Bruce's Reviews > War and Peace

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
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Jul 23, 2008

really liked it
Read in September, 2008

In Tolstoy’s appendix to War and Peace, he specifically states, “It is not a novel.” Having finished reading this long work, having perceived its broad historical sweep, having appreciated its rich characterization, and having navigated its long philosophical passages, I certainly agree that it is unlike most novels, although perhaps more unlike most novels of the late 19th Century than the early 21st Century, when postmodernism has produced so many “novels” that defy easy categorization. In Tolstoy’s book, the entertainment resides in the narrative, the engaging and well-developed characters, almost none of whom is easily described as “good” or “bad” except perhaps Platon Karataev, whose actual presence is brief but whose influence looms large; his exquisite depictions of persons’ psychological responses to death and suffering as well as to love and intimacy; the broad historical panorama on which is painted specific almost intimate battle scenes; the social minuet that migrates from salon to salon while yet remaining always much the same. Yet this narrative is really almost window-dressing for the core of the writing which is the historical philosophy and analysis, the most interesting part of the work from my perspective, in which Tolstoy explicates his conviction that the “Great Man” philosophy of history is unconvincing, taking a position opposed to that of Thomas Carlyle a generation earlier, and instead positing that history develops and evolves from within itself, root causes never being fully identifiable inasmuch as they are multifactorial and their investigation simply an exercise in infinite regress. His discussion, to which he returns again and again throughout the work, includes explorations of the concept of history itself, its writing, its very “construction.” He clearly has a theistic agenda, sometimes boldly stated, sometimes hovering at the edges of his arguments but apparent and influential nonetheless. In the Appendix, which must be read as an integral part of the book, he extensively explores free will (probably, in his ultimate analysis, illusory) and its relationship to history. He does, on occasion, take pot shots at the Enlightenment.

The book is fascinating and engaging, sometimes enigmatic, sometimes preachy, but fully worthy of being read, wrestled with, and pondered over, an invigorating if somewhat exhausting literary trip.

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07/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Trevor (new)

Trevor Another wonderful review Bruce of another classic I've yet to read.


message 2: by The Stunner (new) - added it

The Stunner what he says about his book not being a novel isn't something as abstract as you state, methinks. the work is a vehicle for tolstoy to express his view on history, so it's mainly an long essay instead of a novel, etc. i have an explanation in my review (i have to say this is not publicity...)


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