War and Peace
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2004
'War and Peace' looks formidable when it is sitting on your desk. However, the sheer readibility of this delightful historical novel eclipses the volume of the novel. 'War and Peace' reads almost like a serial publication about the military, provincial, and urban life of Russians on the brink of an epic collision with Napoleon's army and the invasion of Moscow by the French in 1812. The plot does not need rehashing here as I believe that other reviewers have done an excellent job already.
I had initially found the opening chapters of War and Peace to be somewhat archaic, particularly the battle of Austerlitz where generals looked on while their soldiers were slaughtered. Military death appeared to be portrayed with a sense of romanticism and heroics. This initial assessment was incorrect. Tolstoy was at the vanguard of modern perceptions about war in the closing chapters. Kutuzov, the Russian counterpart of Napoleon, was the moral centre of this novel: weary of war and with no lofty ambition for glory but rather, the security of his nation, and a man who respects destiny's hand in deciding the outcome of war. Kutuzov to me, was the only main character in the novel who understood chiefly, with compassion, the vileness of war but also its necessity. He was the cusp between the two central theme in the novel - war is needed to achieve peace but the cost is often diminished by the ambition of glory, medals, and renown. Tolstoy's keen assessment of humanity, the minute mannerisms that gives away a person true intentions, and the incongruous but enlightening details that are peppered throughout the novel marks him as an astute and articulate writer.
Although Tolstoy set out to write a fictional novel set within a historical context, what struck me most about War and Peace was the philosophical examination of what it means to be a good person (Pierre's quest), to love life as well as another person with the greatest depth (Prince Andrei, Princess Maria, and Natasha's journey), and the true mechanism that drives war and history (Kutuzov's battle with Napolean).
I don't feel that my review does War and Peace justice. It is an epic novel that is surprisingly intimate and empathic because of the way that Tolstoy characterizes the ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. I apologize that I may not have covered some of the important themes in the novel as I'm not particularly sophisticated in literature. I found War and Peace entertaining as well as enlightening and hope that potential readers will overcome their initial aversion due to the size of the novel and embark on this journey.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2000
I am almost through with the reading of War and Peace. It is a novel which I have been wanting to read for years but which I never did. Now that I am almost to the end of it I would like to stress how incredibly "quick" this book is, and invite a lot of people to read it. What is really amazing about it is the way Tolstoy decided to organize such a long and engaging subject- in short chapters with a lot of dialogue and action. There is no other writer I can think of who has Tolstoy's mesmerizing ability to make so many things happen in two or three pages. And there is no other writer who, like Tolstoy, has the power to capture and fix for ever the very essence of the flowing of time. Think about the whole novel with its representation of Russian life from 1805 to the 1820s but think, especially, of Natasha's winter afternoon at her country home when she longs for Prince Andrej and he is not there. In that passage Tolstoy managed to capture the familiar notion of the flowing of minutes and hours as perceived by the bored and restless soul of lonely and unsatisfied Natasha.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2007
In college I was given one week to read "War & Peace." Of course I never got through it, but in the manymoves around the world that I've made I have carried that book with me thinking someday to read it. I thought it would be difficult to read, not only because of the Russian names but of the time in which it was written. I read Constance Garnett's translation, the only one available in my 50 year old book. I was delighted with how easy it is to read. I'm amazed to find it was a page turner. One of the few classics that's really readable. Tolstoy was a psychologist long before Freud/Jung. His insight into people is fabulous. I, who hate war and violence, thought his war scenes amazing. I read them all. I enjoyed his philosophizing about life that had little to do with the story line. Actually, I have to say I was thrilled with this book and sorry it took me 50 years to get around to reading it. It's truly a masterpiece, an enjoyable, readable, delightful one.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2004
I've wanted to read this book for a long time, but was afaid of its size and my lack of knowledge of things Russian. After 20 pages, I was hooked. I've found it much more readable then I had assumed. I love Tolstoy's writing style, his attention to every day detail, his insights into his characters- each and every one fully drawn, no mater how minor a character. So, don't be afraid- you'll miss out on a great book!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2001
Even after more than a century, this is a spellbinding book. Its scale is monumental, portraying the ravages of war and its impact on an entire society by following a large cast of characters, chiefly from the Russian nobility. But more than that, it is also a treatise on the nature of war and the role of chance and human ambition in shaping its outcomes.
While requiring mental effort and a significant time commitment to read, this book will amply reward the reader's effort, leaving her with much food for thought, and a deeper understanding of human nature.
A word of caution on the Konemann edition. Although it is very handy - having this massive text presented in four small-size, nicely bound volumes is wonderful - this edition is seriously flawed by an incredible number of typographical errors which often completely distort the meaning of the text. In my over 50 years of serious reading, I have never come across a book that shows this degree of negligence on the part of a publisher. unprecedented. My advice: buy another edition.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 1999
There are a couple of things to watch out for here.
1. Make sure you are reading a really good translation of an unabridged version of the novel. This can make the difference between loving a sweeping epic, and feeling like you're trudging through a long soap-opera.
2. (I may alienate some teachers with this) BUY THE CLIFF NOTES for this one! This is the only book where some form of notes are needed to keep track of characters' names and relationships - and Russian history, if you're not familiar with the time period.
Having said all that, I really enjoyed this book. I read some portions in Russian and read the Norton Critical edition translation in English ( a wonderful translation that appears to be out of print? ).
I still think the imagery is amazing. I'm convinced I've been on a fox hunt, attended the Bolshoi in the 1800's, and have ridden in a troika - though I haven't. This is the power of Tolstoy's writing.
The book can be read on several levels, all entertaining and thought-provoking. If you are young, read it like you would a good Jane Austin novel, concentrating on the people and the relationships. If you know some Russian History, read it for the comments it makes about the out-of-touch-with-reality, French-speaking aristocracy and the reality of war with France, as well as the characters. (The characters are Russian architypes, and therefore of interest to me, as a student of Russian History.)
If you're into philosophy, politics, religion, whatever, you'll find something here to stimulate you. Tolstoy was pretty extreme on some of these topics, and it starts to show in this novel. (Reading about Tolstoy can be helpful to understanding the book as well.)
The book probably deserves multiple readings, even though I know how overwhelming that sounds. (I'm a slow reader, myself!).
Definitely deserves to be called a classic. I highly recommend it, even if you don't make it through the whole book. Read as much of it as you can.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Tolstoy's War and Peace rightfully ranks amongs the best novels ever written in any language. The master novelist uses Napolean's Wars with Russia as the context against which he narrates the story of four families. The four families, along with several timeless characters, live through the times of War and Peace to provide us with a representation of every aspect of Russian life, Russian thought and imagery of both cities and villages.

