War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy in 1908, age 79. He died in 1910. This is also the first color portrait ever produced in Russia.

Leo Tolstoy in 1908, age 79. He died in 1910. This is also the first color photo portrait ever produced in Russia.

“When I retire, I’m going to read War and Peace.” So many people say that. In fact I even said it some years ago, after an abortive attempt to tackle this monumental tome.

I retired a few years ago. But just now I finally decided to make good on this vow. For the past month I’ve slowly been nibbling away and digesting this epic manuscript penned by Leo Tolstoy. I’ve even stolen some quotes from him, as you may have noticed today.

This book is FUCKING long. At over 500,000 words, it’s considered one of the longest novels of all the classics, and is more than five times as long as the average novel. I have a goal to read one novel per year. So after having read War and Peace, I think I’m good for the next five years.

Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author. He wrote War and Peace in the 1860’s, and it was an instant hit. Lucky bastard. Today it’s still a big hit. Fuck! How lucky can you get? In fact Time magazine has ranked it the third greatest novel of all time. Well shit on me.

This book concerns itself with Russia’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the intrigues and romances of five Russian aristocratic families. Even so, it’s not the snoozer you’d expect it to be.

I never knew much about Napoleon Bonaparte until I read War and Peace. Now I’ve learned quite a bit about this dimunitive emperor. I kind of like ol’ Shorty. In fact, sometimes I imagine that I am him. Yes, I really think I am. I am Napoleon Bonaparte in the flesh!

I must be Napoleon. After all, I have conquered a 500,000 word book. And this is a great accomplishment. Probably my greatest.

But unlike Napoleon, I refuse to retreat into the ignominy of one of the most catastrophic military defeats in history. Napoleon’s greatest accomplishment was the conquest and occupation of Moscow. But after just one month, he and his Grande Armee retreated from this famous capitol, trying to escape Russia before the vicious winter weather moved in. I guess he suddenly got homesick for the French Riviera.

He was not very successful. Of the 600,000 soldiers he led into this invasion, about 380,000 died of war wounds, starvation, disease, and exposure. Another 100,000 were captured, and about half of those also died. And this is not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers and civilians, who perished too.

I wonder who accomplished the most, Napoleon or me? He won many famous battles. But I read War and Peace. His decisions led to the deaths of millions. But my decision to read War and Peace has only caused me to neglect my blog occasionally, and sometimes my wife. (We worked it out.)

I can die happy, knowing that I finished War and Peace. Napoleon died unhappy, a miserable haunted has-been, while exiled on the remote island of Saint Helena.

I have no blood on my hands. Napoleon was dripping in it.

What is success anyway? I’m not sure. We all have our own definition. But my notion of success, and my personal ego, allow me to tuck my hand between the buttons of my shirt and gaze proudly into a mirror. I have killed no one.

I have only read a book.


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