War and Peace is the kind of book that’s more of a prop, shown in TV or movies as a placeholder for “big old book”. It’s ~1200 pages long, it’s got a ton of characters, it’s about a huge and “important” historical occurrence (the War of 1812), and the author tries, during its length, to “say things” about life, and love, and death, and war and… peace. It’s on many lists of “best book of all time” and is the first thing that comes to mind when you say “classic book”, but is it actually any good? Is it interesting? Is it fun? Is it compelling?
War and Peace is very compelling and fun to me, especially compared to other classic novels I’ve read like Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, or Moby Dick. Moby Dick is crafted with beautiful imagery and language, and expert use of symbolism, rhetoric, and metaphor, but its characters are by and large, old, and sweaty sailors who chew hunks of salt pork and are riddled with an insatiable desire to murder a whale. War and Peace is much more relatable. It’s got war and sweaty old people, but it also has romance and society and wealth and politics and intrigue. And younger people that walk around in military uniforms and ball gowns, get jealous of each other, kiss, shoot each other, engage in relationships…
What makes War and Peace a Classic?
Most books now, being overseen by market-astute editors, dig themselves into one niche or objective. You read a science fiction novel like The Martian to get a tight adventure story about a guy lost in space with a lot of good scientific details. Or you read a Janet Evanovich novel because you want to immerse yourself in the twists and turns of a rocky romantic affair. Or you read the memoirs of ulysses s. grant in order to get a realistic and gritty picture of a war that shaped the world you live in. A lot of books serve a single purpose. They’re refined and sharpened to accomplish the tasks of the role they fill, like accountants or surgeons that only perform lap band procedures.
But War and Peace has it all. It’s got human drama, philosophy, history.. It’s great. Read it, if you want I guess