War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In War and Peace Tolstoy takes three roles. He is a novelist, an historian, and a philosopher. When the role of philosopher is incorporated into the characters it works wonderfully. As an example here is something Pierre says toward the end of the book when explaining his need to go to Petersburg. It expresses a thought that could be the motto for the current Occupy movement. The idea is, at its core, profound, but it is expressed in a simple way.
I only wished to say that ideas that have great results are always simple ones. My whole idea is that if vicious people are united and constitute a power, then honest folk must do the same. Now that's simple enough.
But in the second epilogue Tolstoy drops the story entirely and reflects on the reasons people do what they do. He has interesting ideas about power.
The question: how did individuals make nations act as they wished and by what was the will of these individuals themselves guided?
Tolstoy goes on to reflect on the reasons people do anything, from conducting a war to raising his arm. It can be interesting if the reader is in the right frame of mind, but can drag if he isn't.
The history contained in the novel was fascinating to me because I knew very little about the Napoleonic wars. While reading the book I often went to the internet to compare Tolstoy's view from some other historians. It was an interesting way to learn about that period of world history.
The story within the novel was the reason I read the book. The characters were all well portrayed and unique. We stayed with them long enough to get to know them well. Early on in the book Prince Andrew Bolkonski was my favorite, but as the story went on I found myself more drawn toward Pierre Bezukhov. He was constantly trying to understand the purpose of life throughout the book. He tried a spiritual road, joining the Masons and trying to live according to their disciplines. He wasn't in the military, but went into battle to sit with the troops and try to understand war. He also tried to free his serfs to see if that brought him a feeling of self worth. Toward the end he found value in his relationship with Natash Rostova, but even after he'd settled into that happy marriage, he was still searching for more, through political activism. I also loved the way real people were portrayed as characters including General Kutuzov and Napoleon.
I'm sure it is no surprise that I've rated War and Peace as a five star book given its place in the history of literature. But it isn't only its reputation that makes it well worth the time it takes to read it.
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