War and Peace is one of the greatest monuments in world literature. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, it examines the relationship between the individual and the relentless march of history. Here are the universal themes of love and hate, ambition and despair, youth and age, expressed with a swirling vitality which makes the book as accessible today as it was when it was first published in 1869.
In addition it is, famously, one of the longest books in Western literature and therefore a remarkable challenge for any reader. Neville Jason read the abridged version of War and Peace and proved his marathon powers with his outstanding performance of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. These make him the ideal narrator to essay Tolstoy's epic.
War and Peace was translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude.
© and (P) Naxos Rights International
"War and Peace presents us with a complete picture of human life; a complete picture of the Russia of those days; a complete historic picture of the struggle of nations; and a complete picture of the things in which men set their happiness and greatness, their sorrow and their shame." (A.V. Knowles, Tolstoy: The Critical Heritage)
"There remains the greatest of all novelists - for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?" (Virginia Woolf)
Neville Jason does a good (but not great) job reading this longest of long books. The dialogue, as read, is more dynamic than the narration; and the men are voiced more effectively than the women. (Unfortunately, given the amount of time she spends "onscreen," I found Jason's reading of Natasha to be somewhat shrill.) The Frederick Davidson recording is more dynamic, but Davidson's voice seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Jason at least has a smooth and mellow voice, and his reading is clear and unhurried.
This is the Maude translation, and Naxos (and Audible) get five stars for making it available in an attractive and accessible format. There are fourteen books in "War and Peace," plus an epilogue, and the recording is divided by book, with a chapter mark for each chapter: so it's very easy to find your way around and know exactly where you are in the story. The idea that you can get the whole thing for only two credits is amazing.
The book is long, some 70 hours or more, but most of the chapters are short and full of absorbing detail. The chapters that aren't -- where Tolstoy lays out his philosophy of history, or summarizes some of the larger historical context from 50,000 feet -- can probably be skipped without great loss. (To oversimplify, Tolstoy basically seems to be saying that while individuals think they have free will in an individual sense, when you step back and look at events from a larger perspective you see that reality is overdetermined and that what happened was inevitable. He also suggests that the "great man" theory of history is seriously flawed, because all the kings of the earth can't do squat without the individual acts of every single pawn.)
I realize that's heresy, but it would be better to get the story and skip the philosophy than to skip the book altogether. The story itself is incredible.
I really enjoyed the first volume of this book. Neville Jason is a tallented narrator and makes the story easy to follow with identifiable and unannoying voices. I highly recommend this audiobook.
I love listening to audiobooks as I make my commute through LA traffic. It makes the time pass and eases the anxiety of people who shouldn't have a license.
Tolstoy's War & Peace gives a fairly accurate portrayal of life among the upper class Russian society during the Napoleonic Wars. It gives a historical account of the war between Napolean and Alexander, all the while set behind the facade of several interwoven upper class Russian families. It's a very entertaining, and classic work, from one of Russia's greatest novelists. It doesn't however touch upon the poverty stricken serfs who made up the majority of the population of Russia at the time. In this case, I've always felt Dostoyevsky does a much better job in capturing a more realistic portrayal of Russian society. Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamozov both give you a better look at the social climate of the period, if that's what you're looking for.
In other words. It's kind of a cool story about rich people during a war. It can be a little boring in places, but if you like history, you'll probably like the book. And it takes a good chunk of time out of a commute of a long car trip!!! LOL
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.
Love having someone read me a story. Fires in the hearth, rain on the roof, sunny days and surf. Good friends, good food and J S Bach.
If you are like me and have tried to read this book and given up , then this is the way to go. Neville Jason does read well.
The names both familiar and formal are accepted by the English speakers' ear and are recognized......Phew....... And it is possible to relax and enjoy this great book. History unfolds as the narrative progresses. Some books lead me to research more than the story tells.....and....................
Apart from learning more about Napoleon, I became very curious about when and how slavery come to Russia.
A great book and a journey into the past too.
Impossible to categorize this huge work. A beautifully written historical novel of the Russian aristocracy, woven together with a carefully detailed examination of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, battle by battle, and lastly Tolstoy's theories on how and why these events occurred.
The scope of this book is stunning, the characters unforgettable. Although more approachable than I anticipated, the exhaustive historical detail and Tolstoy's emphatic philosophical discourses make this more than a little challenging.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, absolutely recommend it, and will probably revisit it sometime in the future. Right now, however, I'm ready for some mindless escapism!!
I am an 19 year old international student from New Zealand currently studying at a great books school, St. John's College. So I read A LOT.
