The best book I’ll ever read.
I do have some quibbles, however, and that’s with the epilogue, especially the second epilogue.
Tolstoy makes some interesting points in the otherwise dull and lifeless epilogue – the concept of an objective observer predates Einstein in many ways – but he really, really did not need to go one and on about a point he already made through the course of the novel proper. Of course much time (and tastes) have changed sine he wrote this and a modern author wouldn’t dare tell the reader what to think and what lesson to take away from a book (show, don’t tell), but even forgiving the style, Tolstoy tries too hard to hammer home a point he can’t put into words very well.
Sure, he wants to say that above all, beyond power and influence and even time and space, only one thing can be the cause AND effect of all earthly concerns, but his own logic betrays his hypothesis. He never once applies the same rules of his line of reasoning to his supernatural explanations for the human condition. Yes, man has no true and complete ‘free will’ nor does he owe every decision of his life to that of a controlling master, yet to say that only something that exists completely out of time and space (and therefore not subject to the rules he lays out in his logic) is a cop-out. He just wants to prove there is a god and he fails because like the historians he condemns for the shortsightedness, the more power one has the less influence they wield at the lowest level.
I actually felt bad for Tolstoy reading that second epilogue because he otherwise made his point quite clear before then too. I mean, the whole reason why War and Peace is so long is to convey that great sense of time needed to see things in a greater context and too explain how complicated and messy life really is. He couldn’t do that in a smaller book and certainly not in an epilogue.
Yet the novel is a complete masterpiece, even with this one flaw because it’s so grand, so complete, so observant and so mesmerizing that at times we feel like a god looking down on his creation and being able to see and hear and know the deepest thoughts and fears and foibles of everyone alive at any given moment. Tolstoy basically allows us to play the great deity he tries so hard to prove exists externally of the universe; god is not ‘out there’, he’s us. He’s each of us. He’s the confused mess of stumbling humanity haplessly slouching towards some unknown and unforeseen future that never could have been predicted to begin with. The ebb and flow of history is made up of a billion billion vibrating lives each pressing against each other in a dance like that at a great Russian soiree and every so often a beautiful songbird flutters into the room, delights everyone for an instant and inspires us to love.