War and Peace (1998, Oxford University Press, USA) 4 stars

"War and Peace centers broadly on Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three …

Review of 'War and Peace' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

So, War and Peace. It's a big one, for sure.

But I feel like it's a lot shorter than people think it is. War and Peace has become our archetypal "long book," but it's shorter than Les Miserables (which I read last year) and reads a lot faster. It's a book more on the scale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is still long, but is also fairly widely read.

With that out of the way, let's get into it.

Russian Names

This is probably a common barrier to people understanding this book and others like it. In my case, I worked my way up to War and Peace by reading some of Dosteovsky's work: The Gambler, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov. At one point when I was reading Brothers K, it just clicked and I started to get how the names worked.

The narrative tends to either refer to characters by first name (and sometimes first plus the middle one, which is just the name of one of the parents with "vitch" or "ovna" tacked on) or by last name depending on the context.

I will say that it got a lot easier to keep track of the characters after the first quarter of the book because you start to see who's important and who isn't and can tell from their characters. For that first part, though, I'd recommend you have a chart or something where you write down each new character and who they are so you can reference it. I didn't do that, but I wished I had.

I do recommend you read some other, shorter, Russian literature before this one. I highly recommend Crime and Punishment, that was my favorite. It reads a bit slower than this, but it's also a lot shorter.

War Narrative and Philosophizing

One of the more annoying things to me was Tolstoy's constant philosophizing about the inevitability of events in a war and how the "leaders" of armies aren't really in control. It makes sense and is an interesting perspective, but it was repeated so many times. The entire Second Epilogue (12 chapters long) is about it. So yeah, that's one thing to brace yourself for.

I mean, if political commentary is your thing, you might enjoy it.


So far I've been addressing hard things about the book, but that's not the case with this. The characterization was phenomenal. All of the characters had so many different layers and seemed extremely real.

And the development was fantastic. It was fascinating to watch all these dozens of characters growing and changing over the course of the book.

So yeah, this book is worth reading, if only for the characterization.

Overall Thoughts

Overall, this book was fantastic. There were, as I mentioned, some slow parts, but it was really well written and was actually a much easier read than I was led to expect.

Oh, and Tolstoy has got cliffhangers figured out. Once I picked it up to read a chapter or two and didn't put it down until hours later when I realized I'd read through about 150 pages.