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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 2 January 2016
Probably the best option for Kindle users. This is the classic Louise and Aylmer Maude translation - the same as in my Everyman hardback. It seems to avoid the typographic and layout problems that are annoying in so many Kindle books. I notice that it has 'enhanced typesetting'. Perhaps that is the reason. My only complaint is that there are no maps. That's a big advantage of the Everyman print edition, though maps are always illegible in Kindle editions. This Collins version doesn't have Everyman's handy dates lists either, but the essential character list is included.
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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 23 February 2016
Free Will and Fate

Anyone who tells you they have read this book twice in a year is lying - twice in a lifetime is more like it. It is four large 'novels' strung together in an unconventional narrative, with large sections dedicated to discussing history, the reality of 'free will', 'great men', etc that many will find a tad too much.

For the rest of us, War and Peace is the story of three Russian aristocratic families whose fortunes intersect during the Napoleonic Wars. It is written with great insight and economy for a book so fantastically large, but it is about whether fate is real and free will, an illusion. The plot comes out on the side of fate (and God's will) every time. In any other novel, I would have slammed the book shut at the first sign of co-incidence. Not War and Peace. There are so many co-incidences in this sprawling saga that there can be little doubt of the author's intentions. He wants us to question again the inevitable victory of the scientific world, of the human progress idea, that notion that the ancients had it all wrong, that Napoleon was a genius, that there is a historical tide whose time was coming.

There is something bracing and other-worldly about this story, which is why it is so highly regarded and has been read and re-read. The characters are flesh and blood - the clumsy but questioning Pierre, the inheritor of great wealth who understands nothing until he has nothing, is a favourite. Who cannot but love Natasha, the naive, pure, loving Rostov daughter, who stumbles from tragedy to tragedy only to end up happily married? It is hard to imagine another book with a Platon, the poor doomed soldier who goes through his suffering last days with a smile, cheering up his fellow prisoners on their death march? Tolstoy -did he make it all up, or were these all flesh and blood? My view is that the characters, like the story, were archetypes for him to springboard his spiritual views. He has so much to say about human behaviour and spirituality, he seems to need all the characters conjures up here to make his points clear.

Tolstoy said War and Peace is not a novel, and he is right. He has a loose narrative structure and the Napoleonic War is his framework, but it is more a meditation on the debate between fate and free will, and on how humans know very little and stumble around in apparent certainty only to find they were totally wrong. Although events seem accidental, nothing he says or does is remotely accidental. It is all cleverly conceived and revealing of a huge mind at work.

So War and Peace is not only the longest novel I've ever read, it is a colossal one. Through it, you see how small and blind humanity is, and how massive and unknowable the world is.
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on 29 August 2015
Confession: I approached reading this in the same way as a jogger might approach running a marathon. I wanted to see if I could do it. Well I have! Due to my having no knowledge of the time period which it covers I did find it a little hard going at first, however I quickly became comfortable with the characters and events. To me it is a strange mashing together of two distinctly different books, albeit each requiring some input from the other. Peace - I enjoyed the study of Russian upper society at that time. I actually cared about the characters and what would become of them. War - I found the endless repetetive descriptions of military strategy incredibly boring. I found myself not caring about those very same characters I enjoyed in peace when they moved into war pieces. In fact I secretly hoped that they would be lost to the war so that the book could move along more quickly as their musings and observations became tedious. So, did I enjoy the book? Yes. Would I read it again? No. Is it one of the best books ever written? As with all books it depends on the opinion of the individual reading it.
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on 25 March 2016
I was inspired to read 'War and Peace' after watching the 2016 BBC 6-part drama. The BBC version is very good but I imagined the book would be better, would give more detail and shine some light on parts that a condensed television drama cannot possibly squeeze in.
I also wanted to read War and peace as its one of the world’s great literary epic's that calls out to be read. There are a few novels out there which are longer but are generally obscure by comparison, so War and Peace is the one to read.
The book is generally divided between the personal lives of the main characters, the battle scenes and the political situation in Europe and Russia around the turn of the century. Not being a military strategist I found many of the battle scenes a little difficult to follow and was more interested in the lives of the main characters.
On a practical note, the Russian names can be a bit confusing and make it difficult to follow, Petya is sometimes referred to as Peter or Petyr, Prince Andrei is sometimes called Andrew, and surnames are sometimes extended with 'i', and 'ya', but I found that after watching the BBC drama it was easier to put faces to names which helps to follow the storyline. There are a few genuinely heart-warming scenes that Tolstoy captures brilliantly, when Pierre comforts Natasha after her loss of Prince Andrews affection and the closeness between Andrew and his sister while Andrew lies on his death-bed. It is these vignettes that lift War and Peace above the level of a soap opera.
Having said all that I am not quite as enraptured as many other reviewers. As a piece of literature it does not reach the same lofty heights as a piece by William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, however, in fairness that could be due to it being a translation from the original Russian into modern English, perhaps something is lost in translation that resonates with the Russian outlook.
As I closed the final chapter I could not help feeling War and Peace ran out of steam, it seemed to fizzle out, there was no great conclusion as the main characters retired to a peaceful family retirement in the country.
Notwithstanding, it is a good read and I'm glad I got there in the end.
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on 18 March 2016
In case you don't know - this book is about the Napoleonic wars and the periods of peace in between.
The Mount Everest of the book world. I had never had any desire to read this, until I started watching the BBC tv series, and then I got sucked in. Due to being more than 100 years old you can download some versions of this book for free, so what could I lose...? I had read a lot of things about this book... one Guardian reviewer claims it will only take 10 days to read this... well if you work full time and have a life, with a page count of 1500, this was wrong! I read fairly quickly and usually manage at least an hour and a half most days, it still took me two months to read. It starts off great - with the social scene in Russian high society, this intrigued me. Its the war parts that I struggled with, but you can't skip these, as they do contribute to the rest of the plot.
Another claim is that this book is a master class in story telling - yes I would have to agree. I loved the way that Tolstoy uses language, it keeps your attention and you can easily picture the scenes that he describes.
There is no main character in this book - also correct, there are a collection of characters and some have bigger roles than others. No one person stands out as "the lead"
A word of caution - this version had some introductory chapters by learned people explaining various aspects of the plot and history, I started to read these, until they gave away a big part of the plot. So if you don't want any spoilers save these till after you've read the book.
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on 29 January 2016
I should have read this year's ago but the sheer volume put me off. Also I remember trying to read a very old translation of Anna Karenina and the archness of the translation made understanding very difficult. But with the advent of the TV adaptation I thought the time had come for me embark on this epic read and I am not disappointed. The translation is very good - shame about some of the typos, - but the feeling of life in Russia in the early 18th century is very well captured. There is more war in the book than on TV but again the emotions this provokes amongst the civilians and those engaged in military action are very well expressed. The additional notes are also extremely useful in setting the scene and preparing the reader for what is to come and should not be missed out.
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on 9 April 2016
I have to admit I skipped about half of this very lengthy tome. I tried to appreciate the war scenes and the dozens of various Russian military personnel, and the different campaigns and strategies, but descriptions of armed conflict makes my brain hurt.

