STUMP » Articles » War and Peace: I AM DONE » 31 December 2018, 17:03

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

War and Peace: I AM DONE  


31 December 2018, 17:03

As I announced on Facebook:

Here is my final review in video form:

I have other videos I will put at the end, while I was going through it (the audiobook was 61 HOURS, though I shortened it a bit by playing back at 1.25x speed), but first some other thoughts in text.


The audiobook version I listened to was from Blackstone Audio with Frederick Davidson, who is excellent as per usual.

Davidson is a master at accents, providing class (and national) distinctions, giving Napoleon an “off” French accent compared to the other French officers, for example. I’ve heard him narrate several books for Blackstone Audio, including The Brothers Karamazov and some William Churchill books.

I recommend all of those – and what really helps, especially with the Russian novels, is that he really distinguishes the characters via voice, so the multiple-names-issue that crops up in Russian novels is diminished (that is, people go by multiple names – last name most formal, first name+patronymic (middle name) a little more familiar, and then various diminutives of the first name – like Massha for Maria – among close faimly members). It was even worse in War and Peace, because most of the characters are aristocrats with titles that one may forget from time to time. A woman may be referred to as “The Countess” – and one thinks “Which one?”

To be sure, Tolstoy helped the reader a lot, reminding one of all the relevant facts of a character, especially if you haven’t heard from them in 20 hours of audiobook (so considerate to the reader, that Tolstoy.)


Some of this will take further digestion, but while I agree that the Great man theory cannot hold in a strong form, and that the mass of people is very important — I will use this bit from Eddie Izzard to make my point:



(ineffective weapons suck, I agree)

To grab his point — yes, a general doesn’t invade countries, ginormous armies invade countries. But I think a strong leader with conquest as his goal is kind of a determining force.

Basically, having a Napoleon helped.

Yes, Napoleon, like any person, had limitations in what he could accomplish. And yes, once the French Revolution got rolling, multiple able people could take advantage.

But really, I don’t think the French would have gone to so many places without Napoleon. MOST PEOPLE DON’T TRY TO COMPETE WITH ALEXANDER THE GREAT.

Don’t try to tell me that some great person would have popped up in place of Napoleon. Maybe there were a few others, but again, I think most people who try to compete with the likes of Alexander the Great don’t get too far (as most are nuts).

So sure, a Great Man can’t control everything, and it usually falls apart if he doesn’t step down at some point (learn from Sulla, Cincinnatus, and George Washington.) But a “Great Man” can drive some events that would not have occurred without him.

So that’s item 1.

Item 2 has to do with this obsession over some sort of “historical law”. And trying to say there’s no free will, because if only one person had truly free will, there could be no historical law. He is correct that humans are constrained in the choices they can make, but there still are multiple choices…human behavior is not completely deterministic. As I say in one of my videos, Tolstoy would have loved chaos theory, because one could end up with deterministic, but practically unpredictable, behavior. Huzzah.

But he probably would have had his brain melt if he had had to fold in quantum physics.

Science and Math both got rigorized during the 19th century, and the humanities definitely got a bit jealous… thus all these Universal Theories of History (much of which was to argue for national greatness, as Tolstoy notes, or to try to prevent another Napoleon, which Tolstoy did not note).

I think Tolstoy’s really great achievement with this novel is make history come alive. Think of Shakespeare: a few of his most popular plays were based on history, and for many people the plays are more real than the actual history of those periods. It’s not only the blatant Tudor propaganda of the War of the Roses plays (I am leaning towards Richard III not being as evil as portrayed), but also what was done with Julius Caesar. I don’t know how accurate Tolstoy’s portrayals were, but they seemed far less obviously dramatic than Shakespeare’s creations.

Tolstoy made visceral battles of the Napoleonic wars, as well as really gave a good idea of the invasion of Russia, the occupation of Moscow, and Napoleon’s retreat. What it was like to the soldiers, the civilians, and the various prisoners. The effects on aristocrats (or non-effect, for those sitting in St. Petersburg), the fairly limited urban middle class, and the peasants. While I don’t want to read War and Peace in its entirety again, I definitely want to re-read the part of Pierre left behind in Moscow, because that was really interesting.


As mentioned in the video, I basically got few laughs from the book. No, I’m not expecting much in the way of laughs during the War parts, but the Peace parts similarly had little humor. There was one old grand dame whose wit I loved, but she had a bit part.

I have noticed this with many of my favorite authors: they can make you laugh at the human condition in general, keeping an appropriate balance. Authors such as Dickens, Terry Pratchett, and Dostoevsky fall in this bucket for me. For a whimsical example, Jasper Fforde.

But I have seen authors aim for this and fail.

Tolstoy didn’t really aim for this at all, as far as I can tell.

And I don’t think Tolstoy liked any of his characters at all — I don’t mean as if they were real people, but as characters. I could understand the characters, and felt they were fairly realistic, but they were all at an emotional distance, even if one can read their thoughts (literally). I think there was some kind of constraint.

To give an example – Dickens obviously loved all the characters he created, made them interesting, and even made you feel something at the deaths of the villains. In The Old Curiosity Shop, he had a grand creation in Quilp, the villain of the piece, and his death is very satisfying. You can tell Dickens loved this creation, though the character himself was morally repulsive. You could feel something about the character.

In the end, I just felt like Tolstoy saw using a novel as a means by which he could get his various philosophical/historical thoughts out (and make some money). This is not unique to Tolstoy, but I think he gives short shrift to the characters in some way that one never really connects with them.


I will put these in chrono order of creation:

And that is all.

I have a different book project in view for 2019. More on that later.

Related Posts
NY Corruption: Hochul, Benjamin, and Chester A. Arthur -- Can You Tell the Difference?
Meep Media: Wacky Mysteries
Mornings with Meep: Dostoevsky's The Gambler