War and Peace - Leadership and
War and Peace (1865-9)
Written by the Russian author, Leo
Tolstoy (1828-1910), pictured right.
First published as a serial.
Tolstoy probably modelled the character of Pierre (Bezukhov) on
His other famous book is Anna Karenina.
Russia in the
- In Russian women have ‘a’ on the end of their surname (like Rostova) and men don’t (Rostov)
- Refers to two Russian battles with Napoleon: Austerlitz (1805) and
- Woody Allen once joked that he did a fast reading course and read War and Peace in 20
minutes. “It’s about Russia”, he said.
What about film and TV versions?
The 1956 film starred:
- Audrey Hepburn (as Natasha) - pictured right.
The 1972 BBC TV series starred Anthony Hopkins as Pierre (pictured right below).
Pierre (Bezukhov), illegitimate son of a rich count
Natasha (Rostova), young lady
Nikolai (Rostov), soldier and Natasha’s brother
General Kutuzov, leader of the Russian army
Platon Karataev, peasant
Prince Andrei (Bolkonsky), soldier
Napoleon, leader of the French army
The book begins in 1805 at a party in St Petersburg.
The guests are wealthy aristocrats like:
- Pierre Bezukhov (the illegitimate some of a rich count),
- Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (a soldier),
- Natasha Rostova (a young, vivacious lady)
- Nikolai (Natasha's spendthrift brother and soldier).
At the Battle of Austerlitz Napoleon defeats the Russian army led by General
Kutuzov which includes Nikolai and Andrei (who is wounded and and taken to a French hospital).
- is made sole heir to his father’s fortune.
- marries Hélène Kuragin.
- nearly kills her lover in a duel.
- eventually leaves her (desperately trying to give his life more meaning).
Andrei's wife, Lise, dies giving birth to their son who is raised by Andrei's sister,
Marya, in their father, Prince Bolkonsky's, house.
Natasha falls in love with various men until she decides to marry Andrei. But, Prince
Bolkonsky, objects and asks them to wait a year.
Andrei then returns from holiday but leaves Natasha after he discovers she had had a love affair with the
roguish and extravagant Anatole Kuragin (Hélène's brother).
Pierre is attracted to Natasha when he consoles her.
Nikolai and Natasha’s youngest brother, Petya, joins the army when Napoleon (pictured right) invades Russia in 1812.
Prince Bolkonsky also joins up just as the French take his estate. But Nikolai rescues Marya and they begin to fall
At the Battle of Borodino the smaller Russian army (including Andrei who is seriously
wounded) is defeated by the French who are now occupying Moscow.
Having failed to participate in the battle, Pierre wanders Moscow's streets, bewildered and shocked by the
widespread looting and murder. Having become miserable, confused and obsessed with the idea of killing Napoleon, he saves a girl from a
Pierre's wife, Hélène, dies. Then Pierre is:
- arrested by the French as a prisoner of war.
- inspired by a wise peasant, Platon Karataev (who is happy
because he puts love before money).
Natasha nurses Andrei, but he dies, forgiving Natasha and declaring his
love for her. Petya (Natasha's younger brother) is killed in action, and Natasha and Marya become good friends.
The French (short of food and supplies) leave Moscow, taking their prisoners of war including Pierre and Platon
who is shot.
Pierre is freed and now spiritually content. After a serious illness, he and Natasha realize they are in
They marry in 1813 and have four children. Nikolai and
Marya are also happily married.
Lessons for leadership and change
1. Be happy and wise
Pierre finally finds happiness in :
- freedom to choose the life he wants.
The peasant, Platon (Russian for Plato, the Greek philosopher, pictured right above) shows him the
Pierre (Henry Fonda) and Natasha (Audrey Hepburn) are pictured right in the 1956 film.
2. Humility helps
Unlike Napoleon, the Russian military leader,
General Kutuzov is a good man with:
- great humility (strengthened by his obedience to God).
- the ability to admit that he may not be always right.
These attributes make his speeches sincere and inspiring.
3. The importance of fate and predestination
People (and their leaders) are unconsciously influenced by the predetermined course of
This is what Tolstoy means when he wrote:
“A king is history’s slave”.
Tolstoy believed that leaders:
- are driven by the consequences of millions of small events outside their control.
- just pretend to be in control.
- impose their view of reality (however false that may be) on their
4. Sensitivity to people’s needs
- is always grateful to those who deserve it.
- is a great listener who lets people express their
opinions without interruption or comment.
- shows great sympathy to Andrei over his father’s death.
Andrei (Mel Ferrer) is pictured right
above with Natasha (Audrey Hepburn) in the 1956 film.
5. Patiently persevere
Kutuzov lost at Austerlitz and Borodino and was heavily criticized during 1812 and 1813 by many people including
the Tsar (the Russian king).
But his motto “Patience and time” gave him victory over Napoleon, when he patiently waited for the French to retreat
through lack of food and supplies.
6. Power comes from the people
A leader’s power, says Tolstoy, is:
“the collective will of the people”,
The strength of an army depends upon its:
“A battle is won by those who firmly resolve to win it!”, says Prince Andrei.
Andrei is pictured right with Pierre (left) and Natasha in the film.
7. Plan ahead
The French disastrously didn’t prepare themselves for the Arctic Russian winter.
8. Only do what’s possible
Kutuzov didn’t defend Moscow, because it was impossible to do so successfully.
9. Don’t over-estimate change
Tolstoy (pictured right) said that, despite the wars in the book, “turbulence” wasn’t its ”predominant
characteristic” but the relative calm of people getting on with their lives.
Key quotes on happiness
Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved. That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.
Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand because I love, Prince Andrei
Key quote on
A battle is won by those who firmly resolve to win
it!, Prince Andrei.
Key quotes on
We can know only that we know nothing. And that is
the highest degree of human wisdom.
There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and
truth are absent.
Key quotes on leadership
Everything comes in time to him who knows how to wait, General Kutuzov
When in doubt, my dear fellow, do nothing, General Kutuzov
Patience and time, General Kutozov's motto.
It's too easy to criticize a man when he's out of favour, and to make him shoulder the blame for everybody
Key quote on war
War is not a polite recreation, but the vilest thing in life, Prince Andrei
Key quote on religion
To love life is to love God, Pierre
Key quote on freedom
A man having no freedom cannot be conceived of except as deprived of life
Key quotes on stress and
Only the vicissitudes of life can show us its variety, and develop our innate love of death or of rebirth to a
new life, Pierre
Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.
Two literature websites to