War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

“If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason,the possibility of life is destroyed.”

Before starting the review of the book i would like to tell the readers that there are few books which must be read in a lifetime and this book will probably be on top of the list.I had seen this book mentioned in,”Into the wild” and ever since was on my reading list.Then while reading JS and times of my life by Jug Suraya there is chapter where he mentions two books which everyone must read and this book was one of them.With over 500 characters distributed in 15 volumes this is no ordinary book to read.You may meet many people who would have given up on the book but I assure you the first few volumes requires a little patience after which one gets acquainted with the characters.The greatness of this book lies in the fact that it covers all the aspects of human nature and humanity as a whole. The beauty of War and Peace is in its characters and also the contrast in all these characters.The author delves into the lives of many of these characters and presents the coming of age stories, enlightenment stories and in general the day to day stories of these characters in a war backdrop.Talks of ambition,joy,fear,loathing,anticipation, pride,faith,love,marriage,family,solitude,friendship,bravery,compassion,impatience and so  on are plenty in its vivid characters.

The first two decades of the nineteenth century saw the rivalry between Alexander and Napolean, a very important event in the European history.The battle at Jena on 14th October 1806,the meeting in January and June 1807 when the Russians were decisively defeated,the treaty at Tilsit on 25th June 1807,the dissatisfaction over the state of affairs and the consequent march of Napolean,the battle at Smolensk,the capture of Moscow and the retreat of the French army marks the key events of a history of which so much has been written.Tolstoy discusses the events of the war and the decisions in minute details.He talks about the historians take on the war and also the factors which would have led thousands into the war.There are events, the evenings before war , the day of war, a romantic meeting and many others where he describes the color of the sky and the setting and not only are these descriptions vivid but also magical.

It is interesting to see how each character evolves over the entire phase of the book.One of the interesting characters is of Prince Andrew Bolkonsky.His first taste of war, post war changes,injury , love and war again answers many questions for the reader and takes one through a beautiful journey called life.Same is the case with Pierre Bezukhov who probably is the most interesting character in the novel.I like his passages on happiness, his wanderings and the pursuit of truth and freedom.There are many other characters like Natasha,Sonya,Marie,Nicholas Rostov,Petya,Helen,Boris who bring out all the possible type of people and their thinking in general.

War makes one more aware of living.Prince Andrew in his sleep listens to the rattle of carriage wheels,sounds of canons,bullets whistling and it did not make him agonized,instead he experienced a ten fold joy of living,as he had not done since childhood.A close encounter with death which is often the case in a war brings out an untouched feeling.At Pratzin Heights the Russian army was battered and defeated.Prince Andrew was injured and held as a prisoner by Buonaparte.To quote his lines,”There is nothing certain,nothing at all except the unimportance of everything I understand,and the greatness of something incomprehensible but all-important.”

As I entered the 300 page mark I understood why the book is regarded as one of the best books ever written.The volume 2 of the book starts with the signing of the treaty.The book digs into the personal lives of Pierre and Prince Andrew.Pierre had always led a sedentary life and was unhappy with it.His transformation into leading a more meaningful life has many hidden lessons for the reader.On the contrary Andrew had loved the war but a personal catastrophe changed him drastically.I loved the internal struggle that they go through.Another character worth mentioning is Boris, coming from a humble background his only goal in life was to rise higher even though it came with a lot of flattery.One of the lines of Pierre is worth quoting,“He now experienced a glad consciousness that everything that constitutes men’s happiness-the comforts of life,wealth,even life itself-is rubbish,it is pleasant to throw away.” 

The book beautifully covers the frivolity of youth,the charms of beauty and the struggles in love.Through its characters it has comprehensively covered all human emotions and situations for e.g.love in the case of Natasha.The personal struggle of Natasha during her separation from her loved one not only tests her patience but makes her act irrationally.Natash has a a charm, is beautiful and is young and like any other young she becomes sad and happy at ease and flattered easily too.

Napolean was weary of the European forces and found an utter disregard of the treaty by the Russians.He had no option but to wage a war.From the Russian perspective,the book mentions their lack of vision and no unification of strategy.It also mentions the different motives and ends for every individual in the war.Along with the policies and demographics the author brings out the emotional aspect of the war again dwelling into the lives of its characters.

August 25th,the battle of Borodino holds a special significance in the Russian-French war.It was one battle where the Russians stood their ground in-spite of thousands of causalities. Napolean saw the a defeat for the first time and it took sometime to sink in.Tolstoy covers the happenings of the day in vivid detail.He discusses the views of other historians of the war.The emotional conflicts of Napolean,Pierre,Kutuzov and Andrew makes the reader more aware of the war.By the end of the day every person on both the sides had realized the futility of the war.Though the historians hold different views on the war there is no denying of its perils and horrors.

“The terrible spectacle of the battle-field covered with dead and wounded,together with the heaviness of his head and the news that some twenty generals he knew personally had been killed or wounded,and the consciousness of the impotence of his one mighty arm,produced an unexpected impression on Napolean who usually liked to look at the killed and wounded thereby, he considered,testing his strength.”

All the fifteen volumes of the book are interesting and deal with a particular matter be it a war,peace,the personal lives of the characters or about life in general.Tolstoy talks a lot about historians,war strategies in the last few parts.He identifies with the wisdom of Kutuzov and discusses the rational behind his decision of evacuating Moscow.The French on reaching Moscow had lost a mot of men and lack of supplies and cold had added to their woes.Napolean had no other option but to retreat.Definitely at that point the Russians were at advantage and could have easily over powered the French.Kutuzov knew that the French were retreating and there was no point in waging war which would have only resulted in loss of many more human lives.His decision of vacating Moscow and then not confronting the French came under a lot of criticism but probably that was the best that could have been done.Tolstoy in the last few chapters discusses in  detail the reasons of Napolean’s departure from Moscow and also the historians take on Napolean.

The period of the campaign of 1812 from the battle of Borodino to the expulsion of the French proved that the winning of a battle does not produce a conquest and is not even an invariable indication of conquest,it proved that the force which decides the fate of peoples lies not in the conquerors nor even in armies and battles but in something else.

My favorite character in the book was Pierre and I would like to end the review by quoting some of his lines,“While imprisoned in the shed Pierre had learned,not with his intellect but with his whole being,by life itself,that man is created for happiness,that happiness is within him,in the satisfaction of simple human needs,and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from superfluity.”    

Rating: 4.9/5


Published by ekraastahaijindagi

Arsenalist,reader,runner,oldmonker,footballer,photographer,trekker,traveler,socialworker,writer,biker,IITian,MBA,Travel blogger, book reviewer. For the last 11 years I have been traveling with the notion , one idea to be with the nature and explore places. In between all this i also carry a full time job in the Social sector. This has been the greatest experiment of my life, to quit all and travel and to give back to the society

8 thoughts on “War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

  1. I am sure one needs a lot of patience to read this book and even more daunting is the task of writing a review for it.. I just read a review of the book, Into the wild and I am intrigued to pick it up.. I love the quotes you have cited here.. Thanks for the detailed review..

  2. Great review! I am currently reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, after which I plan on reading War and Peace. It seems like such a daunting task though, the book is enormous!

    1. Actually i had received a signed copy of Jug’s book for review , he had mentioned about this book in his autobiography,”JS and the Times of my life.”You can read the review of the same in the Book reviews section

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