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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

“Pierre was right when he said that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and I now believe in it. Let the dead bury the dead, but while I'm alive, I must live and be happy.”

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy book cover

“No book seems more real… for everyone who has enjoyed the experience of being completely lost in the world of War and Peace… putting down the novel and returning to the everyday concerns of ‘real life’ is a turning to something paler, less true than Tolstoy’s art itself.” – from the Introduction

I’m convinced, with every passing minute of reminiscing about this book, that it’s not possible to compress my experience of reading War and Peace into fewer than 300 words. Even as I write this, scenes from the book continue to flash before my mind’s eyes. I wrote in the margins of one of the pages that it imitates life. War and Peace imitates life.

Leo Tolstoy has staged humanity’s pursuit of meaningfulness in all its complexity. There is nothing that Tolstoy has not unearthed and laid bare. It’s comedic, tragic, panoramic, and compulsively potent in its assessment of the realities of life and death –on the battlefield and in society.

Within the span of a few sentences, Leo Tolstoy bridges the crux of human suffering to the loftiness of the sky while also revealing to the reader how between them (human suffering and nature) there is a universe yet to be discovered only for us to realize, once again, that it, like the infinite sky, does not exist (for our sake). ‘It’ as in life, breath, the insignificance of all human activity, through time, space, and a history means nothing in the face of all that is remote and quiet and beyond one’s reach.

The following excerpts belong are taken from the battle of Austerlitz in Volume 1:

“Above him, there was now nothing but the sky – the lofty sky, not clear yet still immeasurably lofty, with grey clouds gliding slowly across it… All is vanity, all falsehood, except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing, but that. But even it does not exist, there is nothing but peace and quiet. Thank God!”

A few sentences later…

“Looking into Napolean’s eyes Prince Andrei thought of the insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.”


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