So I concentrated on the personal stories of the main individuals and, these I found fascinating.
Some are lovable while others are detestable, but all complex, proving how brilliantly Tolstoy creates and develops the individuality of his characters.

It was hard work at first simply remembering who was who, especially as each person has an official title, a less formal title, and one less formal still, none of which are easily pronounceable for we who's native language is English. But with perseverance I became gradually familiarised and then engrossed to the point where, for several weeks, this was the only place I wanted to be.

It's a challenging read but something I've wanted to master for many years. I do feel that I've been a party to a very special piece of literature, the characters of which I feel I've known intimately and will never forget.

Obviously a very hard one to follow !
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on 2 March 2016
Well worth the effort,read it years ago as a student,think I enjoyed it more this time. A clear translation and a great story. However this is three books rather than one and only one part of it is a novel. Alongside which we get a very good military history of Russia's war against Napoleon and a series of fairly pedantic, repetitive and didatic lectures on the meaning of life. The last section comprises one of these and constitutes one of the least engaging conclusions to a novel. It is a great work and makes you think but I think he may have benefited from a good editor. Tolstoy was very much an individual and wrote entirely what he intended but it makes for a long slog.
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on 18 October 2015
Tolstoy's masterpiece and weighty novel chronicling the fortunes of a number of families and individuals as Russia found gradually herself face to face with Napoleon and his enormous army is renowned for being one of the most famous classics that is rarely finished. My own copy languished on my bookshelves for over 35 years before I resolved to try and complete it! So 2015 will be remembered by me as the year I completed War and Peace.

For Tolstoy the year of significance is of course 1812. The year the Russian Army was "defeated" by the French at Borodino and that the French entered Moscow. An triumph that quickly turned to disaster. A turning point in history. A "hinge of fate" on which the rest of C19 European history hangs. Tolstoy spends much of the latter part of the book musing on the inevitability of events, turning over and over how a French "victory" led inevitably to the destruction of the French army and ultimately to Napoleon's rout.

Tolstoy muses extensively on the notion of individual freedom concluding that although we like to think of ourselves or our leaders as having free will to make this or that decision, history often implies that those actions were in fact circumscribed by factors largely invisible to us but influencing all that we do.

Tolstoy tries to show that great historical events are cyclical in nature, following a pattern of peaks and troughs and never static. His insights, though weighing rather densely on C21 ears, are not without their value today as we look in helpless horror at the unfolding events in the Middle East and consider the fall out for Europe. Life goes on, people pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and start again, there is a time for war and a time for peace....
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