Often called the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace is at once an epic of the Napoleonic wars, a philosophical study, and a celebration of the Russian spirit. Tolstoy's genius is clearly seen in the multitude of characters in this massive chronicle, all of them fully realized and equally memorable. Out of this complex narrative emerges a profound examination of the individual's place in the historical process, one that makes it clear why Thomas Mann praised Tolstoy for his Homeric powers and placed War and Peace in the same category as The Iliad.
War and Peace was translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude.
(P)1998 Blackstone Audiobooks
Subscribers asked for a better narrated version of the awesome "War and Peace," and quietly Audible recently offered this superb rendition. The narration is excellent and unlike the droning Zimmerman, Frederick Davidson brings the material and the characters to life. My opinion of Audible has risen substantially, and I am thoroughly enjoying one of the greatest novels ever written.
I downloaded a free study guide off the web and that helped me keep the characters straight in the beginning. The guide's critical analysis helped me enjoy the book even more. Be sure to let the first several hours wash over you. Just enjoy being swept along. Soon you'll remember who everyone is and be thoroughly engrossed. My dogs got extra long walks for a couple months! I was sorry it ended.
First, a few technical notes:
- The translation used in the audiobook is the one by Constance Garnett.
- The actual length of the book is about 61 hours, since the last four hours (the epilogues) are repeated twice.
The narrator (whose real name was David Case -- he passed away in 2005) seems to provoke extreme reactions: some people can't stand him, others can't get enough of him. I happen to belong to the second class, and I believe he is especially suited for this novel. However, if you find his voice as irritating as some of the other reviewers, you should probably go for another version.
And now for the book itself. In "The Brothers Karamazov", Dostoyevsky writes: "Show a Russian schoolboy a map of the stars, which he knows nothing about, and he will give you back the map next day with corrections on it." Tolstoy is the ideal to which all such schoolboys aspire, and "War and Peace" is his greatest achievement. Not only is this immense work a novel, it is a place for Tolstoy to expound his views on the causes and persons of the Napoleonic wars, on the methods of historical research, on free will and (of course) the existence of God. I can't say that I found everything convincing or even interesting -- for example, he takes a lot of pains to demonstrate the Napoleon was not a military genius but a blundering fool -- but for the sheer complexity and ambition of this work I cannot help but award it five stars.
Indeed the Narrator is an acquired taste especially for Americans not familiar with the "proper" English accent or the Russian Language. What some have called out as an annoyance (the raising of the inflection of the voice at the end of sentences) is actually part of its genius for that is how Russians speak. Not only did the narrator tell the story, but he captured the very essence of the book. Very well done!
Frederick Davidson is definitely an acquired taste. Other reviews here have noted some of the irritating qualities of his narration: fey, somewhat nasal, pseudo-posh, most sentences ending with a rising inflection, like a question. On the other hand, it should be said that his narration is always clear and energetic, and the characters are given immediately recognizable voices; in this particular case, given the length of the book, the recording is a good value for the money. Listen to the sample, and if Davidson's voice doesn't bother you, get it. (On balance, I'd have to say I prefer the Naxos recording with Neville Jason, although I have some issues with his narration as well.)
The book is amazingly good, Frederick Davidson is an excelente narrator too. The only flaw in this audio book is the recording. A few times it looks like your're listening to a jumping vinyl record, but nothing that prevents you from having a wonderful experience.
This is indeed a classic both the book itself and the narration. The author does an excelent job with character development. His analysis of History was very thought provoking. The Narrator does a comendable job with voice variations and expression I found I could almost see the characters as he brought them to life. Very worth the investment, if you have the huge amount of time it takes to get through it.
My limited experience doesn't have a class for War and Peace. Well, I'm no Ph.D, but I've done a respectable stint with the classic. I rattled off a list of reputable authors and how I like them at first, citing it sort of to demonstrate my taste; ultimately I deleted it because even all those invocations of classicism didn't express my newfound reverence for Tolstoy.
Anyway, I had anticipated reading War and Peace (eventually...), but hadn't anticipated it as an audiobook until I got two credits here as gifts. As you may have noticed, I liked it. I really liked it. I liked it so much that that, ruefully, I'm trying to write such a glowing review that people reading will think I must throw "five stars" around all the time, and they'll be wrong: Tolstoy not only snatched the Favorite Book trophy, he ran off with it for half a mile. Funny I've never *read* my favorite book, but there you go.
That's all opinion though, and for all I know an abnormal one. In fact, I'd be surprised if any significant statistic of people liked it as I do, but I'd wager on anybody loving it sooner than her hating it.
I don't think Frederick Davidson will remain my favorite narrator once I've heard more than two. I think he did very, very well with this, but I sympathize with some of the reviewers who couldn't get over some of his intonations. I got over them quite easily, you see, and even appreciate them, but they did take getting over first. Other than that, he slipped up only once in the whole work, mixing up two characters voices in one conversation. This is unabridged War and Peace: that has to count for something by itself.
Last thing, if you don't like history/philosophy/philosophy of history/lengthy tangents thereon, beware. Those things greatly added to my enjoyment, but there you go.
trying to see the world with my ears
I did not expect to like W&P (in fact, I downloaded it only because I was stuck in bed for a length of time and wanted to joke that I was so bored that I read/listened to W&P), but it's become one of my favorite listens. On one level it's a riveting 19th century soap opera, with breaks for philosophical treatises rather than commercials. Then there's Tolstoy's brilliant expression of his psychological insight. What I studied at university (70s, 80s,) as the "new" historiography was actually expressed better by Tostoy than the postmoderns I read. I usually skip battle scenes to avoid violence, but skipped none of this - even the description of "wolf hunting" referred to by another reviewer was so well done that it captured me. This is one of the few audiobooks that I will subsequently buy to read/reread passages.
Unlike other reviewers, I like Frederick Davidson's narration. His style for W&P was a bit more lively than usual (more variety than his delivery of Les Miserables but not as campy as his readings of P.G. Wodehouse). For me he enhanced the listen. As others pointed out - there ARE many characters, and Davidson's style helped me sort them out. Tolstoy sometimes changes his prose style to reflect his characters mentality does he not? The variety of inflection sometimes helped point to that.
I have to be honest, this has been a rough go! I really appreciate Frederick Davidson's narration - he did a wonderful unabridged reading of Brother's Karamozov that I really enjoyed, and I LOVE Tolstoy's work ... but, I have to admit, this has been a really LONG and difficult story to follow audio-wise! There are so many characters and SO many detailed accounts of everything under the sun - it's obvious authors were paid by the word in Tolstoy's era - the entire chapter dedicated to the wolf-hunt just about did me in! In my opinion, reading the novel so that it's possible to go back and forth just to keep all the characters straight would have been a better option! Or, downloading an abridged version of the work probably would have sufficed! I usually do not like abridged versions of anything, but, unless you have a major surgery that will put you in bed for months on end in the near future, I would advise you to consider an abridged version. I wish I had!
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