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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

It is Grand

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy




'“C’est grand! [It is grand]” say the historians, and there no longer exists either good or evil but only “grand” and “not grand.” Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand is the characteristic, in their conception, of some special animals called “heroes.” And Napoleon, escaping home in a warm fur coat and leaving to perish those who were not merely his comrades but were (in his opinion) men he had brought there, feels que c’est grand [This is grand], and his soul is tranquil.' - War and Peace

This books is part story, part essay. Like Herodotus' History, Tolstoy is thinking about the causes of war. Among historians today, there are two camps: trends and forces, and great man theory. This book seems to introduce the trends and forces idea which says even without Napoleon, you'd still have had something similar to the Napoleonic wars because things were set for it. Big events like this are much more bottom up than top down.

And it's a hard debate, since historical studies don't allow experimentally removing people like Napoleon to see how events run differently.