Details the invasion of Russia by Napoleon and his army.
Tolstoy was a member of the nobility and, by standards of the day, could have been considered a social reformer trying to improve the lot of the peasants. You will usually find a character in his novels that reflects his own attitudes (but not the principal character). He wrote and published novels in installments. To produce this properly in a film media would require making a lengthy TV series, somewhat like "Upstairs, Downstairs." I am surprised that has not been done.
The novel covers the rise and fall of the fortunes of the family and the people around them. The family's fortunes are shattered by a variety of circumstances including bad management of money and the French invasion. Partly the head of the family puts the welfare of others ahead of his own family. When the French are at the gates of Moscow, and they have wagons to save their belongings, they leave their own possessions behind in order to use the wagons to rescue wounded Russian soldiers.
Eventually, the next generation is left with the task of salvaging what remains and restoring the family fortunes.
Certainly it had an appalling cover, and had spelling and typesetting mistakes, and the font was too small, but still - I had discovered a brilliant translation of a brilliant book. It took me three months to read it. I don't have a clue how I did it, or why - but the book made a big impression on me.
Eight years later, and the book still wows me.
Very roughly, the book describes the interactions between five prominent aristocratic families in Russia as they live through the Napoleonic Wars (1804-1815).
Trying to describe the plot of War and Peace is like trying to describe the "plot" of a zoo or a botanical park. The events are presented shapelessly and meanderingly, with little apparent structure.
It is character rather than event that makes this book memorable. No one could define character and moivation like Tolstoy. His characters are always ensnared by their own character traits, which are made clear to the audience by their reactions to events.
One scene has the teenaged Nicholas Rostov, who is very close to his father, incur a gambling debt - something he did not habitually do. He has toi get his father to pay it. At first he decides to throw himself on his father's mercy - but of course, he is a young soldier, trying to prove he is grown up. So he pretends to be arrogant and coldly tells his father of the debt; and asks him to pay it. "It happens to everyone" he says brusquely, although he feels awful saying it.
But of course Count Rostov is a perceptive man; rather than go with his first impulse and tell him off for his arrogance (which Nicholas is secretly begging him to do), he says humbly: "Yes, all right, it happens to everyone...