War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy | Book Review


Rating: 4 out of 5.

I struggled at times, I loved it at times, but in the end I can’t deny how brilliant Tolstoy is.

Genre: Classic fiction, History
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Published: 1869
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 1,412 (hardback)

This was hard going and I did the audiobook to try and make it easier. My first mistake was not realising the degree of philosophy in this book, and how hard it is to keep up when you’re driving (which is where I did most of my listening).

I enjoyed the book infinitely more when I gave it my full attention. That being said, I think the audiobook performance was fabulous and highly recommend, even if you’re on the go.

I’ve always wanted to read this and try to understand what the fuss was about. But my second mistake was going into this expecting a fictitious novel. Partway through I did some research into the creation of War & Peace and learnt that is was published in a serialised manner before being bound as a book; never intended by Tolstoy to be classified as a piece of fiction or even a novel; and served the noble purpose of presenting the point of view of the Russian people during the Nepoleanic years, because there was a dirth of such records.

Once I realised this had greater intentions behind it, and knew to expect an exponential increase in philosophy as the book progress (the narrative is nearly gone by the 60% mark), I adjust my expectations and enjoyed it much, much more. It’s not fiction, and it defies categorisation.

I do think this is probably longer than it needed to be, but as it was originally serialised, it makes sense (and also makes sense why there was so much repetition, which was my biggest complaint until understanding its genesis).

I do however respect that this is a really revered piece of work that is articulated really well by the author – and how hard it would be to condense it without losing its essence and intention.

I think Tolstoy did a really mind-boggling job of pinning down ideas about huge concepts and social issues. It was seriously impressive and I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed engaging in the philosophy. I find myself wanting to buy a physical copy so I can write down passages and reread sections.

The story is fun, and the characters are fascinating. The realism is exceptionally present throughout and Tolstoy’s visual imagery descriptions (as it noted in many places/reviews) is honest to God unparalleled. You can taste the story in this book.

But what saved this from starting as a 5 star read, to slipping all the way down to 2 stars before I understood what I was reading, and ultimately landing as 4 star read for me (I’m exhausted, this was a roller-coaster), was that I learnt things and it helped me to think differently, or perhaps more expansively.

And any book that makes you think differently about something is a good book by definition, at least in my opinion.

Good luck, if you’re planning to tackle this one. I think it’s worth it.

Grab a copy!

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