Tolstoy's great talent was in providing insights using his extremely good sense of seemingly trivial. The details, be it of the functioning of clock or steam engine, or of the idealogy and rites of Masons, or the charge of cavalry in war or the thoughts of a man on his death bed, the details, the insight, the lucidity of expression of such varied themes in one book requires Tolstoy's genius.

There are innumerable unforgettable characters in this mammoth novel. Each one brings out different characteristics of human pysche, each one is made into a being of flesh and blood, strengths and weaknesses. Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, the dashing gentleman who shuns his boring high society to fight in war to achieve glory, is as compelling as a soldier as he is a wounded person, wounded both in love and in war. His death scene, touted as one of the greatest scenes in Russian Literature, is perhaps unmatched in its ability to engage a reader and his tears. The other equally important character is Pierre Bezukhov, who is a close friend of the Prince. Pierre is always so unsure, so uncertain, dabbling with different ideas and ideals, falling, failing, has a wife who nearly ruins him, and yet Pierre by the end of the novel comes of age, redeems himself, and in the climax attains Natasha in marriage. Natasha is the heroine of the novel. She is a bright spark, the resplandent laughter, full of energy and life, beautiful and engrossing female character. Whenever she breaks into the story, the tale becomes a remarkable love story. Music and smile pour in, dances start to occur.

Be it Natasha's family members or those of Prince Bolkonsky's or any of their acquaintances, the characterization is such that one can visulaize each one separately. If there is villaincy in Doholov, Natasha's brother Rostov has his inexperience leading him into a near ruin. If Marya, Bolkonsky's sister is god fearing charming but simple looking girl, Ellen is seductress, souless counterpart who possesses a father and a brother equally despicable. The whole array of characters are present in this novel, which of human characteristics be different species of animals, makes Tolstoy's War and Peace a Noah's Ark.

The novel is at the same time a swashbuckling romance, family saga, philosophical query, a historical fiction, a war memoir and more. It is a timeless classic that through its pages develops a whole crop of humanity, representative of our passions and traits, and chronicle of our deeds and choices and what guides them. The novel has one of the best last quarter I have ever read, where the climax arouses so strong feelings at every page, that I was laughing joyfully on one page and crying inconsolably on next page. (This is before the epilogue).

