- Series: Penguin Clothbound Classics
- Hardcover: 1440 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics (March 14, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780241265543
- ISBN-13: 978-0241265543
- ASIN: 0241265541
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2,505 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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War and Peace (Penguin Clothbound Classics) Hardcover – March 14, 2017
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“There remains the greatest of all novelists—for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?” —Virginia Woolf
About the Author
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was born in central Russia. After serving in the Crimean War, he retired to his estate and devoted himself to writing, farming, and raising his large family. His novels and outspoken social polemics brought him world fame.
Anthony Briggs (translator) has written, translated, or edited twenty books in the fields of Russian and English literature.
Orlando Figes (introduction) is the prizewinning author of A People’s Tragedy and Natasha’s Dance. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Review of Books.
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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.”
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.