but that nominal effort is repaid a thousandfold, at least.

The two things are: -

1. Slow down. However fast your mind is moving, it’s too quick for the pace of War and Peace’s opening and, rest assured, this is an opening to savour (after all, it must be at least a quarter of the book). If you’ve just finished Proust, you may need to ease up a gear, but no more than that.

2. Keep one finger in the page, near the front, that guides you through the three versions of each character’s name that are regularly used, with a brief description of who they are. This will feel clumsy for the first hour or two, then easier, then you won’t notice and THEN, oh glorious day, you will know each character quite clearly in your mind’s eye. After this, new characters are quickly assimilated.

Finally, why bother? Two reasons: - Pierre Bezukhov and Natasha Rostova,

One more reason; this book has perhaps the funniest scene in all world literature; and to fully appreciate it; you need to read War and Peace first (well, as much of War and Peace as precedes it; which is a good deal)!

You’ll never think of Russia in quite the same way again but be warned; if you investigate Russia’s history, your heart will be broken; Tolstoy’s was, perhaps, breaking as he wrote this. This only makes the bone-dry wit of the book that much more affecting.

War and Peace is one of the reasons you were born literate in this world; don’t pass up the opportunity to be ennobled by it.
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on 9 January 2008
This is the novel of all novels but it is not an easy read. Unlike an other reviewer, I find this translation to be excellent. The French text is translated in footnotes on every page and you soon get used to this approach. (It gives the historical flavour of how the aristocracy at the time spoke French with varying degrees of fluency.) We are all so used to instantly consumable fiction that we must retrain ourselves as readers to digest this monumental novel in bitesize pieces. Both the Notes and the Historical Index are a useful addition. I am sure that other translations are also admirable but you cannot go wrong with this.
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on 8 March 2008
Having not read War and Peace before, and being fluent in neither Russian nor French, I am not qualified to compare and contrast this translation with other translations. But coming to this great novel for the first time I found this version to be an immensely readable book and it was with great sadness that I finished it. While others might concentrate on the pros and cons of this version against others, for those who have never read War and Peace before it is the story itself that is so fantastic. I was completely transported to Napoleonic times.

One comment on the translation itself though - in many places I found it mellifluous. 'Kapli kapali. Shyol tikhii govor. Loshadi zarzhali i podralis. Khrapel kto-to.' - 'Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffed. Someone snored.' Fantastic.

And as others have noted the hardback is a wonderfully tactile object. Well done Clays and thank you Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
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on 14 December 2000
Undoubtedly the most moving book I have ever read. Tolstoy's incredibly detailed depiction of the plight of the refugees, the tragedies of deaths in the family and the unstoppable pursuit of love and happiness in the middle of all that carnage brought a tear to my eye. Some people complain about the depth into which the author goes in describing every character and would say that it is unnecessarily detailed. Not a bit of it! By the time I read this book I felt like I knew each character as a personal friend with whom I had grown up. Pierre Bezukhov is the character who most people could identify with as a bit of an outsider in the Russian courts. The interaction of him and the other characters with real people from history is very cleverly done, Forest Gump was not a new idea by any means.
As for the long passages on the inexorable process of history which man cannot influence, well if I were living in a feudal Europe which was governed by a small extended family of in-bred nobles whose family squabbles were settled by the slaughter of their citizens, then maybe I would think that history is uncontrollable too. These passages are not hard to spot and anyone with a bit of common sense can read between the lines and take them with a pinch of salt.
He may seem to approve of serfdom, but in those days democracy was a concept which hadn't quite taken root and most people (including Tolstoy) didn't know any different.
This is an exhilerating read for anyone who has what it takes to get right through it.
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on 31 August 2013
There are huge spelling mistakes and typos it's really really off-putting, can barely read it as the story doesnt flow properly with such huge errors.
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When asked what his best novel was Tolstoy stated Anna Karenina, as he thought of War and Peace as something that was larger in scope and not what we usually think of in terms of the novel. Of course he was right, as this book is just so large in scope and has so many characters (around five hundred) that it falls into a tiny group of books that are more than they seem.

Set between 1805-1820 a lot of the book takes place in Petersburg and Moscow, as well as some other places at times and of course battles and the front line of the warring with the French. Taking in both fictional characters as well as only too real people this is a book that once you start reading you just have to finish, indeed I have lost count of the number of times I have read it over the years. And if you are coming to this for the first time, don’t worry about the number of characters. When we are talking about so many people who populate the pages of this some only appear very briefly, with cameo roles as such, either to move an event along, or to report a certain happening. The main characters we follow here we see grow up, get married, have affairs and so on. It is these characters that form the main element of this tale, as we see mirrored people, who whatever station of life they come from make mistakes and have the same pleasures and ideas as we all have. Of course weaved in with this are the battles and the fate of Russia as Napoleon and his forces move in.

With some great set pieces here this is a tale that certainly weaves its magic as we read it. With characters enjoying themselves with simple pleasures, to marriages falling apart and Napoleon at Moscow we see some great contrasts. As Moscow lays open to the French it doesn’t stop the continual round of salons going on in Petersburg. Bringing many elements together Tolstoy also makes us think and ponder such issues as what are the elements that cause history to be made and whether we really have free will, and to what extent.

Always a sheer joy to read this is a book that will hold your attention for a very long time and has a tale that comes to life in your hands.
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on 11 January 2008
Don't listen Dr. Clifford - this is a wonderful translation, faithful and fluent. I don't know the Briggs (whose translation is incidentally not exactly 'new'), but the Pevear is quite fabulous.

In criticising repetition, Dr Clifford has entirely missed the point that the repetitions are Tolstoy's, and quite deliberate. It is previous translators who have sought to 'improve' on the original by adding their own variations. Clifford makes the same old error. Pevear does not.

I am afraid I find Dr Clfford's claim that Pevear's English is poor incomprehensible, as if said of a different translation altogether. This is a wonderfully accessible translation of a nineteenth century novel, which also manages to feel true to its period and to avoid anacronisms.

The use of French in the text is also true to the original. In his own editions/revisions, this is how Tolstoy started and what he came back to. Pevear includes full translations in footnotes (of a perfectly legible size). Nor, incidentally, is the French especially taxing. Why is the French there ? Because that's how Russians of a certain milieu spoke (and, some would say, thought and dreamed) in the Napoleonic era. Why has Pevear not removed it ? Why on earth would he want to ?

But don't take my word for it; read Orlando Figes online on the Pevear translation in the New York Review of Books - the same Orlando Figes who wrote the foreword to the Briggs edition.

Finally - the Pevear is still in hardback, and is a fittingly beautiful and pleasing object in its own right.
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on 20 January 2008
This is the third translation I have read - the Rosemary Edmonds and the Briggs translations being the previous two - and it is clearly the best. You are captured from the start by the crystalline clarity of the prose and Pevear's annotations are helpful and inobtrusive. Ignore Doctor Rollo!
I would also make similar point to the previous reviewer - the hardback book is a lovely object to look at and hold. If you're going to have something in your hands for a couple of months, better to make it something that is good looking!
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on 4 October 2011
First of all I'd like to make 1 thing clear; WAR AND PEACE is absolutely fantastic. Wordsworth's publishing of it is not so fantastic.

If you buy Wordsworth's edition of this book be sure to find it riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes, capital letters in the middle of words and other obvious mistakes that the editors really should have picked up on.

Thankfully, it's quite a popular book so there are many publications out there.
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