War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Martha Longley
Executive Assistant to the President

I know it is crazy to love one of the longest novels in history but I do. I have had the occasion to read War and Peace a few times, and each time I am enthralled by the incredibly accurate descriptions of human behavior, especially in the battle scenes. My favorite description is of General Kutuzov, leader of the Russian army, who falls asleep during a pre-battle meeting with his staff just hours before a critical battle. The narrator explains that Kutzov has lived through enough wars to know that nothing will ever go according to any plan devised by man so instead, he chooses to get a few hours of sleep in the corner of the tent and prepare the chaos to come. There is also a scene where a prince is shot and falls from his horse, and while he is falling we hear him wonder at his vulnerability and mortality, something that never occurred to him before because of his previous life of privilege and comfort. As he lies on the ground and looks up at the sky, he realizes that he may never see the blue sky again. There is something about his naivete and surprise about his own mortality that seems so very human, and reminds me of how we all fib to ourselves daily about death in order to deal with its eventual inevitability.

It is a beautiful book. I highly recommend it.

The War and Peace of Hindi Literature 3 Quarks Daily
Tolstoy on Chekhov NYRB
The Secrets of Leo Tolstoy New York Times

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