Here you will find a War And Peace summary (Leo Tolstoy's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.
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The tale begins in the year 1805, amidst Napoleon’s expanding reign over Western Europe, which is causing distress in Russia. At a social gathering in St. Petersburg, we meet key players such as Pierre Bezukhov, the socially inept but kind illegitimate son of a wealthy count, and Andrew Bolkonski, the bright and ambitious progeny of a retired military officer. In addition, we encounter the deceptive and superficial Kuragin family and the Rostovs, a noble family from Moscow. As Napoleon's threat continues to loom, Russia allies with the Austrian empire, and both Andrew and Nicholas, the Rostov’s headstrong son, join the frontlines. As the conflict escalates, Andrew gets wounded and presumed dead, while Pierre inherits his father’s wealth and ends up marrying the attractive but deceitful Helene Kuragina. Concurrently, the Rostov’s fortunes start to dwindle, leading them to consider selling their beloved estate. The narrative then shifts to Natasha, the vivacious daughter of the Rostovs, who experiences love, heartbreak, and the societal pressures of marriage. Meanwhile, Pierre grows disillusioned with his marriage and seeks solace in the spiritual practices of Freemasonry. In 1812, Napoleon invades Russia, prompting Tsar Alexander to reluctantly declare war. Andrew returns to active duty, while Pierre grapples with a peculiar obsession to assassinate Napoleon. As the French draw near, the Bolkonski estate is advised to evacuate. However, Andrew’s father dies just as the French troops reach their doorstep. After the Russian army surprisingly defeats the French forces at Borodino, Pierre, overcome with distress, roams through Moscow witnessing widespread chaos. The story concludes on a hopeful note with Pierre and Natasha confessing their love for each other, leading to their subsequent marriage, and Nicholas marrying Mary, thus securing his family’s financial stability.
In 1805, a party in St. Petersburg is the setting for a discussion between Anna Pavlovna Scherer and her old friend Prince Vasili Kuragin about the danger Napoleon poses to Russia. Anna refers to Napoleon as the Antichrist and insists that Russia must be Europe's savior. The looming threat of war is a major topic among the partygoers, as well as Anna's personal concerns, particularly her appreciation for Vasili’s children, excluding the mischievous Anatole. She agrees to organize a meeting between Anatole and Mary Bolkonskaya, the solitary daughter of reclusive, wealthy ex-soldier Prince Bolkonski. The party continues with the arrival of Vasili’s daughter Helene, Lise the daughter-in-law of Bolkonski, and Pierre, the awkward son of Count Bezukhov who has recently returned to Russia. Andrew Bolkonski also attends the party, and Vasili promises a promotion to Boris, son of a poor but well-connected old friend. After the gathering, Pierre and Andrew debate the concept of eternal peace, with Pierre believing the peace must be spiritual. Pierre later joins Anatole and his friends for a raucous evening at Anatole's house, witnessing outrageous antics such as Dolokhov drinking rum on a window ledge. Meanwhile, Anna Mikhaylovna visits her wealthy relatives, the Rostovs, in Moscow, where they are celebrating their name day. The guests gossip about Pierre’s uncivilized behavior. The young Rostov children, including Natasha who carries a doll, make an appearance. The Rostov son, Nicholas, announces his intention to join the army. Nicholas apologizes to Sonya for flirting with a guest, and Natasha teases Boris with a half-serious proposal of marriage. After Natasha's antics, Countess Rostova and Anna Mikhaylovna talk about their financial troubles. Later, Anna Mikhaylovna and Boris pay a visit to Boris’s dying godfather, Cyril Bezukhov. They are met by Vasili Kuragin, currently Cyril’s heir, who is wary of potential competition for the inheritance. Meanwhile, Countess Rostova asks her husband for money to buy Boris’s military uniform. The Rostovs host a dinner party that includes outspoken Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova, who presents a gift to Natasha, and optimistic Nicholas who declares that Russia must either conquer or die. Natasha comforts the heartbroken Sonya, who is in love with her cousin Nicholas. Count Bezukhov suffers his sixth stroke with no chance of recovery. Vasili and Princess Catherine Semenovna, another potential heir, attempt to destroy a letter legitimizing Pierre as Bezukhov’s heir, but Anna Mikhaylovna stops them. After a brief visit to his dying father, Pierre leaves the room and Bezukhov dies. At Bald Hills, Prince Nicholas Bolkonski’s estate, he lives with his daughter, Mary and her companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne. Mary receives a letter from her friend Julie who informs her about Pierre’s inheritance and is upset about Nicholas Rostov joining the war. Mary advises her to exercise Christian patience. Andrew Bolkonski visits Bald Hills and announces he will join the war. The family and a guest discuss the war over dinner. Andrew reveals his unhappiness in his marriage, surprising his sister Mary. After a farewell letter to General Kutuzov from his father, Andrew says goodbye to his family and departs.
