0141 | War & Peace – Leo Tolstoy


Context: Finished off the last of this epic (a Christmas pressie from the mother-in-law) over coffee with Mrs Arukiyomi. She was the one with the coffee.

What can I say. It took me a month to read this massive epic and I was gripped pretty much the whole way through. For anyone to be able to hold anyone’s attention for nearly 1500 closely-set pages 150 years after you write and be as relevant to them in the 21st century as you wrote in the 19th is nothing short of genius.

And, what’s more, to expend so much energy in the work to deride our praise of genius when you are one yourself only, ironically, heightens my appreciation of this man, one of the humblest writers I think I’ve read.

Although I’m aware that some other readers do not, I greatly appreciated Tolstoy’s return to the discussion of history and what it’s about. I appreciated it because all novels are about something, they all have agendas. In this day and age of political correctness where novelists like Murakami and others veil their intentions or claim to have none as they write, it was refreshing to have someone be overt about this.

Again, this is why Tolstoy will be remembered in 300 years and Murakami won’t. It takes balls to state your opinions and thinking so clearly that your antagonists can undermine you. And to take your philosophy and communicate it through the vast panorama of Napoleon and Russia that Tolstoy describes here is sheer artistry. It is sublime.

And so it is easy to take in Tolstoy’s view of history and understand what he tried to do with War and Peace. Again, it takes great humility to recognise how bitter a pill his ideas and a book this size would be to the average reader and to thereby do us the service of making them easy to digest. I’ve read far shorter books that were much, much longer.

Now, as I’ve linked to a number of other reviews below and found them, without exception, to be nearly as long as the book in question, I’m going to stop there!

Well, prince, Genoa and Lucca are now no more than private estates of the Bonaparte family.


It is not given to man to judge of what is right or wrong. Men always did and always will err, and in nothing more than in what they regard as right or wrong.

it is only a German’s conceit that is based on an abstract idea—science, that is, the supposed possession of absolute truth. The Frenchman is conceited from supposing himself mentally and physically to be inordinately fascinating both to men and to women. An Englishman is conceited on the ground of being a citizen of the best-constituted state in the world, and also because he as an Englishman always knows what is the correct thing to do, and knows that everything that he, as an Englishman, does do is indisputably the correct thing. An Italian is conceited from being excitable and easily forgetting himself and other people. A Russian is conceited precisely because he knows nothing and cares to know nothing, since he does not believe it possible to know anything fully. A conceited German is the worst of them all, and the most hardened of all, and the most repulsive of all; for he imagines that he possesses the truth in a science of his own invention, which is to him absolute truth.

In the present case, it is as essential to surmount a consciousness of an unreal freedom and to recognise a dependence not perceived by our senses.

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  1. It is my Favorite #2… and only second, to the same man’s Anna Karenina.
    So refreshing to see a favorable review of such a great novel.
    Without a doubt, “superb” is the word.

  2. I am full of shame and my cheeks are burning but i am here to confess that i’ve never read the whole book. I
    t was required reading at school but we had too little time to read the whole thing. So girls from the class were reading peace part and boys – war part and then we shared what we had read. Since that I formed this idea in my mind that War and Peace is not on my list of favorites. I know that my point of view is equals to somebody’s who claims that he dislikes Beethoven after listening to his friend’s humming of Moonlight Sonata.
    So i am thinking that after i am done with my three books which i am reading now i ll try War and Peace =)
    Thanks for reminding that this book does exists!

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