cover image Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times

Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times

Andrew D. Kaufman. Simon & Schuster, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4470-8

This lively appreciation of one of the most intimidating and massive novels ever written should persuade many hesitant readers to try scaling the heights of War and Peace sooner rather than later. Kaufman (Understanding Tolstoy) organizes his book into 12 thematically focused chapters—among them “Happiness,” “Love,” “Courage,” “Death,” and “Truth”—and shows how key scenes and moments in Tolstoy’s masterpiece—such as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky’s humiliating upset by a French soldier during the battle of Austerlitz, addressed in the chapters “Success” and “Idealism”—afford insights into the human condition that still speak powerfully to contemporary readers. Citing passages from Tolstoy’s other writings, as well as incidents from the author’s chaotic life, Kaufman provides context for understanding how Tolstoy could relate the experiences of a huge cast of characters living in the Napoleonic era to his own life in 1860s, when he wrote the novel. Kaufman does not overlook the novel’s occasional infelicities of style; rather, he suggests that Tolstoy’s struggle to grapple with his epic’s unwieldy themes ultimately served its greater ambitions. In Kaufman’s view, War and Peace is “a book about people trying to find their footing in a ruptured world” and “the messy grandeur of life” that it evokes is a theme that never grows old. 24 b&w illus. Agent: Rob McQuilkin, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (May)