In the Austrian city of Braunau, General Kutuzov's Russian army prepares for battle in 1805. They maintain order despite their ragged state. Pierre's friend, Dolokhov, has been demoted and faces ridicule for his attire, which breeds resentment. However, Kutuzov offers him a chance for promotion, if he proves himself in combat. When discussing strategies with the Austrians, Kutuzov feigns disappointment over the tsar’s decision to not unite the Russian and Austrian troops. Bolkonski, Kutuzov’s adjutant, chastises a Russian officer for making light of an Austrian defeat. At the Russian hussar camp, Nicholas Rostov and his superior officer, Denisov, enjoy some downtime. When Denisov's purse goes missing and is found with Telyanin, Rostov's public accusations land him in trouble. Instead of apologizing, he stands his ground. As the Russian troops retreat from the enemy, the scene becomes chaotic. An officer, Nesvitski, struggles to keep order and even fails to identify a nearby cannonball. Unfortunately, the Russians lose three men while successfully torching a bridge to stall the enemy, and the commanders selfishly celebrate the small victory. News of Napoleon's retreat proves false as the French troops gain ground. Bolkonski is dispatched with the news of a Russian victory to the Austrian officials in exile. He is disappointed to find them more concerned about the death of Austrian general Schmidt, than the Russian triumph. Bolkonski’s friend Bilibin, a diplomat, shares the rumor that Austria considers a separate peace with France, but Bolkonski dismisses it. They gossip about women and Bolkonski’s impending meeting with the Austrian emperor, where he’s advised to lay on the flattery. The emperor, satisfied with Bolkonski's report, grants him state honors, but Bolkonski is taken aback to learn of Napoleon's fresh pursuit of the Russian forces. He rejects Bilibin’s offer to stay with him, choosing loyalty to his army. Disheartened by the disorderly conduct of the Russian soldiers, Bolkonski seeks to join Prince Bagration's battalion, even though Kutuzov warns it's destined to fail. Kutuzov, meanwhile, deceives the French commander Murat, leading to the French forces’ weakening and Murat earning a reprimand from Napoleon. As the battle approaches, Dolokhov is seen fraternizing with the enemy. Amidst the tension, the soldiers contemplate life and death. When the battle commences, Bolkonski notices Bagration's calm demeanor, which boosts the troops' morale. Despite encountering many casualties, Bagration remains unyielding. On the other side, Rostov anticipates his first battle. However, when it begins, he's overcome with uncertainty, finding himself trapped under his horse, bleeding. He dreams of home while waiting for help. Dolokhov, wounded after capturing an enemy officer, yearns for recognition. Amidst the chaos, Bolkonski saves Captain Tushin from baseless accusations of incompetence, but the ordeal leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.
Upon his return to Moscow with new wealth, Pierre experiences an unusual wave of friendliness from his past critics. Pierre, failing to see through the fawning of people like Vasili Kuragin, falls into their trap. Vasili has a hidden agenda of getting Pierre married to his daughter, Helene, and also borrowing some money from him. Despite knowing Helene's lack of intelligence, Pierre is drawn to her beauty and eventually consents to marry her, cajoled by Vasili. Vasili, with a similar intention, plans to visit Prince Nicholas Bolkonski to arrange a marriage between his son Anatole and the prince’s daughter Mary. The prince disapproves of Vasili’s character, and Mary, despite being attracted to Anatole, chooses to stay with her father. News of Nicholas’ promotion and injuries reach the Rostov household, evoking tears and pride. On the battlefield, Nicholas enjoys a carefree lifestyle, often dining at restaurants, accumulating debt and engaging in daring acts of heroism. The sight of Tsar Alexander leading his troops leaves Nicholas spellbound, instilling in him a strong desire to die for the tsar. Boris seeks Andrew’s help in becoming an adjutant. The news of the planned attack on the French fills everyone with anticipation. Amidst the ongoing discussions with Napoleon, Andrew learns that Napoleon is apprehensive about a large battle. Despite the palpable tension, Andrew is thrilled by the prospect of upcoming glory. However, the next morning as the Russian troops advance, they find themselves disoriented in the fog, uncertain of their position relative to the French. The miscommunication of orders frustrates the Russian detachment, and they reach late. Unaware of the close proximity of the French forces, they take their positions as Napoleon watches them. A sudden attack leaves Kutuzov wounded and Andrew blissfully happy as he thinks of the end of all deceit. The battle rages on with Nicholas involved in the charge and the reality of defeat looming large. Nicholas desperately searches for the wounded Kutuzov or the tsar. He is shocked and disheartened by the sight of dead soldiers in the field. He comes across the tsar alone but is unable to gather the courage to approach him. Meanwhile, Andrew, lying wounded in Pratzen, is hardly affected by Napoleon's comments on his condition. When Napoleon speaks to the Russian prisoners, he is surprisingly polite to Andrew.