I have often stressed that classics deserve respect, slow and patient reading, and War and Peace is no different. There are sections where I was forced to move like a stream of water going downhill, and other places where reading each page was an effort. Yet once the plot is set up, once you have finished reading over one third the novel, once the Russian names and their universe is created in your head, the novel becomes friendlier. It fills your head with images, emotions, ideas and you are carried to Tolstoy's world. For anyone seriously interested in reading great literature, Tolstoy is a must. Inarguably, War and Peace is one of the brightest prose pieces ever written and I heartily recommend it to one and all. Again I have figured that Constance Garnett must have been a great translator, and like other great Russian Novels I read translated by her, this one also calls for my gratitude to her. But above all, all credit to Tolstoy for creating this epic saga. Must read it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 1999
I happen to be at work right now, on my lunch hour and passing its few remaining moments by reading the customer reviews of my favorite books.
As "War and Peace" is considered by many world-wide to be one of the greatest if not THE greatest novel ever written, any defense I might offer against those customers writing 1-star reviews would be purely inconsequential.
One such reviewer's reasoning was that 'thousands of hours' were spent in reading. Personally, if I were capable of reading or comprehending no more than one page per hour, as is the self-confessed case with this reviewer, I would find it very difficult indeed to justify my criticism towards such a highly regarded work.
Another reviewer's reasoning was that when one reads a novel, one must stop living in order to do so. This reviewer does not make clear what exactly 'living' is, but I myself consider such novels to be a 'life investment,' enriching the ways we DO live.
I recommend the book to anyone and everyone - read it for yourself and see what the fuss is all about.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 1999
This book deserves a hundred stars. Reviewing it is an inane act. Tolstoy is a god. If you want to engage other lives and other times, if you want to feel what it was like to live in 19th century Russia, under attack from the French, if you want to throw yourself into an epic that spans years, and if you want to meet real people who grow and evolve and who you will love and cannot forget, read this book. All your efforts will be rewarded. Ignore its flaws. Relish its beauty and wisdom. These things don't come easy. Treasure them. They are great gifts from a once-only genius who gave us everything he had. All I can say is I am very grateful.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Don't be afraid, take the plunge. Read the book, you will not only be glad you did, you will grow as a human being. I read many works of literature before i read this one, i'm a speed reader, i get through them very fast. I never skim but i can read about a line of text a second without loosing comprehension or the ability to imagine the actions and events as if they were happening in real time. And yet i was intimidated by this book, not because of it's length so much as because we generally have the idea that very long books that are considered classics have to be filled with pages of exposition, you know pages describing a carriage or a sunset or a coffee mug(i'm looking at you dickens!) but i felt it was finally time so i set off to my next challenge, to read war and peace in a month on my hour lunch break. To make a long story short, i finished in about 4.

What happened to me? i expected to find pages of prose and essays i could easily get through without having to sub vocalize, I expected to have to dig through mass amounts of extra words and ideas to get to the good stuff, which would motivate me to read at my top level. I expected to be able to get through a few chapters a day. But i miscalculated, instead of wanting to speed up, i found myself slowing down. I found myself reading not as fast, but as slowly as possible, to get the most out of every word. There was very little exposition, essays are only introduced in the later chapters and they add an interesting and vital perspective to the novel and also challenge everything i thought i knew about history.

The book is long because it contains so many characters, so many stories, and covers so vast a length of time. But you will be interested every step of the way. It did take the first 100 pages to really get exciting but once i got into the story, i went back and reread the beginning and found i loved every word.

I keep referring to this as a book as i feel it transcends genre or convention. is it a novel, an epic poem in prose, a very long essay, it is all of these things, and none of these things.

A coworker asked what i was reading and i replied "War and Peace". He asked what it was about and i replied "War and Peace". War and Peace is about war and peace, sorrow and joy, the duality and inevitability of these things in our life. it is about how we affect history, and how history affects us. It asks what makes us move as human beings, and as a society and civilization. It's about everything, i learned and grew so much while reading this. And for one of the longest books in the classic literary canon, it begs to be read again, and again. I have started a lifelong affair with War and Peace. Tolstoy asserts that some unknown and divine force is ultimately behind the moves and actions of men, and that histories greatest heroes are merely tools to this end. If that is so than he himself was one such tool. He has moved me.

Don't be afraid, take the plunge. Read the book, you will not only be glad you did, you will grow as a human being. War and Peace is as close to perfection as any man could hope to achieve in this life. This review was not necessary, the name says it all.
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