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War and Peace

War and Peace


by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace Volume 3, Part 2, Chapter 19 Summary

  • OK, guys, we’re going to level with you. This next chapter is one of the reasons this book seems so hard. It’s basically a few pages laying out the details of how the battle of Borodino got set up, and it’s all military strategy and no dialog.
  • But trust us, stick with it. Really read it and try to follow what Tolstoy is saying on the map. The whole novel is full of these kinds of zooming out and zooming back in moves – and it’s really hard to get what’s happening when you’re zoomed in without first getting a zoom-out overview.
  • So what did happen at Borodino?
  • Well, first things first. It makes no sense for either the Russians or the French to do battle there. The Russians are outmanned, so why lose more men? Why go from a ratio of 5 to 6 (Russians to French) to a ratio of 1 to 2, with the French army actually double the size of the Russian one?
  • The French also stand to lose at least a quarter of their men and be drawn even further into Russia. Not only that, but doing battle here would stretch their army out over even more land, thinning out their forces.
  • So, for Tolstoy, the whole battle happens just because it does, rather than from any kind of planning or forethought. It’s just hard to avoid being pulled along with the current, basically.
  • The place of the battle is also dumb. The Russian army passed a ton of much better positions on their retreat. Instead, the Russian position is taken kind of by accident, after a loss to the French at Shevardino forces the Russian left side back.
  • So, accident, fate, and inertia – these are the things Tolstoy sees as the main architects of war. Do you think that’s accurate? Why or why not? What do you think about the idea of the outcome of a battle being determined basically through the butterfly effect? (You know, a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan and that causes a tornado in Europe.)

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