War and Peace (Oxford World's Classics)
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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2006
I'll admit that I only read this so that I could honestly tell people I've read it. And yet it was extraordinary, the greatest novel I've ever read. As the spotlight reviewer says, it's long because it covers everything. Tolstoy surprises, reassures, and consumes at the turn of every page. He knows me. He knows my life. He knows how I will turn out and how my life will turn out. His characters are all so alive and realistic that when a knock on the door interrupts my reading and I go to answer it, I expect Prince Andrei standing on the other side. You'd think that it would be hard to get into the head of a Russian cavalry lieutenant from two centuries ago - the equivalent of my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather - via the imagination of a Russian aristocrat who is the equivalent of my great-great-great-grandfather. But no. Tolstoy makes them feel like my friends. He describes war as the utterly confused and perpetually unjust mess that it must surely be (like the WWI poets), and covers so many other themes that it would take a work almost as long as W&P to do them any justice.

Especially when taken with Anna Karenina, which is almost as impressive and somewhat more coherent as a single story, Tolstoy seems more like the omniscient god of mankind's imagination to me than any religious "God" does. Bravo.

PS: The Oxford World Classic edition is great. The translation by Aylmer and Louise Maude was approved by Tolstoy himself and is never stilted - it hasn't even aged greatly. There are a handful of helpful maps, a list of characters, and a timeline. The typeface is easy to read and by no means small. The inner margin is wide, meaning that the words never run too close into the spine, which is itself quite strong. The endnotes are helpful and thankfully referenced by page number, thus not being difficult to find, unlike the accursed numbers-arranged-by-chapter format. The only drawback is the weight: one-handed reading will be uncomfortable for some, but on the whole I think the ever-so-slightly heavier paper will be appreciated. The price is certainly a bonus. For the record, this is the only classic which I bought and read straight away, right the way through on the first go!
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2011
I started off with Pevear/Volokhonsky translation ("P/V", War and Peace (Vintage Classics)), but midway through also got a Maude translation ("Maude", War and Peace (Oxford World's Classics)), and finished the reading using both. This review addresses specifically these two editions linked here - apparently there are multiple different editions using these same translations.

P/V, I understand, is a recent new translation with an aim to better transfer the original literary tone of Tolstoy's Russian while the Maude is a (the?) classic translation continuously in print for almost a century but revised by Amy Mandelker for the modern audience (how much revision I do not know since I have not read any older Maude edition, but I presume the revisions are carried out conservatively). Both are accompanied with extensive end notes and other supplementary materials to provide contextual information. An interesting thing I noted is that both have the French passages in text with the translation in footnotes, and I understand that it is a P/V innovation that was adopted in the new Maude edition I'm addressing.

I've got Maude because while reading P/V I came across passages that are not merely awkward but incomprehensible despite the copious book-end notes. The Maude reads straight-forward and generally presented me no problem in following the narratives and conversations.

Returning to problematic passages in P/V, I found some of them more lively and direct ONCE I already understood the gist of the passage from the Maude. There are some other passages where P/V simply reads more direct and lively whereas Maude reads more dry and flat. For the larger part, though, the translations are almost identical.

For first-time readers of "War and Peace", I would recommend the Maude. It is written in a comprehensible straight-forward manner, accompanied with more extensive set of supplementary materials to explain the context (e.g, maps, more book-end notes, etc.), and is handsomely produced (kudos to Oxford Classics' series producers). P/V, I think, despite some passages where the translation is more engaging, is of interest more to those who already read an older translation and understand the basic text, who seek a different (or differently nuanced) translation.

I'll throw in an opinionated commentary. While the P/V's aim is admirable and ambitious, I feel it ultimately failed to achieve that objective. I'm a "lay" first-time reader of "War and Peace" with no background in the Russian language or the Russian literature, and the odd incomprehensible English passages only invoke the expected negative reaction and tell me nothing of Tolstoy's "War and Peace". On the other hand, if I were an avid fan of "War and Peace" and want to get the feel of the original literary tone of Tolstoy's Russian "War and Peace", I would learn Russian and read "War and Peace" in Russian instead of mucking around with another English translation. The appeal of the new P/V translation therefore seems rather limited to certain specific audience.

Lastly, actually about "War and Peace" itself. Tolstoy's writing on the (early 19th century) Russian society and family interaction is, despite the age, witty and engaging - the portrayal of family life in the Epilogue, Part I, truly hits it home. However, the battle scenes and his theory of history are, to this modern day reader, bit wearisome.

