Details the invasion of Russia by Napoleon and his army.
The essence of Power, which is what leads individuals to move nations is the ultimate question of War and Peace. And this individuals or great men of history, are in reality the slave of history. That underlying fact can be found in other Russian stories. UNION MOUJIK, TARAS BULBA, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT,MASTER AND MAN feature that concept. The war part of the story features remarkable military campaigns such as those by Napoleon and his Russian counterpart, Emperor Aleksandr, as they employed their different strategies in the quest for victory on the lands of Russia.
War and Peace is entertaining as well as enlightening and is considered by many to be the master of all Russian novels. Its overview of Russian life and culture involving peasants and the aristocracy gives a true to life portrayal of humanity. You can find glimpses of other Great Russian novels in this story. In short, this epic cannot be forgotten after you have read it.
I'm in a position to say this because I've read this book anywhere from half-a-dozen to a dozen times (to be honest I've lost count). For many years I would read one of Tolstoy's big novels every year, alternating between "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina." Along the way I've read three of the four major translations of the book multiple times.
The four translations, in order of appearance, are:
1) Constance Garnett
2) Louise and Alymer Maude
3) Rosemary Edmonds
4) Ann Dunnigan
Of these four translations, I would recommend either Edmonds or Dunnigan. Here's why. The Garnett and Maude translations date from the first three decades of the 20th Century. Edmonds' translation was originally published in 1957, and Dunnigan's in 1968 (for some reason, no one has tried to come up with a new translation of "War and Peace" in the past 35 years). The definitive (to date) Russian text of the novel was published in the early 1960s: Edmonds revised her translation in 1978 to take into account the new version.
In general, unless you're reading an older translation, not for the sake of its putative author but for the translator (which is the only reason to read, for example, the Urquhart-Motteux Rabelais or Chapman's Homer), you're almost always better off sticking with a modern translation. And that's the case with "War and Peace." It's either Edmonds or Dunnigan.
It's a close call. You really won't go wrong with either one of them. If I prefer Dunnigan, it's because Edmonds' translation is a wee bit too English for my taste. Having Russian peasants sound like Cockneys just doesn't work for me.
Can you really read such a lengthy book? Keep in mind that it's not all that long -- it's only around 800,000 words and both Proust and Gibbon are much longer. Plus, when you get past all of Tolstoy's interpolated essays on History (which you can easily skip the first time around, although they are interesting), what you're left with is a stirring story about a few Russian families struggling for survival during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Tolstoy put into the book thinly veiled versions of his parents and relatives (and they are very thinly veiled -- the Volkonskys become the Bolkonskys), and there are quite a few inside jokes that will go sailing over your head the first time you read it.
(I'll only give away one -- when Princess Maria sticks her head out of her room while the Little Princess is about to give birth to Prince Andrei's son, she sees some servants carrying a leather sofa into the Little Princess's room. Tolstoy never says anything else about it, and never explains it. The fact is that Tolstoy himself was born on a leather sofa, and he insisted that his wife give birth to all of his many children on the same sofa.)
So don't be afraid of this very long novel, which Henry James once unwisely referred to as a "loose baggy monster." In fact it is nothing of the sort. It takes quite a few readings of "War and Peace" before you realize how brilliantly structured it is -- how something that seems at first glance as natural and casual as water flowing downstream is really meticulously and artfully plotted.
I hope I've talked you into at least taking a crack at this book. Unlike Proust, who has to be read incredibly slowly if you're going to get anything at all from him, "War and Peace" can be taken at a gallop. And its a lot of fun -- not at all the grim heavy tome it's made out to be.
So what are you waiting for?