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War and Peace

War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace Volume 4, Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary

1812

  • Again we start off with a big, zoomed-out view of what actually happened after the battle of Borodino, what the historians say happened, and Tolstoy’s ideas about the whole great-man style of historical writing.
  • Again, those ideas are that the great-man-directing-events version of history is a lot of hooey. Instead, it’s obvious to Tolstoy that there are an infinite number of things that cause events to happen. So many that we can’t even wrap our heads around it.
  • After the battle of Borodino and the burning of Moscow, the Russian army retreated and then moved to the south to get to the supply-rich cities there. This is viewed as a totally brilliant strategy by historians, since it blocked the French from getting resupplied. But for Tolstoy, it was just the most obvious “duh” kind of move, undeserving of praise. After all, if you’ve got an army that needs supplies, where else are you going to go?
  • By tacking south instead of straight east, the Russian army actually managed to somehow lose the French, who were supposed to be marching after it. For Tolstoy, this is pretty much pure luck, more attributable to French incompetence than Russian achievement. So stop patting yourselves on the back about it, he says.
  • In any case, the move only seems clever in hindsight. Any number of things could have happened instead of what actually did happen. What if the French hadn’t lost the Russian army? What if Napoleon had decided to attack Petersburg? It’s all just blind luck when you think about it that way.
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