John's Reviews > War and Peace

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
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's review
Mar 24, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: ownebook, 2010-reading-list, fiction, historical-fiction, 2011-reading-list

I doubt I have ever read a book that had as significant an impact on me, and my act of reading it had on others, as this one. Conversations like this were frequent:

Someone, upon seeing me reading my Kindle, would ask what I am reading.

“War and Peace.”

“Oh. . . uhm, wow.”

“Yeah, it’s great. I’m reading it for fun.”

“Uhm, OK then, see you later. . .”

It seems to be so revered, and also so loathed, that I had to read it. At 1400 pages, it took me 8 months to finish, though I read several other entire books in that time.

I feel rather unequal to the task of expressing how this book impacted me, let alone a review of it. And nonetheless, I also feel I would be remiss if I let it go past saying nothing.

I was struck by so many things as I read War and Peace. Some of them I won’t mention here and hope to turn into their own blog posts.

Of the others, I felt I gained some sense of how the nobility and serfs in Russia (and, to a certain extent, Europe) thought about life, their position, and how things ran. Being a modern Kansan, this thought process was not familiar to me, and though I head read about it in history texts before, felt far more informed having read it in Tolstoy’s novel.

Although much of the novel centers around Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, the work as a whole spans nearly two decades of time. Tolstoy’s characters aren’t static; they change over time. Some, yes, die; others go through hardships and triumphs that change them to their core. It evoked a feeling of nostalgia in me at times — for the younger, childlike Natasha who was so full of simple delight in life. But then, a thousand pages later, the older Pierre finally was able to find simple delight in life too.

Sometimes I have missed on the simple joy of being, and Jacob or Oliver or Terah remind me of that. Today Oliver and I read a book together, one that we read often, and we discovered an illustration of a tiny worm we had never noticed before. And the worm had a red hat (“hat” is one of Oliver’s favorite words right now.) The happy laughter as he pointed at the tiny hat, saying “hat” over and over, reminds me that sometimes children know how to live better than adults. Jacob later asked me how my day was, and I told him how I read a book on my Kindle, where I sat, and how I even read it lying down on the couch for a bit. At that he too laughed.

As with some other wonderful, engrossing books, I was sad to reach the end of this one. I felt as if I was leaving a conversation early; fictional characters, yes, but their story wasn’t over. And really, that was part of Tolstoy’s point: things don’t happen in isolation, and stories don’t have clearly-defined start and end points.

The novel touched on politics, religion, philosophy, free will, and just about every topic imaginable. It is, really, unfair to call it a just a novel.

Reprinted from my blog post - more detail is there as well.

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Quotes John Liked

Leo Tolstoy
“How often we sin, how much we deceive, and all for what?... All will end in death, all!”
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy
“It seems as though mankind has forgotten the laws of its divine Saviour, Who preached love and forgiveness of injuries—and that men attribute the greatest merit to skill in killing one another.”
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Reading Progress

March 24, 2009 – Shelved
March 24, 2009 – Shelved as: ownebook
December 31, 2009 – Shelved as: 2010-reading-list
December 31, 2009 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
December 31, 2009 – Shelved as: fiction
September 23, 2010 – Started Reading
September 26, 2010 –
page 28
2.01% "Starting ch 2"
September 28, 2010 –
page 55
3.95% "Enjoying this! Not the difficult trudge it is often said to be."
October 5, 2010 –
page 83
October 6, 2010 –
page 112
8.05% ""How often we sin, how much we deceive, and all for what?... All will end in death, all!""
November 1, 2010 –
page 195
14.01% "Still enjoying it"
November 19, 2010 –
page 306
21.98% "Still reading this. Still mostly enjoying it."
January 27, 2011 –
page 348
25.0% "1/4 done. Still enjoying it. Wow, Pierre in a duel, who'd have thought?"
January 27, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011-reading-list
April 1, 2011 –
page 570
40.95% "Been reading this longer than I realized. It's a wonderful read."
April 5, 2011 –
page 640
May 15, 2011 –
page 1113
79.96% "War & Peace action picks up 75% through. Really hard to put down. But there are still 350 pages to go."
May 30, 2011 –
page 1392
100.0% "Finished, and sad that it is over."
May 30, 2011 – Finished Reading

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