In 1806, Nicholas and his comrade Denisov are on leave and stop by the Rostov residence in Moscow. The family warmly welcomes Nicholas, reminding him of his pledge to wed Sonya, now a beautiful sixteen-year-old. Natasha, who is just fifteen, declares she has no intention to marry Boris. Denisov makes a good impression on the Rostov family, much to Nicholas's astonishment. Nicholas revels in his bachelor life in Moscow, drifting slightly from Sonya. Count Rostov organizes a banquet for Bagration at the English Club and plans to invite Pierre. They learn that Pierre’s spouse, Helene, has been unfaithful with Dolokhov, causing Pierre's deep distress. Muscovite society struggles to accept the possibility of a Russian defeat. There is a belief that Andrew has died, leaving behind a pregnant wife. Pierre seems disturbed at the English Club party due to rumors of his wife's infidelity. A poet recites verses in honor of Bagration, who comes off as less impressive than on the battlefield. After toasts and drinks, Pierre views Dolokhov's toast to beautiful women as an affront and challenges him to a duel. Pierre initially regrets his decision, but the duel proceeds, resulting in Dolokhov being badly wounded. Pierre mistakenly believes he has killed Dolokhov and contemplates the sequence of events that led him to this point. He blames his hasty marriage to Helene, which resulted in a life of deceit and an unloving relationship. When Helene learns about the duel, she berates Pierre and agrees to a separation provided she gets a share of his fortune. Pierre reluctantly agrees and heads off to St. Petersburg. At Bald Hills, Prince Bolkonski learns about his son Andrew’s presumed death from Kutuzov. The news is kept from Andrew's pregnant wife, Lise. Soon after, Lise falls ill and a midwife is summoned, but Andrew surprisingly returns home just as Lise gives birth. Their son is born but Lise dies during childbirth. In Moscow, Dolokhov recovers and befriends Nicholas. Everyone in the Rostov family likes him except for Natasha. He begins to show interest in Sonya. Sonya refuses Dolokhov's marriage proposal, upsetting Nicholas who urges her to reconsider. Sonya, however, remains devoted to Nicholas, claiming her love for him is enough. Meanwhile, Denisov becomes infatuated with Natasha and they share a memorable dance at a ball. Dolokhov lures Nicholas into a card game where Nicholas loses a large sum of money. Hearing Natasha sing temporarily soothes his woes. After convincing his father to pay his debt, Nicholas and Denisov leave Moscow disheartened, especially after Natasha rejects Denisov's marriage proposal.
Overwhelmed and adrift after leaving his wife, Pierre finds himself at Torzhok railway station. A mysterious old man wearing a Masonic ring catches Pierre's attention. The stranger recognizes Pierre, and they delve into a profound conversation about human weaknesses and the potential for personal change. Pierre admits he needs guidance and learns the stranger, Bazdeev, is a Freemason who advises him to seek Count Willarski in St. Petersburg. Once in St. Petersburg, Pierre continues his spiritual journey. Sponsored by Willarski, Pierre joins the Masonic brotherhood, renounces his past atheism, and pledges a new belief in God. After confessing his sins and relinquishing his worldly possessions, he feels euphoric. When Vasili Kuragin urges Pierre to reconcile with his wife, Helene, Pierre firmly asks him to leave. Pierre then embarks on a journey to his southern estates. Meanwhile, Boris, a rising military officer, captivates Anna Pavlovna, who introduces him to Helene. Boris soon becomes a regular guest at Helene's place. When war reignites, Andrew, the son of the newly appointed military commander, Prince Bolkonski, opts for administrative duties rather than active combat. Andrew's focus shifts to his sick son, and he delays a military mission until his son recovers. Letters from a friend about the chaos of war unsettle Andrew, but a sudden break in his son's fever brings him relief. In Kiev, Pierre tries to apply his newfound Masonic ethics to manage his estates, including plans to liberate his serfs. His managers exploit Pierre's good intentions, convincing him that the serfs are content under their current conditions. Pierre is oblivious to the fact that his serfs' conditions have actually worsened. Upon returning to St. Petersburg, Pierre reconnects with Andrew. Andrew's cynical views on the struggle between good and evil initially unsettle Pierre, but Pierre tries to influence Andrew with his newfound optimism. Pierre's enthusiasm gradually lightens Andrew's mood. Andrew and Pierre visit Mary, Andrew's sister who warmly welcomes them. Meanwhile, Nicholas, back with his regiment, finds solace in the camaraderie of his comrades. After his friend Denisov faces a potential court-martial, Nicholas visits him in a squalid military hospital. Here, Nicholas tries, and eventually succeeds, in convincing an initially resistant Denisov to request a pardon from the tsar. Nicholas journeys to Tilsit, where he encounters Boris interacting with top Russian and French dignitaries. Despite Boris's reluctance to assist, Nicholas resolves to appeal directly to the tsar to secure Denisov's pardon. His attempt fails when the tsar claims the law surpasses his power. Nicholas is disheartened by the corruption he perceives when he sees the tsar and Napoleon awarding honours seemingly randomly, especially considering Denisov's plight.
In 1809, amidst the temporary alliance between France and Russia, Andrew lives a secluded life on his estate. He engages in reading, writing, and managing his farm, even liberating his serfs before it became a norm in Russia. While on an errand, he visits Count Rostov and gets captivated by Natasha's cheerfulness. Despite his initial annoyance at having to stay at Otradnoe, he's stirred by youthful emotions and decides to head to St. Petersburg, unaware of the changes brewing within him. In St. Petersburg, