What comes to your mind when you think about “War and Peace”? Long and boring? Detailed war scenes that are not read by anyone anyway? Too many characters? Why the need for philosophical interventions?
If you answered “yes” to at least one of the questions, I totally understand you! I read the book last autumn and I had the same frustrations – I could not understand 100% the relations among characters (are they brothers or not?), the war scenes were at times too detailed for my own taste … and the list goes on. However, despite all the encountered difficulties, I consider “War and Peace” as a book worth reading. I am not saying everybody should read it, I am aware that for some readers it might not be attractive at all. But if you think about reading it and you were waiting for a sign … this is it! Below I give you 3 reasons why Tolstoy’s masterpiece deserves a chance to be read. Let’s go!
► Reason #1 – It touches upon (almost) any topic you can imagine
While the overarching themes of War and Peace are love, family life, and history, there are many other topics discussed in the book. The meaning of life, Freemasonry, leadership, financial loss, death as a revelation, abortion – these are all part of the War and Peace universe.
“[..] it was the best book ever written, [..] everything men and women do to each other was its subject” (Simon Schama, Financial Times, 2016)
As you read the book, there are high chances that you will recognize situations, personal features, beliefs or behaviours that you’ve encountered in real life as well … I personally find it fascinating to read a book written more than 150 years ago about situations that are not so uncommon nowadays. Of course, we might not challenge each other to a duel anymore, but we do ask for favours, make naive (or not so naive) mistakes, and question ourselves about the meaning of our lives.
► Reason #2 – You get a very realistic description of historical events
Even if you’re not passionate about history (neither am I), reading about the Napoleonic Wars is for sure an interesting experience. It’s good to know that Tolstoy did not imagine the war events, but conducted in-depth research in order to provide a realistic image: he spoke with war veterans, read English and French history books, read letters, journals and autobiographies of important people.
It is said that he was helped by his family and friends while doing the research (teamwork for the win!), for example, his father-in-law clipped old newspaper articles and his historian friends visited him in order to have long discussions about the historical events. Here it is worth mentioning that Tolstoy was part of a wealthy aristocratic family, so he was having quite a lot of free time and was not worried about financial issues.
► Reason #3 – You will be deeply touched by the characters
Some parts of War and Peace will be like an emotional carousel – you’ll get angry when they make a wrong choice, you’ll be frustrated when they make a naive mistake, and you will be sad when unfortunate events happen in their lives …
Tolstoy has a beautiful and simple style of writing that makes you resonate with his characters. It also helps that he used a writing technique which enables the reader to follow the story from different points of view, passing from mind to mind. So you will see the events not only from one single point of view but from more points of view. Gaining insight into each character’s reasoning will make you more emotionally involved in the story for sure.
To conclude, I think “War and Peace” is like a puzzle – made out of hundreds of pieces that might be difficult to put together at first, but once you figure out the important elements everything goes smoothly. The more you advance with completing the puzzle, the more excited you are to see the whole picture. And you might appreciate the full value of the puzzle once you’ve completed it and you see how beautifully all pieces come together 🙂
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: I was inspired to write this post after finding out about the book “Give War and Peace a Chance – Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times” by Andrew D. Kaufman.
PPS: If you’re interested in reading about my experience of reading “War and Peace”, I’ve written a reading diary – part 1 and part 2. I also wrote a book & TV series review here. Yes, that’s how much I liked the book! 🙂