Everyone who wishes to be considered cultured and educated should read Tolstoy’s epic, War and Peace.

Today’s topic is the importance of the reading of War and Peace for the intellectual development of people who wish to develop their intellects, which everyone should because we all need an elite that is better read than everyone else. This means you. The part about being part of an elite, I mean. As to War and Peace I haven’t, well, read it myself. But I have listened to all 44 or so tapes of an audio version produced for Books on Tape Inc. and I have seen a 12 or so episode BBC TV version from the early 1970s and just tonight I copied out from various Web sites some of the novel’s key passages. Equipped, therefore, as I am with a good grasp of what War and Peace is all about I am in as nearly as good a position as someone who has read the novel to authoritatively and unanswerably urge you to read it and in that capacity I hereby do so and herewith are some of the reasons you should. First of all, there are many references in popular culture to War and Peace. As in, “It’s nearly as long as War and Peace.” Or, “Now that I am retired, I’ll have time to read War and Peace.” War and Peace is common parlance for excessive length and you won’t really appreciate all these jokes until you have plowed through all roughly 1400 (depending on the translation and what edition you are reading) pages of the novel. I myself, as I say, haven’t read the novel. But I have listened to all those audiotapes and watched all those videotapes and both of those activities took plenty of time, I can tell you. Thus, I giggle far more than others might at jokes about the length of War and Peace and once you have read it, you too can laugh heartily at such wisecracks. We all need merriment in our lives and I can think of no better way to bring some into them than by reading a long Russian novel in which much of the action revolves around the invasion of Russia and death and destruction on a massive scale. Anyway, the length of War and Peace is just one reason to read it. Another reason is that it is a key work in the Russian literary canon. Why should you want to master one of the masterworks of Russian literature? Well, Russia used to be a very important country. It is rather like War and Peace. It is big and nobody is quite sure why he or she should know about it right now. One distinction of the Russians is that they are very good at defeating the armies of nations whose leaders are stupid enough to invade Russia, like France under Napoleon and Germany under Hitler. Military leaders like Napoleon and Hitler get cocky by defeating major military powers that were wondrously skillful at losing battles as in Austria’s case in Napoleon’s case in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and most of their country (but only temporarily) in France’s case in WWII in Hitler’s. The Russians usually lose tens or hundreds of thousands of people to the invaders and a lot of time before trouncing their attackers in the end and elsewhere. This is the sort of thing that Tolstoy deals with in truly memorable fashion. If you read War and Peace you will see why English schoolboys in 1941 were so pleased that Hitler’s armies attacked the Soviet Union. They knew that that was a big boo-boo on Hitler’s part. So will you if you read War and Peace.

I had started talking about Russian literature, but I got onto history and theorizing on geopolitics. That’s another reason to read War and Peace--in it there is a lot of impressive sounding theorizing and philosophizing about man and events and war and the impact on history of great men whom, actually, Tolstoy doesn’t consider great men but merely players in the great drama of fate which is directed by God although God per se doesn’t play as big a part in War and Peace as God would in Tolstoy’s later works of fiction and he stopped writing fiction eventually because of his religious beliefs, regarding by then the writing of fiction as impious. But that was only after writing War and Peace, which you should read. Here would be a good spot to inject historical background. Tolstoy does quite a bit of that and of scene setting in War and Peace, which is a good thing because it covers the years 1805 to around 1819 and in that time a good bit has happened and much of what has happened in the novel is important for those of us who want to be erudite to assimilate. For instance, we learn that shortly before the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz (not that there was any other Battle of Austerlitz as far as I know) the Austrian commander Karl Mack lost an entire army to Napoleon. Mack ended his life not in battle but in disgrace, as losing armies was not a good thing for military leaders to do in those days and probably not in ours. Before heading off into disgrace, Mack shocks the Russian commander Prince Mikhail Kutuzov with the news of Mack’s disaster. Kutuzov hadn’t exactly anticipated that he would have to fight Napoleon at Austerlitz with considerably less help from the Austrians than he had been counting on. It was always a mistake to count on the Austrians for anything militarily. Getting back to the Battle Austerlitz. Ah, here is another reason to read War and Peace. In order to enjoy it, you have to do a lot of reading in secondary sources. Otherwise, you won’t get the significance of what is going on. Luckily for you, War and Peace is a historical novel. Therefore, you can pretty easily look people up and find out who they were and why what happened to the Unfortunate Mack caused major problems for Kutuzov at Austerlitz which, incidentally, is considered Napoleon’s greatest victory and where the setback for the Austrians and Russians is said to have contributed to the death of one of Napoleon’s most effective foes, the British politician William Pitt the Younger. I don’t think Pitt is mentioned in War and Peace, but Mack and Kutuzov are and Napoleon definitely is. Ah, Napoleon. Now, a major reason for reading War and Peace is that it covers in an entertaining way in its often dull roughly 1400 pages a good deal of European history. The opening paragraph of War and Peace illustrates Tolstoy’s brand of historical fiction. Here is the opening scene of the novel: "Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist- I really believe he is Antichrist- I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful

slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you- sit down and tell me all the news." This is said by a minor character of the sort that abounds in War and Peace and who host soirees and balls at which major fictional characters meet and discuss real historical figures some of whom appear in the novel and say things, as opposed to just being mentioned in dialogue at soirees and balls. In this scene we meet one such minor character, a society hostess who is addressing the major secondary character Prince Vasili Kuragin, a slimy high government functionary and the father of two loathsome children who are also major secondary characters, one of whom is married to the hero of the novel Count Pierre Bezukhov although you could also make a case for the hero really being Pierre’s friend Andrei Bolkonsky who is deep and thoughtful and capable whereas Pierre is thoughtful and bumbling. Prince Vasili’s son Anatol seduces Natasha Rostova whom Pierre loves and ultimately marries, but only after she has been betrothed to Andrei whom she nurses back to health just before he dies quite some time after Pierre is so angry at Anatol that he nearly kills him well before Anatol's awful sister Hélène dies under suspicious and scandalous circumstances and as you can see there is quite a bit of plot to keep straight. But you can do it especially given that much of the plot is based on real historical events the details of which you can look up and in so doing become an educated person who knows all about why the Russian ruling class disapproved of Napoleon’s political intrigues in Italy, many of which involved his siblings of whom he had quite a few and which included Joseph, Lucien, Elisa, Louis, Jerome, Pauline and Caroline who, incidentally, was married to one of Napoleon's generals, Murat, who is a character in War and Peace as is his capable and courageous comrade, Ney who like Murat ended up shot by people who were fed up with the bloodshed and upheaval caused by Napoleon's generals, who had a habit of changing sides with dizzying frequency although usually only once apiece. Generals. They are another reason to read War and Peace. Tolstoy was fascinated by military men and his portrayal of Kutuzov is masterly. In his late sixties, fat and weary Kutuzov is a sort of Eeyore who knows that if he is simply allowed to retreat a lot of the time, Napoleon’s army will collapse under the weight of the Russian winter and the ensuing deprivation. Such travails afflict men who loyally follow megalomaniacal leaders fool enough to invade Russia in disastrous campaigns, such leaders being regarded as heroes nonetheless by the French probably because many of the unfortunates who died fighting in Napoleon's ranks over the years were Poles and assorted other Europeans and not Frenchmen. Generals plan battles. Along with Austerlitz (see above) another reason to read War and Peace is to learn about the Battle of Borodino. Eeyore, I mean Kutuzov, doesn’t really want to meet Napoleon in pitched battle. Most generals at the time didn't, as Napoleon was, admittedly, quite good at winning battles. But Kutuzov is being pressed into the glory of pointless carnage by Tsar Alexander I who was actually fairly capable as tsars go and there is no use fighting fate, according to Tolstoy. So there ensues the bloodbath at Borodino in 1812 at which more lives were lost than at either Waterloo or Gettysburg and which Napoleon painted as a victory though nothing much was accomplished by either

side and Napoleon proceeded farther into Russia and fled it months later abandoning a by then shattered army. It took forever for the French people to decide that, given that Napoleon had a habit of abandoning armies (there was also that one in Egypt years before), maybe they should find other leaders. By this point in War and Peace, Nikolai and Maria are happy as well as married, as are Pierre and Natasha all to each other--in pairs anyway. Andrei, Anatol (no great loss), Hélène (ditto) are dead as is Petya and the serf by whom Pierre is (tediously for some readers--like this writer) taught the meaning of life. If you like romance there is a lot of it in War and Peace. Things generally work out and Nikolai promises not to strike his serfs anymore, which habit of his upsets Maria and you learn all about the lifestyles of the Russian aristocracy and gentry of the 19th century which is useful background as you read further in Russian literature much of which is sprinkled with French conversation. But you will be reading English translations, anyway. Finally, is useful to read Tolstoy because doing so makes you curious about who his contemporaries and immediate predecessors were in the novel biz. You learn that by the time that Tolstoy was working on War and Peace (1864-1869) Dickens, Melville and Thackeray had already writen most of their greatest work or were dead, in Thackeray’s case. Literature is a wonderful thing.