This is unquestionably the greatest novel I have ever read. The novel begins a few years preceding Napoleons 1812 invasion of Imperial Russia as we are introduced to a huge cast of characters. It is helpful to have some understanding of the naming traditions of Russian society as the same character is often referred to by three or four different names, be it their first name, one of several diminutives of their first name, their patronymic (a derivative of their fathers name), or their family name. And there is quite a large cast of characters. The characters, though far removed from our time, place, and situation are marvelously depicted as all too human and flawed, from rich, bawdy, drunken dandies to the young idealistic Emperor of Russia. Descriptions of action at the pivotal Battle of Borodino are exquisite, along with the explanation of why, despite it being a numerical French victory, it was in reality a serious defeat. There is also an in depth description of the Muscovite occupation and eventual disintegration of Napoleons army. Though this story primarily deals with the interactions between various members of the Russian aristocracy before and during the war, the novel is interspersed with evenly spaced historical analysis by Tolstoy concerning such things as causes of war, sources of secular power, motivations for specific actions or instances of inaction during the French-Russian conflict, and explanations of societal phenomenon expressed vis a vis the mob. In this sprawling epic narrative Tolstoy manages to accurately describe the trials and tribulations of life, brilliantly deconstruct the mythic figure of Napoleon, and attempt to explain the meaning of existence. Though I may partially disagree with Tolstoys assertion that individuals do not make history but are instead merely products of their place and age, it does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the novel, because I take into account the fact that this novel was written before the events and pivotal figures of the 20th century. Nor does my disagreement with Tolstoy over religious matters as they pertain to existence sour my love for his novel. That said, people of religious faith would find Tolstoys religious assertions especially poignant and relevant even today.