Give War and Peace a Chance
Title: Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: May 20, 2014
Considered by many critics the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace is also one of the most feared. And at 1,500 pages, it’s no wonder why. Still, new editions keep appearing. In July 2009 Newsweek put War and Peace at the top of its list of 100 great novels and a 2007 edition of the AARP Bulletin, read by millions, included the novel in their list of the top four books everybody should read by the age of fifty. A New York Times survey from 2009 identified War and Peace as the world classic you’re most likely to find people reading on their subway commute to work. What might all those Newsweek devotees, senior citizens, and harried commuters see in a book about the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s? A mirror of our times.
War and Peace is many things. It is a love story, a family saga, a war novel. But at its core it’s a novel about human beings attempting to create a meaningful life for themselves in a country torn apart by war, social change, political intrigue, and spiritual confusion.
Give War and Peace a Chance takes readers on a journey through War and Peace that reframes their very understanding of what it means to live through troubled times and survive them. Touching on a broad range of topics, from courage to romance, parenting to death, Kaufman demonstrates how Tolstoy’s wisdom can help us live fuller, more meaningful lives. The ideal companion to War and Peace, this book will also be enjoyable to those who have never read a word of Tolstoy, making that masterpiece more approachable, relevant, and fun.
“Give War and Peace a Chance…is an enthusiastic primer to Tolstoy’s most famous work, which shows how genuinely exciting it can be to read.”
—The Toronto Star
“That a novel full of ‘clear, honest reflection on the pain of living’ is also ‘one of the most life-affirming works of fiction’ becomes, for Andrew D. Kaufman, a contradiction worth exploring. He does so in this alluring study with a ferocity and lightness of touch that Tolstoy himself would have admired. Kaufman’s s book is nothing less than inspiring.”
—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station
“If you come from a family, then you’ll understand [War and Peace’s] deepest meaning, thanks to Mr. Kaufman’s erudition and scholarship.”
—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“No other novel in world literature possesses the intimidating allure of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It is the very Everest of fiction, and most readers need a Sherpa. Andrew Kaufman has not only produced a perfect guide to the setting, characters, history, and background of this epic work, all skillfully interwoven with events in Tolstoy’s life; he has done so with zest and personality.”
—Dana Gioia, poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
“Kaufman is an adept guide, knowledgeable and passionate about his subject [and] his argument is mischievously compelling: Why waste money on motivational tapes and seminars when this fictional account of the Napoleonic Wars provides greater (and cheaper) salve for the soul?….An attaboy to Kaufman for reminding us of its relevance to our anxious century.”
—The Miami Herald
“Andrew Kaufman has written the book on War and Peace for our time. This is quite simply the most engaging and thought-provoking book on Tolstoy I have ever read.”
—Richard Gustafson, author of Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger
“Once you have taken Kaufman’s well—informed yet unintimidating tour of the Russian classic, it will very likely move up to the top of your literary bucket list. Kaufman’s mission is to share the wonder and power of this ageless novel he so clearly reveres and to make the case for its continuing relevance in the 21st century. He succeeds admirably…. Even without ever having cracked the spine of the novel itself, readers will feel as if they have, coming to know its characters and their dreams, failures and destinies. [Kaufman] brings them to life with such affection that even the most flawed among them becomes someone we wish to know better.
“Andrew Kaufman has found a refreshingly informal way of reading (and re-reading) War and Peace, weaving the lives of the novel’s characters together with Tolstoy’s life and his own. By breaking all the critical rules, he manages to enter into the ever shifting and growing reality that Tolstoy sought to portray, producingan excellent ‘companion’ for new readers of the novel.”
—Richard Pevear, bestselling translator (with Larissa Volokhonsky) of War and Peace and Anna Karenina
“Kaufman makes Tolstoy’s characters lively and palpable.…Kaufman’s enticing invitation may well persuade readers to finally dive into one of the world’s most acclaimed—and daunting—novels.”
“A serious, thoughtful inquiry into how literature can affect and change people’s lives… Do give this fine, perceptive book a chance; it’ll leave you more than ready to tackle Tolstoy’s triumphant work.”
“This lively appreciation of one of the most intimidating and massive novels ever written should persuade many hesitant readers to try scaling the heights of War and Peace sooner rather than later. Kaufman…shows how key scenes and moments in Tolstoy’s masterpiece… afford insights into the human condition that still speak powerfully to contemporary readers.”
“With literary insight and stylistic flair, Andrew D. Kaufman shows why War and Peace is not just a monumental work of fiction but also a kind of user’s manual for a world out of joint. Read Tolstoy, of course, but then read Kaufman.”
—Charles King, author of Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams
“Many critics have had their go at this novel –few of them have displayed the personal attractiveness possessed by this lover of Tolstoyan vision.”
—Irwin Weil, author of The Great Courses: Classics of Russian Literature
“Looking across the ocean, it seems that Andrew Kaufman’s book represents America’s best new understanding of Tolstoy’s universal truths.”
—Pyotr Palievsky, Former Deputy Director, Gorky Institute of World Literature, Moscow
“A substantial, informative, authoritative and yet highly personal book that will impress scholars and general readers alike. Alternatively hilarious and profound, this is a great ‘great book’ book.”
—Carol Apollonio, author of Dostoevsky’s Secrets: Reading Against the Grain
Why I Wrote Give War and Peace a Chance
War and Peace had been roaming in and out of my life for about twenty-five years—in almost a “When Harry Met Sally” kind of way. Each time I encountered the novel, it was a different book, evoking whatever was most alive inside me at that point. I happened to be rereading the novel in 2008, around the time of the financial crisis that was turning many peoples’ lives upside down—mine included. War and Peace became a new book yet again. I was able to clearly glimpse something I’d only vaguely understood in my previous readings: that whatever else this novel is, it’s a book about people trying to find their footing in an unstable, ever-changing world. How do you live in such times? Where do you find meaning and even joy in a troubled world? In 2008 these became deeply personal questions to me, and I sensed that many other people were—and are—struggling with them as well. I came to recognize War and Peace as the book for our times.
Even though I was then in the final stages of writing Understanding Tolstoy, I knew I had to write another book on Tolstoy. I wanted it to be a book that would introduce—or re-introduce—a wide audience of readers to Tolstoy’s most famous novel, helping them find both insight and inspiration from Tolstoy’s wisdom in the same way that I myself have been transformed by his art over the course of a lifetime. Because of the personal nature of the book, it was important to me to interweave anecdotes from my own quarter-century journey with Tolstoy into the discussion of the novel itself. And at the same time I wanted to tell the story of characters’ journeys in War and Peace, as well as Tolstoy’s own fascinating life story as it relates to the themes of the novel. The result, I hope, is a book the helps readers find the man in the Great Man and the living ideas in this Greatest of Great Books, ultimately inspiring them to want to read—or reread—the novel itself.