Recommendations from our site

“The central question of the book: how can we explain the fact that, on orders, millions of people go out and kill one another, when they know that killing another human being is morally wrong?”

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“Tolstoy does something which is very unusual and which, for his time, was pretty profound: he sees the conditions of the ordinary soldier on the battlefield.”

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“Tolstoy didn’t fight in the Napoleonic wars, but he did fight in the Crimean war, so he drew on his experiences in that.”

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“As a middle aged man, I react differently to Tolstoy than I did when I first read War and Peace at about 15.”

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“Tolstoy isn’t just a chronicler of what it felt like to be under fire, he can make us feel the emotion of his characters with a single word.”

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“His view is that politicians don’t make history, the great men don’t make history, the writers and journalists don’t make history. Actually, what makes history is the work of the people.”

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“Although it was published in 1869, it deals with events half a century earlier. This makes it one of the first historical novels – and, all these years later, it’s still the greatest.”

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“It’s set during the peak of Russian culture, the age of Pushkin, who created the modern Russian language, and that’s the beginning of the best. It’s the peak.”

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The book, according to the author

“People who ought to hate me because of their quasi-religious views which I demolish, love me for those trifling things like War and Peace, etc., which seem to them very important.”

Tolstoy's Diaries, Volume 2, 1895-1910

“What is War and Peace? It is not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less an historical chronicle.”

Leo Tolstoy, writing in Russky Arkhiv, 1868, quoted in the Norton Critical Edition of War and Peace

Commentary

“The picture of human life is complete.
The picture of the Russian of those days is complete.
The picture of what we call history and the struggle of nations is complete.
The picture of everything that people consider to be their happiness and greatness, their sorrow and their humiliation, is complete. That is what War and Peace is.”

From NN Strakhov's review of War and Peace, Zarya, January 1870. (Translated by George Gibian)

“I must admit that this novel strikes me as being positively bad, boring, and unsuccessful….And how cold and dry all this is—how one feels the author’s lack of imagination and naïveté—how wearisomely a memory of the fleeting, the incidental, the unnecessary works on the reader.”

Ivan Turgenev in a letter. From S Balukhaty ed, Russkie Pisateli o Literature, Volume 1, quoted in Norton.

“The contradictions in Tolstoy’s works, views, teachings and school are glaring indeed.”

V I Lenin, 1908. V I Lenin, Selected Works in 12 Volumes, quoted in Norton

“Tolstoy was 35, recently married, and the father of a newborn baby when he began War and Peace in 1863.”

Rosamund Bartlett, "How Tolstoy rewrote the history of Russia", Daily Telegraph, January 3rd, 2016

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