Man, this took effort to read.

Written by

Leo Tolstoy in 1869

War and Peace is a seminal piece of world literature by Leo Tolstoy. For the longest time, I’ve heard of the book and always wondered why it was revered as a piece of prose. So, after finishing a few other books on my list, I managed to find War and Peace on the Amazon Kindle store for free and decided that it was high time I gave it a go.

The story revolves around members from five of the major houses of the Imperial Russian aristocracy at the beginning of the 19th century and vividly describes the events leading to and during the Napoleonic Wars that Russia were involved in from the point of view of the characters. Its realism and its length is testament to the fantastically thorough research carried out by Tolstoy. It is an epic book, covering eight years of Russian military history and after reading it, it is clear why it’s called War and Peace. Even in the beginning of the book, it is plainly obvious that the talk of the aristocracy is of war against France and how each house would participate in that fight. The book alternates between the characters’ experiences of battles and their lives at home with their families and friends.

As a piece of fiction that is supposedly historically accurate , it is ingeniously and meticulously crafted. The characters, being of mainly aristocratic upbringing are portrayed as self centred, small minded and consumed with one upping each other in society position. Of course, major events turn their fortunes and perspectives quite dramatically in some cases. The events of major battles such as Austerlitz that were major strategic wins for Napoleon conveyed from the point of view of Russian officers really puts the fog of war and the sheer terror of it in to sharp relief. Sure, it’s not as descriptively gory as the portrayal of battles in Game of Thrones, but the confusion of the troops and their commanders in not knowing what was going on because of the very primitive means of communications (i.e. a horse) between parts of the battlefield is a direct contrast from how modern warfare is conducted with near instantaneous communications between command and soldier, air support and precision guided missiles. Especially now, there are hardly large formations of troops meeting each other directly on the battlefield as they did back then.

That I read the book over 140 years after its initial publication is probably interesting from the perspective of the historical period that I’m reading it in. The military forces in the modern world are generally professionals, working in a meritocracy. They’re trained, conditioned and hardened over a period of years, compared to the conscripts in the early 1800s with barely any training or knowledge whatsoever of fighting. The commanders are hardly much better. Much of the positions are appointments paid for by aristocrats seeking fame rather than being there by merit, apart from the two main Russian generals during the campaigns, Kutuzov and Bagration.

By no means is War and Peace an easy book to read, akin to The Fellowship of the Ring. There have been times when I wanted to give up and move on to something else, but something about the book kept drawing me in. To learn what life was like before the advent of modern science and technology in a realistic and sometimes harrowing setting is definitely an experience that I valued.

Rating

It’s a great philosophical book

Should I read this?

Anyone who can get through this book is either a saint, unemployed or a parent of really bratty kids.

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