Monday, June 07, 2010

War and Peace: My Review

I have now finished War and Peace.

It's hard to know what to say about a book that is a famous classic, so I will give you some random assorted thoughts, in no particular order.
  • Parts of the book were amazing, life-altering, crazy good, in characteristic Tolstoy ways. If you were very moved by Anna Karenina you should be moved by War and Peace too, and W&P is much longer, so there is more.
  • More of the moving parts of W&P are about characters facing death (or the possibility of death) or suffering.
  • The book inspired in me an interest in the Napoleonic Wars (especially the Russia parts) that felt very similar to how I think a lot of people feel about the Civil War. I now want to independently read about this. I am not usually interested in battles or wars, so that's strange for me. If you tend to enjoy books about soldiers or wars (say, similarly to how Sally enjoys books about life on ships), W&P might hit your buttons.
  • That said, Tolstoy is not big on describing the exact tactical moves or positions of armies taken in various battles, largely because he does not believe such things exist in a meaningful way or that they determine outcomes. He's rather adamant about this. There is one map showing the positions of the armies, but for the most part you get a broad overview and then specific details concerning the characters we care about.
  • Most of the book isn't about war, but about the lives of various people, similar to how Anna Karenina was, and a fair bit concerns who will ultimately marry whom and how various fortunes will be disposed. There were many times that the book made me gasp in surprised delight or feel real despair over what happened to the characters.
  • It is fantastically written.
  • I got extremely annoyed reading Part II of the Epilogue, which is basically a very long essay about history and free will. I was heard to say out loud, more than once, "Tolstoy, shut up." Maybe I simply missed the brilliance of it all, but I think it could have used some serious editing and been a much stronger essay with 1/5 as many words. Since it was the last thing I read, it made me not like the book as well overall. If I reread W&P, which I hope I will someday, I will probably skip that part.
  • It is long, but, by the time you get near the end, you'll wish it were longer, at least until you get to Part II of the Epilogue.
I certainly recommend it unconditionally. I also have a rather pretty softcover edition that someone is welcome to have.


Sally said...

It sounds like Part II of the Epilogue is the W&P equivalent of the Galt speech.

I have a 3 hour layover in Milwaukee which might benefit from a long book I don't have to worry about finishing before I finally get home...

Tam said...

I'll be delighted to send you off with it. It did take me a while to get into, initially, so it might not be an ideal airplane novel, but you can judge for yourself.

And yes, Part II of the Epilogue is definitely the W&P equivalent of the Galt speech, both in its unnecessary length and in the fact that, given that one has read the rest of the book, one already knows what it will say.