The basics: Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the story of a few prominent Russian families around the period of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Roughly, the first part is fancy dinners and balls as the Russian elite try to make sense of Alexander’s liberal policies and the role of Napoleon in Europe. The second part is about Napoleon’s military exploits in 1812-1813. The last part (roughly 20%) is the aftermath. Even though my version is 884 pages of small print, ultimately I found it fresh and engaging.
When I started War and Peace seven months ago, I did so mainly to check off the book from my bucket list. Besides having seen the 2016 miniseries, I did not know much about the book’s plot or themes. At first, this read was a struggle; I will admit that I read multiple reads “lapped” this one – I probably read 25 whole books concurrently with the time it took me to read the first 60% of this one. I ended up checking out a study guide from the library to help me get all of the characters and their relationships straight. That was the first time I have ever done that, and it was very helpful. After reviewing the study guide, I spent all of my reading time in the last month solely on War and Peace, and I am so glad I did. To me, it was an edifying and entertaining read.
In scope, War and Peace is more broad than a traditional novel. While it certainly is a novel, it also includes no small bit of military thought (Tolstoy was a veteran himself), political philosophy, and what could be called philosophy of history. In fact, the second epilogue is a 200- or 300-level class on history, determinism, and the relationship between the individual and social influences. There is also a lot of dunking on Napoleon, who comes off as the Michael Scott of early 19th century European politics. So, you know, come for the epic experience, stay for the roast.