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Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times Hardcover – May 20, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1451644708 ISBN-10: 1451644701

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451644701
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451644708
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


That a novel 'full of clear, honest reflection on the pain of living' is also 'one of the most life-affirming works of fiction' becomes, for Andrew D. Kaufman, a contradiction worth exploring. He does so in this alluring study with a ferocity and lightness of touch that Tolstoy himself would have admired. By exploring a handful of key themes in War and Peace, Kaufman brings us back to the shimmering pages of a classic novel, and his book is nothing less than inspiring.
(Jay Parini, author of The Last Station)

No other novel in world literature possesses the intimidating allure of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It is the very Everest of fiction, and most readers need a sherpa. Andrew Kaufman has not only produced a perfect guide to the setting, characters, history, and background of this epic work, all skillfully interwoven with events in Tolstoy’s life; he has done so with zest and personality.
(Dana Gioia, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and internationally acclaimed poet)

Andrew Kaufman has written the book on War and Peace for our time. In his colloquial and personal style he explores, as his subtitle puts it, Tolstoyan Wisdom For Troubled Times, recovering this wisdom not only from Tolstoy’s diaries, letters, and essays, but, more importantly yet, the text of the novel itself. This is quite simply the most engaging and thought-provoking book on Tolstoy I have ever read.
(Richard Gustafson, Columbia University, author of Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger)

Andrew Kaufman has found a refreshingly informal way of reading (and re-reading) War and Peace, weaving the lives of the novel’s characters together with Tolstoy’s life and his own. By breaking all the critical rules, he manages to enter into the ever shifting and growing reality that Tolstoy sought to portray, producing an excellent ‘companion’ for new readers of the novel.
(Richard Pevear, best-selling, award-winning translator (with Larissa Volokhonsky) of War and Peace and Anna Karenina)

With literary insight and stylistic flair, Andrew D. Kaufman shows why War and Peace is not just a monumental work of fiction but also a kind of user’s manual for a world out of joint. Read Tolstoy, of course, but then read Kaufman to uncover the hidden truths that are sometimes lost amid the cannonades and drawing-room conversations.
(Charles King, author of Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams)

Andrew Kaufman has done a remarkable job of combining personal interest and experience, impressive writing skill, and a remarkably wise sense of humor, with the irresistible compulsion to read Tolstoy’s presentation of life itself. Many critics have had their go at this novel–few of them have displayed the personal attractiveness possessed by this lover of Tolstoyan vision.
(Irwin Weil, Northwestern University)

“Looking across the ocean, it seems that Andrew Kaufman’s book represents America’s best new understanding of Tolstoy’s universal truths.”
(Pytor Palievsky, former Deputy Director of the Gorky Institute of World Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow)

[Give War and Peace a Chance] records Kaufman’s ongoing personal and professional quest for authenticity that has unfolded through many years of reading and rereading Tolstoy’s classic, alone and with others. Alternatively chatty and probing, Kaufman offers anecdotes from his experiences and those of his students and fellow readers that parallel those of Tolstoy and his characters, reasserting its relevance in our time. This is a substantial, informative, authoritative and yet highly personal book that will impress scholars and general readers alike. Kaufman, your friend, fellow traveler, and confidant, is a great listener, an in-the-know gossip, and a virtuoso storyteller. Join him in conversation with other readers about things that matter: love, family, courage, death, perseverance, truth. Get to know them all: author, critics, characters; get to know yourself. Humorous, smart, human, pitch-perfect, alternatively hilarious and profound, this is a great ‘great book’ book. Give Give War and Peace a Chance a chance.
(Carol Apollonio, Duke University, author of Dostoevsky’s Secrets: Reading Against the Grain)

From the Inside Flap

Often hailed by critics as the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace, at 1500 pages, is also one of the most intimidating. Still, it is a perennial bestseller, with new editions appearing regularly--almost a century and a half after its first publication. So what does everyone find so irresistible in this novel about the Napoleonic wars?

A mirror of our times.

Beyond a rousing, unforgettable story, says Russian literature scholar Andrew D. Kaufman, Tolstoy's masterpiece can offer modern readers an urgent moral compass and a celebration of the deep joy of living. In Give War and Peace a Chance, his entertaining, thought-provoking, and accessible argument for why War and Peace is more relevant to readers now than ever, Kaufman argues compellingly that War and Peace is many things. It is a love story, a family saga, a war epic. But at its core it is a novel about human beings attempting to create a meaningful life for themselves in a country torn apart by war, social change, political intrigue, and spiritual confusion. Give War and Peace a Chance takes readers on a journey through War and Peace that reframes their very understanding of what it means to live through troubled times, and survive them.

Touching on a broad range of topics, from courage to romance, from parenting to death, Kaufman demonstrates how Tolstoy's wisdom can help us live fuller and more meaningful lives. An ideal companion to War and Peace, yet equally enjoyable to those who have never read a word of Tolstoy, Give War and Peace a Chance renders this greatest of masterpieces more approachable, relevant, and fun.

