- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 1472 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics (July 29, 1982)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140444173
- ISBN-13: 978-0140444179
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 2.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 2,277 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #870,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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War and Peace (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 29, 1982
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Epic historical novel by Leo Tolstoy, originally published as Voyna i mir in 1865-69. This panoramic study of early 19th-century Russian society, noted for its mastery of realistic detail and variety of psychological analysis, is generally regarded as one of the world's greatest novels. War and Peace is primarily concerned with the histories of five aristocratic families--particularly the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, and the Rostovs--the members of which are portrayed against a vivid background of Russian social life during the war against Napoleon (1805-14). The theme of war, however, is subordinate to the story of family existence, which involves Tolstoy's optimistic belief in the life-asserting pattern of human existence. The heroine, Natasha Rostova, for example, reaches her greatest fulfillment through her marriage to Pierre Bezukhov and her motherhood. The novel also sets forth a theory of history, concluding that there is a minimum of free choice; all is ruled by an inexorable historical determinism. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
About the Author
Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 at Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, and educated privately. He studied Oriental languages and law at the University of Kazan, then led a life of pleasure until 1851 when he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus. He took part in the Crimean War and after the defence of Sebastopol he wrote The Sebastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his reputation. After a period in St Petersburg and abroad, where he studied educational methods for use in his school for peasant children in Yasnaya Polyana, he married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862. The next fifteen years was a period of great happiness; they had thirteen children, and Tolstoy managed his vast estates in the Volga Steppes, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). A Confession (1879-82) marked a spiritual crisis in his life; he became an extreme moralist and in a series of pamphlets after 1880 expressed his rejection of state and church, indictment of the weaknesses of the flesh and denunciation of private property. His teaching earned him numerous followers at home and abroad, but also much opposition, and in 1901 he was excommuincated by the Russian Holy Synod. He died in 1910, in the course of a dramamtic flight from home, at the small railway station of Astapovo. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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It is highly readable. Translating texts is always difficult, because you want to retain the feel of reading a Nineteenth century work but use language that makes the work accessible. Personally, I found some editions (Barnes & Noble, Penguin) to be hard to read and comprehend, especially when you first begin. This edition is a relative breeze to read.
It has French translations. When reading the Signet edition, I found myself using google translate to understand sentences or phrases left in the book in French. Other editions translated most of the French but left phrases here and there untranslated and in the text, without footnotes. I understand in the original, Tolstoy wrote entire passages in French but provided translations in the foot notes. This edition follows that pattern. There are entire passages in French, but they are translated in the footnotes on the page.
It has historical end-notes and an index. I am not unfamiliar with European and Russian history, but I, like most people, have no more knowledge than what I learned in my freshman world history class. This work has end notes in the text to provide context. Though it slows me down, I find myself flipping to the back of the book and reading every end note when the text provides it. I cannot stress enough how helpful this has been. The index is likewise helpful. It is an alphabetical list and short biography of the historical characters and places mentioned in War and Peace.
It includes a short chapter summary. At the very end of the book, there is a chapter summary for a collection of chapters sharing a theme or describing the same event. The summary is no more than a sentence long and provides a nice refresher when you are trying to recall what happened when.
Compared to editions that translate all the French, reading in the footnotes can be burdensome. I personally don't mind, but I can see how that might trip some people up.
If you are looking for a copy of War and Peace, this is the one to get. Trust me.
The beauty of the prose, for me, is the fact that Tolstoy speaks through subtlety. His powers of description are beyond comparison, and in fact there is relatively little dialogue given the length of the book. But the focus of his descriptive powers is not the scenery or the landscape, as is often the case, but the gesture, the look on the face, the social context of the event. This is a subtlety that is lost in our dialogue-heavy, action-packed world today, and is almost foreign to most contemporary authors.
Which, in part, also explains why War and Peace seems inapproachable to many contemporary readers. Many of us have lost touch with subtlety and if you are one of those, reading this book would be the greatest gift you can give yourself in the months ahead.
“Helene was so good-looking that there was not only not a trace of coquetry to be seen in her, but, on the contrary, it was as if she was embarrassed by her unquestionable and all too strongly and triumphantly effective beauty. It was as if she wished but was unable to diminish the effect of her beauty.” When was the last time you read such a descriptive passage that used so few descriptive adjectives?
One of the common criticisms of the book is that the characters often speak in French, which is retained in this translation. This is more true in the beginning, however, and, in total, the French represents a small portion of the total prose. And translation is provided, although the electronic version requires a certain amount of digital (as in fingers) dexterity that I don’t seem to have.
Tolstoy, however, is sensitive to the inconvenience and I can’t recall a single passage in which the French was central to either the theme or the storyline. It is mostly there for context, so even if you pass over the short phrases you will miss little other than the full experience that Tolstoy intended. Also remember that French and English are not all that foreign to each other and the most important words in French can be easily guessed by English readers with a little lingual abandonment.
Similarly, the complexity of Russian naming conventions need not be the burden it often is to the English reader. Tolstoy most definitely wrote a novel, not a mystery thriller, although he claims that it is not a novel. The storyline is not the book; it serves the theme. That, along with the rich context provided by Tolstoy’s prose, means that you don’t have to recognize each name before you complete the sentence. Nine times out of ten the identity will become obvious before the scene ends. And for that exception there is a handy reference guide. My advice: when you encounter a name that you don’t immediately recognize, read on for a bit before you look it up.
As a thematic novel, it is not Tolstoy’s intent to document the Napoleonic wars, although that is the rough timeline of the book. He uses the history more to reveal the cultural themes he seeks to reveal—the culture of the Russian aristocracy at the time.
While that culture contrasts sharply with the way in which most Americans are inclined to think of Russia, the themes are quite timeless. There are many passages which could as easily be describing today’s aristocracy—the wealthy elite. As Yogi Berra reminded us, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Tolstoy is particularly philosophical about war. When I asked a friend of mine who was a Marine veteran who served in the jungles of Vietnam what he thought about the movie, “Saving Private Ryan”, he noted that no one has ever been able to capture the sheer chaos of war on film. Tolstoy, however, does capture it in prose and it is moving without being graphic or overly detailed. You nonetheless feel that you are immersed in the same situational context as the young infantryman thrown about in the chaos of futility and death.
In the end, this book easily earns its reputation as one of the best novels ever written. Through his grasp of subtlety and his incomparable ability to build intangible impressions with tangible prose, Tolstoy takes us through the full range of human emotions, accomplishment, and vacuity.
Unlike most contemporary authors, Tolstoy actually “tells” us little. As many great novels do, he merely puts themes out there for us to consider and mold to our own experience and our own lives. You will be surprised at how much of yourself you find in early 19th Century Russian characters and events. If not timeless, the insight and the human revelation are universal. As Tolstoy himself wrote, “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”
Most recent customer reviews
This is a wonderful story with history interwoven.Read more