So, I read this. It took a couple minutes.
Some of it is the same old stuff I remember from Anna Karenina: huge numbers of rich people screwing each other over. But the other stuff - I guess that's the "War" stuff, although it's mostly all war, one way or another - the stuff about Napoleon surprised me because I don't think Tolstoy saw this as "historical fiction." I think he saw it as some fiction parts, and some history parts, and during the history parts he really meant for you to almost switch gears entirely. He did original research: interviewed veterans, visited battlefields. He wrote an enormous novel, interspersed with an enormous history book. Neat, right? It's like a mashup. A really, really long mashup. Holy shit! It's like when Danger Mouse released that album-length mashup of the Beatles' White album (representing history) and Jay-Z's Black album (representing rich people screwing each other)!
Now you know exactly like War & Peace is like. I'm so much awesomer than Sparknotes.
I didn't like this as well as I liked Anna Karenina. Maybe it's because I read AK first, so Tolstoy's tricks - the sprawling casts, the terrifying knowledge of human nature - aren't new to me anymore. Or, maybe it's because W&P is too fucking long. You know this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy? Ha, Tolstoy was such an asshole. And that 40 pages at the end...whew. That's some Ayn-Rand-near-the-end-of-Atlas-Shrugged BS right there (my wife's point, not mine), and you know how I feel about Atlas Shrugged.
That said, though, saying "I liked Anna Karenina better" is like saying "I liked having sex with whats-her-name from Weeds better." The bar is high. War & Peace is a very good book. And I liked the historical stuff, even if it's pretty clear that all that high-minded talk about history's drift could have been summed up as "I totally hate Napoleon."Translation(s) Review
I read the Briggs and Pevear & Volokhonsky translations alternately. Just swapped back and forth at random. I don't recommend it. They spell names slightly differently, and Briggs has Denisov speak like Barbara Walters for some reason, so the switch is confusing. But here's my verdict: they're both fine. I give the edge to Pevear & Volokhonsky, but only if you don't mind some French; it feels like a lot, but it's only 2%. I do think Briggs can be a bit clunky - and I now know, from P&V's amusingly catty intro, that Briggs wussed out on a bit of Tolstoy's weird tendency to repeat words like six times in a paragraph. (But Briggs' afterword, by Figes, is better.) Really, you're good either way.