NOTE: Do NOT read the foreword/preface/introduction (whatever it's called) by Amy Mandelker at the beginning - it contains plot spoilers.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 13, 2003
To have only 1,000 words to describe why I like this book is not nearly enough. I have read this book 6 times and I confess I find something new everytime. I expect I will the next six, or eight or ten times. The story of War and Peace involves a large cast of characters. The ones to keep an eye on are the Bolkonskys (based on Tolstoy's own family), the Rostovs, and Pierre Bezukov. There are also the nasty Kuragins whose presence generally means trouble of one sort or another for one of the other characters.
Tolstoy originally wanted to do a book on the Decemberists, a group of aristocratic Russian rebels who really came of age during the war with Napoleon. However, his novelist's sense told him that it would be a more interesting story if he looked at how the generation of 1812 came to be what they later became.
This book works on different levels. First there is the plot of book which contains some of the most fully realized characters in all of literature.
It is also about Tolstoy's theory of history which is meant to be an answer to Carlyle's "Great Man of History." In Tolstoy's mind, great men of history, with their many concerns are the slave of history. In this book he manages to turn Carlyle on his head.
Finally, this is the great national epic of Russian literature. Considering the competition this is a fairly bold assertion. What Tolstoy is writing about here is how Russia, at least the Frenchified upper class became Russian.
This translation is much superior to the Constance Garnett translation which contains a number of questionable judgements. Ms Garnett single handedly translated most of Russian literature, but some of her translations are a bit of a departure from the original. The Bolkonsky family estate is best rendered in English as "Bald Hills" not "Bleak Hills." The Maud translation is superior in many ways.
Don't just read this book, reread it.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2000
This was one of the roads on my mission to read the Worlds Top Classics - and a long road it was. However, after getting into the novel and trying not to get too intimidated by the number of characters, I was totally absorbed by the whole experience of reading such a book.
The amount of work that Tolstoy put in to write this extremely detailed and great historical novel must have been incredible. The book works on many levels: as a romantic novel - following the lives of various charcters; it is also a historic account of the Napoleonic wars and of social history at that time; it has chapters filled with the "science" of war; Tolstoy also includes his views and the philosophies of life and history: therefore it can be read on many, and every level. I was totally spellbound reading about aspects such as the communication problems there were during this time and the different values of the people.
The book deals with many issues, including leadership which has inspired people such as Nelson Mandela (who read it while in prison). The book's chapters are also very short (sometimes 2 pages) - therefore you are also able to read the book in short doses: which I did (it took me nine months to complete the work).
However, like a small sponge in a large puddle of water, I was unable to absorb everything that this novel had to offer, and I can certainly see myself returning to re-read this book in few years.
Make yourself read this - it's worth it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2007
The Oxford World's Classics edition of "War and Peace" is the one I find myself coming back to whenever the need arises to sink into Tolstoy's novel again. I have tried others but I am most comfortable with this version.

What you're looking at here is the entire novel, unabridged, in one volume: the previous Oxford's World Classics edition of "War and Peace" was two volumes, but was entirely the same text, including the footnotes.

They've used the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation, which reads fluidly enough, except that it uses British English, including a lot of British slang, the intended effect of which, I imagine, will fall flat on an American ear.

As for the footnotes, the ones here were done by Henry Gifford, and they work as follows: next to each glossed term in the text, there appears an asterisk. In the back of the book are the corresponding annotations; there are no notes in the running text itself. The footnotes are well done and literate, but Gifford seems a bit stingy with them: there are only 26 pages of them for the entire text! Note, for example, that you are expected to be able to read French. Tolstoy's characters, as you are probably aware, were wont to speak in French, but no translations for the copious French here are offered in the footnotes.

One thing I kind of wish is that Gifford had glossed the ubiquitous British slang that peppers this translation. This would help out many readers (especially American ones) considerably, but the folks at Oxford University Press would probably take a dim view of such charity.

There is a short introduction which I would characterize as disorganized and not especially helpful.

Other editions: The Constance Garnett translation War and Peace (Modern Library Classics) has no footnotes! None whatsoever! Not on the page or in the back of the book! Good luck! (Actually, the Garnett translation seems to be the one used for many editions: publishers love it because it's public domain and they don't have to pay royalties on it.)

There is a relatively new edition being flogged by Penguin: War and Peace (Penguin Classics), translated by Anthony Briggs. I haven't read this one yet, but it does have footnotes, maps, and so forth in the back to help you.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2011
There are certain books which every person who is well-read, or at least aspires to be well-read, should read. Tolstoy's War and Peace is undoubtedly among them.

Others have written volumes on the saga. I'm sure that more than one doctoral dissertation has been submitted on the novel. There are numerous on-line sites which address all aspects of the novel. It would thus be somewhat vain for me to try and set forth here what so many others have spent their careers doing, i.e., analyzing the book.

But, if you love history, love romance, and love an author who, in telling his story raises questions about the meaning of life, our relationships with other people, the nature of good and evil, the pointlessness of war, or the point of war -- if you are fascinated by these topics, you will love War and Peace. It is a window through which we may look back to the early 19th Century, to Imperial Russia and Europe, and get a sense of what these times, people, and cultures were like.