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Customer Reviews

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I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who will never read "War and Peace".
Cecilia Roman
Kaufman's enduring insight -- what ties together the different strands of his book, is that Tolstoy's worldview offers a way to live our lives.
Michael Signer
Dr. Andrew Kaufman has written a wonderful book in which he discusses the events and characters of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
George Taliaferro Massie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Emily Blout on June 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover
A literature major in college, I endured a whole semester of War and Peace in a seminar dedicated to Tolstoy's works. I emerged with a "B" and little appreciation for the man and his works. It may have been my age and stage in life, or perhaps it was my professor, but it took until now -- and Dr. Kaufman's book Give War and Peace A Chance -- to open the world of Tolstoy to me in all its glorious, nuanced forms. I am not one to post reviews in these types of forums, but I feel compelled to add my voice to the chorus of praise for this book. Whether you're a lover of Russian literature or just a lover of the classics, you'll find this book an easy, enjoyable read. Through juicy antidotes and tantalizing insights, Kaufman renders the literary giant Leo Tolstoy into a flawed, sympathetic man and his sprawling, epic vision of the Franco-Prussian war into what many of us recognize as modern geopolitics.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dr T. on May 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover
If this is the only book you read this year followed by War and Peace itself you will be richly rewarded. I have read Tolstoy's novel twice, now I intend to make it three times because Andrew Kaufman has guided and educated me in the lightest possible and most readable way to derive even more pleasure from the experience. A respected academic he has found a way of telling and showing how this novel contains eternal truths lessons for today and for ever.

It is unusual perhaps to encounter a book which is an analysis but also enlightening but made accessible by readable fluent prose Not only do I admire Andrew Kaufman I applaud him for such a triumph of literary criticism. His enthusiasm is infectious I challenge you not to want to read War and Peace having read his book. Please go and buy it and Tolstoy's novel and lose your self for the next few days/weeks!! I promise you, you will not regret it. Both books are life changing. Frances Twinn a bookworm from London in her mid sixties!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Signer on May 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This is a searching, gripping, moving book that somehow accomplishes a trifecta.

First, it's a literary thriller, as we discover the answers to life's deepest questions (Imagination, Success, Rupture, Idealism, Family, Courage, Death), by walking through the story and the characters of War and Peace. Second, it's a intellectually serious reckoning with Leo Tolstoy's restless, joyous, all-encompassing worldview. And, finally, it's a "bibliomemoir" of the highest rank (a term Joyce Carol Oates used in reviewing Rebecca Mead's recent "My Life in Middlemarch": [...]

That Andrew Kaufman pulls all this off is a credit to what he says is his 25 year journey "relationship" with Tolstoy. The book's most powerful moments are divided between stories from the book that Kaufman explores for how they resonate with the biggest question of all: how should I live my life?

One example: when Pierre asks Prince Andrei, in the context of a discussion about reforms to bring about a more just society, "Do you believe in a future life?" Andrei responds, "[L]ife and death are what convince me." The friends debate on a ferry raft through the night, as "the sun has already half disappeared, the evening frost has formed, and the stars have sprinkled the sky." Andrei "destroys Pierre's every argument," Kaufman writes, "denying the existence of an absolute morality or of divine order." Yet after the debate, he looks up at that same star-filled sky -- and "something long asleep, something that was best in him, suddenly awakened joyful and young in his soul." He goes on to bring about the reforms on his own estate.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dr Conrade Yap on May 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Love it or hate it? That is what classic novels are all about. It is one thing to hear people calling it a classic. Yet, the true impact of a classic is how it impacts culture over time, across cultural boundaries, and the lessons it still has for us today. This book is another testimony of the powerful Tolstoyan novel that gives us not simply a story to remember but lots of wisdom to cherish. A recognized scholar of Russian studies, and a Tolstoy expert in Oprah's Book Club, author Andrew Kaufman had written many books on Tolstoy, including the popular "Russian for Dummies." For more than 25 years, the author has had a love-hate relationship with the classic Tolstoy novel, "War and Peace." His motivation for writing this book is essentially personal. He shares about how in getting himself soaked and lost in the book's stories, he found himself lessons for life. That life, like what Tolstoy had said is a battle in itself. At the same time, life is interestingly "balanced," with the author walking this tightrope through reflections on life being "both messy and meaningful, prosaic and poetic, sensuous and ... sensible." The novel is a piece of art that is able to reflect the whole of life, and that is the purpose of this book, about how the author sees the relevance of Tolstoy, and how it still speaks today for us.

For fans of Tolstoy, the mere reading of the title is already highly tempting. Twelve themes fill this volume with "Tolstoyan wisdom," to see life through the lenses of Tolstoy, in particular "War and Peace." Kaufman calls the time in which Tolstoy had lived in the 1800s as a "mirror of our times." How is it then a mirror? In a nutshell, it reflects a world of chaos, war, and turmoil.
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