Sunday, May 19, 2013

"War and Peace".. a review

....yep - done it!

..just in case you wondered why no posts, well with the start of the sailing season, combined with reading this - I've been busy! Always said I wanted to read it, I even made a random new year resolution that I would do it this year, and there you go...  finished it this morning...

So how do you review what most people consider to be one of the worlds greatest pieces of literature?? Shambolically... as you would expect on this blog... 

So in no particular order...

First, the book is  HUGE - I read it on Kindle, and even with the almost mythic battery length of the device I still had to recharge it twice during the period of reading just this one book...  basically the book took me from the beginning of April until now to finish...  6 or 7 weeks....'s a lot of time to invest in a book if you aren't going to enjoy it so..

Second - with a book that big make sure you get a good edition - there are lots and lots of cheap copies about, even free one's, but if you're going to invest that kind of time make sure you like the translation style of the book you choose...  I had a Kindle version from Amazon [clicky] that I chose to buy, rather than struggle with one of the free versions that I started with..

Third, it's a remarkably good story you'll be pleased to know, but it's interspersed with a lot of Mr Tolstoy's opinions and philosophy....  it's basically a book in 4 parts, but there's also a couple of large epilogues as well, and is about three main families plus a couple of lesser families, their lives, loves, intrigues, politics, feuds etc set against the Napoloenic Wars starting in 1805 and running up to Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812...

The main protagonist is a rather troubled chap called Pierre/Peter Bezukhov (I always had this mental image of him as Anthony Hopkins from the classic BBC version of the seventies - couldn't shake it) and his interaction with the other families - the Rostov's & the Bolkonsky's, and to a lesser extent the Kuragins and the Drubetskoys.

The Bezukhovs, are rich and slightly dysfunctional - the old Count, Pierre's father has fathered dozens of illegitimate sons and dies early in the book leaving Pierre as main heir.

The Bolkonskys are an old established wealthy family based with a head of the family who's a complete and total control freak. The old prince (as he's known) served as a general under Catherine the Great in earlier wars. His son Andrei (the superb Alan Dobie in the BBC version) I would say is the other main character, a close friend of Pierre, who serves with the Russian army before being fatally wounded at Borodino

The Rostovs have many estates, but never enough cash - they are almost the opposite of the Bezukhov's as they're pretty close, but the father is not good with money and is losing it hand over fist...

The lesser families in terms of main story are the Kuragin family who have three children, all of questionable character and the Drubetskoy's who are an elderly mother and her only son, Boris one of the biggest social climbers you could ever not want to meet...

So that's it - it's point less me telling you what the story is because it so huge and rambling I'd be writing a post almost as long as War and Peace, but suffice to say my favourite parts of the book are the military elements (there's a lot of civilian story too, mostly about the loves and losses of the younger female members of the families) Tolstoy is very good on battles, his depiction of Borodino was superb, and his depiction of the disintegration of the French army shortly after their decision to retreat is nothing short of brilliant...  he has some excellent little inserted stories about partisans, and Cossacks, raiding the retreating army..  superb....  and despite the fact it was written in 1869 I kept thinking it was an allegory for the later Winter War of WWII...

Anything I didn't like??  Well to be honest, the second half of the book (roughly) has far more of Tolstoy's philosophical meanderings - I don't doubt they are illuminating , but for me they got in the way of the story to a certain extent - when you're half way through a Cossack raid on a French supply train, you don't then want a chapter and a half on why Tolstoy thought the French had fallen to this level of deterioration (much as what he said had conviction)

Likewise I found the two epilogues hard work, the first one was OK as it dealt to a certain extent with the lives of the Bolksonsky's, Rostov's and Bezukhov's after the war but the second epilogue is a huge philosophical meander in the meanings of power, how people get it, how it is used, and how it was that one man could persuade 600,000 men to invade Russia.

So enough's enough - Steve the Wargamer rates this edition as 7 out of 10, you can get abridged versions that edit/remove the philosophical/history elements - but then you'd not be reading the book Tolstoy wrote.... recommended if only you read it once!


  1. Congratulations on finishing a mammoth task. I've started a couple of times and given up, so know how you must have persevered.

    1. Joppy - life is too short to persevere with poor books - I find myself getting more selfish with my time as I get older... have to say that this one was worth the time investment though....

  2. I've always wanted to read War & Peace. Good idea to read it via the kindle, its a hell of a lot lighter than the book!

    1. Ray - one of the chaps at work said that the secret to reading the paper version is to physically chop it up so each book is a separate piece - that way your arms don't ache!

  3. I had read it when I was 15... Well, the first half to be honest. I never had enough stamina to read the second half...

    1. Sebastofig - hats off for doing ANY of it at 15!

  4. Steve
    V ery intersted in your ACW campaign. What are you using for campaign rules?

    1. Hi Dick - lots more detail on the ACW Campaign here:

      ...and especially here;

      ...give me a shout via here if it leaves any open questions though