The book is somewhat reminiscent of Herman Wouk's The Winds of War, with a bit of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice mixed in, and a dash of Thackery's Vanity Fair. The first part is an introduction of the times and main characters, and the remainder of the book follows them through the years of the Napoleonic Wars in Russia and Eastern Europe. Page by page, you will be captivated by the unfolding of historical events, and develop your own relationship with Tolstoy's characters. Some live, some die. Some meddle for no reason (other than their own boredom) in the affairs of others, causing nothing but trouble; others do not hesitate to perform acts of heroism because they are simply called upon to do so.

Don't be intimidated by the book's length, or by the large cast of characters. By the time you have read the first two or three parts, you will know them all. By the time you are in the middle of the novel, you will have a sense that they are, indeed, real people (some of them are), and that, in fact, you did know them. And when you have finished the book, there are several you will miss from the moment you close the back cover.

Now and then, it's enjoyable to read one of the great classics of literature. If you are thinking of reading War and Peace, stop thinking about it, and start reading it. You will come away richer for the effort.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2013
I can't read this book on my kindle because of all the untranslated French that has footnotes. You basically have to go to the footnotes page and back every 5 seconds which makes the reading disjointed and hard to follow
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2008
Unless you are completely stressed out over $10, buy the new Pevear and Volokhonsky's translation. The main reason is that the Oxford version has little analysis. If it had offered a bit more, it would be a good buy but it is mostly just the text. Usually they contain an excellent analysis section, but it is not inclued here, So I give the nod to the newer translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

Count Lev Nikolaevich (1828-1910), more widely known abroad as Leo Tolstoy, is recognized as one the greatest novelist in the modern era. War and Peace is a superb piece of literature that most serious readers should read at least once. Many read it twice or more. All of the fiction is excellent and never dull. The non-fiction parts seem a bit strange and the reader can skip those parts. Once the reader gets past the first few pages, the reading is relatively simple and compelling. It contains excellent prose that one might associate with Tolstoy's writing, and it is only the length that discourages the reader. This was a seven day read, cover to cover, including two 300 page days - each day about the same as a complete regular novel such as "Saturday." It is not for the faint of heart.

War and Peace is a bit of an odd novel being so long. Tolstoy goes beyond a simple novel as Anna Karenina or The Cossacks. He tells a historical tale plus he injects approximately 100 pages of his own non-fiction comments about society and war. Tolstoy's non-fiction comments ruin the book to a degree. Instead of the best novel ever written, Tolstoy's political ideas - which the reader can skip - tend to tarnish the book as a piece of literature. One feels that he should have been able to integrate his ideas into the actions of the characters rather than giving the reader long lectures on history and politics in the middle and at the end of a wonderful story (as Dostoevsky integrates his ideas on religion and morality into the dialogue). Otherwise, it is probably one of the best novels ever written.

I like Pevear and Volokhonsky's work and have bought and read three of their other works and have looked at the Oxford version very closely. All the translations, such as Oxford (Maude) and Modern Library Classics (Garnett), are good and very similar in overall quality. For example, turn to the beginning at the start of section 11. The present book uses numbers while Pevear and Volokhonsky's use Roman numerals. What other differences are there? The present book says two people "value" their friendship while Pevear and Volokhonsky says they "cherish" their friendship. Not much different. Reading on the same page, the two turn to talk to each other in Maude while in Pevear and Volokhonsky's work one speaker pulls up their chair. One would have to know Russian and consult the original text to know if the "chair" is more accurate, but overall one gets a better or a more complete picture of the events from Pevear and Volokhonsky. So, spend the extra $10. and get the newer version with the better hard cover as a bonus.

Great read: 5 stars if you have the fortitude, and worth the effort.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2007
"so well bound that it will lie open at any page" haha not quite, unless you've read it a few times.

I enjoyed the introduction to the book, to Tolstoy, the translation, characters etc... and the quick references in both back and front, which made it simple to look something up during those times when my head was swimming in a sea of names and places.

Since I do not know French I would often read near a computer with the Babel Fish translation web site up for quick decoding. I imagine a French-English dictionary would have sufficed. If you do not know French (like a few of us out there) then a reference is a must because most of the first half of this book you will be confronted by many French terms and phrases and if you have no idea what they're saying then the impact of the story kinda gets lost momentarily. Having to translate with this book made it that much more fun and interesting, I hadn't realized how enjoyable it could be to get that involved into a story.

This took me aprox. 3 weeks of on and off reading, and the sheer size of it can be intimidating, but it is a superb read, with detailed historical accounts accompanied by Tolstoy's educated opinions (not your average novel). The depth of the characters is wonderful.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2008
I had been putting off reading War and Peace for over 45 years because my early attempts were with terrible translations. After looking at reviews of different translations, I decided to try once more with the Maude version. It is very readable and I appreciate the notes in the back and the character list in the front. It reads like the great novel it is supposed to be. I only wish I had discovered it earlier, but I am enjoying it now!
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