War and Peace was Tolstoy’s first novel. It centres on four families – Rostov, Kuragin, Bolkhonski, and Bezukhov – although there are dozens, if not hundreds, of minor characters. Some of the characters, like Napoleon and Alexander I, are taken from history. All of the characters are beautifully described, even those with the smallest parts.
War and Peace tells the story of the four families over a period of nine years, from 1805 – 1813. As the title implies, some members of the families are followed to war. We also see how the people who remain behind spend their time, and what the families do in peacetime.
Leo Tolstoy served in the Russian army during the Crimean War. His descriptions of battles and his explanations of why battles seldom (if ever) go to plan are written from experience. His philosophy of how and why battles are won or lost probably also stems from this experience. I’m not a Tolstoy scholar, that’s just my opinion.
War and Peace is one of the longest novels ever written. Don’t let that put you off. It’s a very good story once you get into it. The version I read was the translation by Aylmer and Louise Maude. Other translations are available. Read the first few pages of different versions, or download samples from Amazon if you have a Kindle. Find a version you are comfortable with. You can set yourself a target of 100 pages per day, or just read at your own pace as the mood takes you. However you do it, I encourage you to read this book.