This is the Leo Wiener translation from 1904 if anyone is interested. There are nine other english editions. I have not read the other editions, but this one was an incredible read/listen, and I highly recommend it :)
I ended up loving this book. Yes, it is long, and has a lot of stuff in it that could be cut out, but omitting anything would lessen the book. I am very happy that I listened to the entire 61 hours and 44 minutes. I am pretty sure I have changed, and have grown as a person as a result of this book. Now I'm going to go listen to something light and cheerful!
BTW, Neville Jason is an amazing narrator! My standard for judging a good narrator is "could I listen to him read the phone book and enjoy it?" Yes, I could, Neville. Thank you.
From Mr. Jason's first utterance until 60 hours later his last syllable of Leo Tolstoy's magnum opus "War and Peace" I was living in Russia. Living with the aristocracy, peasants; cavalry and Cossacks. Soldiers and surfs. In castles, dungeons, town houses, huts and tents, ballrooms and battlefields.
Not for one moment was I distracted or aware of time's passage.
I listened to W & P right after "Anna Karinina". There is not enough Tolstoy. How can one comprehend this man's mind? You can not.
On to Dostoyevsky. Russian literature, what transcendent joy.
"Great reading of a classic!"
If it were up to the reading alone, I would give this audiobook at least a four-star. Neville Jason read it well and made it enjoyable to listen to. Unfortunately, as highly praised as the book is, I did not enjoy it as much. It's long, and at times winded. I am not one to be daunted by big books, and without a doubt Tolstoy's writing is lasting, but the vastness of the tale just did not manage to capture me. At times the story managed to transported me to 19th century Russia, but other times it talked about such miniscule things and so many people that I just couldn't keep my interest at bay. I enjoyed the Peace part, not so much the War part or the essaying like in the Second Epilogue.
"Better than I remembered"
I read War and Peace about thirty years ago. Having now completed listening to both volumes all I can say is it is better than I remembered. As a twenty year old I was obsessed with the lives of the protagonists. Now I'm in my fifties I was much more interested in Tolstoy's discussion of the how the war happened almost independently of the activities of Emperors and Generals. The final epilogue to volume 2 is a fascinating discussion of free will.
The narration was excellent throughout. I will definitely be listening to some more "classics".
I need to refute the previous review. The range of Jason's voice and interpretation is astounding. As for the story and how it is written, never fear. This is a long and engrossing historical novel with plenty of wide panaoramic views and attention to romantic and period detail. Situations are described in their essence and the flavour of the time thoroughly captured. The spiritual aspect of Tolstoy's tale is as gripping as the unfolding of the events.It is fabulous!
I'm sure that there are very many better and more detailed reviews of War and Peace, but for me this has been very much worth the time. The reading is simply superb and quite frankly leads you through it skilfully and carefully. The characters soon become well known and though the style is long ( hurry up and die will you) the story is highly entertaining and a deep insight into the time and culture. Go for it!
"A masterpiece read magnificently"
I highly recommend this recording. Neville Jason is no only a great actor, he clearly has read ahead and comprehended every word. He gets the tone just right, from the characterisation to the energy and vehemence in Tolstoy's voice as he rants about the state of history. An epic piece in which both the philosophical ideas and central story are made compelling by a great reader.
"Had to be done"
Everyone should read War & Peace, it's said. Well, it was worth the listen, but probably only just. This tour de force is enormously long and could have been improved by a judicious editor. The biggest surprise was how little I liked the main characters. It did make it a little hard to care as their stories developed. And the least worst of them was the only one to die an untimely death. It was interesting to hear (and compare) a Russian, and now itself historic, perspective on the Napoleonic Wars, but no-one would accuse Tolstoy of subtlety, and ultimately the didacticism became an irritant. Had to be done, but I won't be doing it again.
"Thank god you can alter the narration speed!"
They're both good to use, I went between both.
The author occasionally stopped to analyse what was going on and talk about its place in history.
The narrator reads very very slowly so i had to alter the speed, 1.5x made it normal reading speed but i put it to 2x sometimes too as it was still understandable but a little quicker.
There were some moments that really made me think, about people, war and history.
Just to say again that you might need to speed the book up when you listen to it because the narration is very slow.
both volumes absolutely enchanting. Would listen again.
The narrating immediately engages, which is essential given the complexity of thedtory and its length.
I will listen to this again.
"It was to be 5 stars"
I approached this book with trepidation (I did start and stop reading it many moons ago) but, although long, it was not at all a chore to listen to. During the first book I struggled with remembering which character was which and how they were related, so I wrote down a list from Wikipedia, then I was off. What struck me was how well Tolstoy perceived and described the innermost feelings of his characters. I had a preconceived notion that an old book written by a man wouldn't really do feelings. Its length gives you plenty of space to know, understand and believe in the characters and I could have continued to follow their lives when the book stopped! The parts where he philosophises about the nature of war were for the most part interesting. The narrator was excellent (what a marathon) although I wasn't completely convinced by his female voices!
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