So you want to read “War and Peace” – here’s how and why


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There are plenty of reasons to read Tolstoy’s masterpiece (or “masterwar” – get it?)

  1. It is, by all accounts, one of the greatest books ever written. so it is very likely to reward your time.
  2. It is a favorite novel of English Lit professors. That basically means that for people who professionally read and write, this is the best books ever written.
  3. It is the brightest light of Russian literature. Or is Brothers Karamasov the brightest?
  4. It is a historically fairly accurate portrait of the Napoleonic Wars, so if you’re interested in history or Napoleon then you will have a banquet of information and arguments to think about.
  5. It is also just delightful in terms of style and plot and characterization and theme. There are some really vivid rich passages — Andrew lying on the battlefield at Napolean’s feet contemplating the sky; Pierre’s revelation of the meaning of life in conversation with Platon in a French prison camp; Natasha’s attempted elopement.
  6. Lots of people refer to this book. You can join the small elite actually get those references and enjoy the unique communion of those who have been wounded and enraptured by it.
  7. Lots of people make movies about this book so you can find out and actually think about how good they are.


Fine and good, but who has time to read a 1400 page classic novel?

I mean, unless you’re also planning to read Moby Dick and Les Miserables this year, you are probably keeping your reading list to human-sized novels.

Well, I spontaneously decided to read Anna Karenina last year, and loved it to death. So I had to take War and Peace this year. And here is what I’ve learned.

  1. Start in January. This allows you to give yourself a full year.
  2. Pace yourself. Read other books from your Dream List along the way.
  3. Press on. Let yourself slog through the opening chapters which take the (for me, much dreaded) turn of a party scene. It gets better.
  4. Be consistent. Set yourself about 100 pages a month or 30 pages a week… which is really only one or two chapters a week You’ll probably outpace your plan if you enjoy the book!
  5. Get context. Read a little bit about the Napoleonic Wars in about Tolstoy to take a break from the actual novel.
  6. Listen. There are many unfamiliar names! Learn how to pronounce the Russian names by listening to an audio book or listening to this YouTuber.
  7. Try before you buy. If you must give Tolstoy a try first, read Anna Karenina. It’s about half the length – though still formidable – and gives you a sense for his mastery of the art.
  8. Watch. When you’re done, consider watching a movie or miniseries on the piece.
  9. Talk with others about it! Reading War and Peace admits you into a small and fanatical sect of book lovers who have found books that sincerely changed their lives.