Reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Where to Start with Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s notes from the ninth draft of War and
Peace, 1864. It is also an example of what his
poor wife had to decipher!

I first tackled the mighty War and Peace in 2009, I believe. I asked for it as a Christmas present, which made everyone think I was rather mad. It took me a while to read, mostly because I had a massive break from it and read other books at the same time, but I did really enjoy it. There’s so much to learn from it – it covers almost everything there is to know about life, in fact.

If anyone is curious, my translation is by Anthony Briggs and is published by Penguin Classics.

Anyway, I’ve decided to read it again this summer, and therefore I can report my progress and thoughts of it on this blog. I once read that Andrew Marr reads it every Autumn or something like that (I cannot find the source) and think that it would be nice for me to enjoy annually. I imagine that you understand and interpret so much more each time that you read it. I will be reading other books at the same time, but I’d largely like to concentrate on War and Peace itself.

I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to do so, or perhaps follow this ladder of Tolstoy’s works to build up gradually to War and Peace:

Tolstoy’s short stories – I’d recommend a collection that includes The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a short tale that narrates the agony of a man coming to term with his own mortality.

A Confession – Tolstoy’s attempt to answer the great philosophical questions during what may be called his mid-life existential crisis.

The Kreutzer Sonata – A beautiful novella that can be seen to mirror elements of Tolstoy’s own life, centred on the themes of adultery and morality. Here is my post on it.

Anna Karenina – This novel is perhaps as famous and loved as War and Peace, if not more so. In my opinion, War and Peace best portrays the essential nature of human life, while Anna Karenina conveys its inner turmoil. I’ll probably change my mind on that distinction later. Regardless, both are must reads.

War and Peace

I realise that that list doesn’t include his complete works, and is rather a brief overview. Also, I don’t necessarily think that everyone needs that much preparation before reading War and Peace, although the aforementioned texts are incredible pieces of literature.


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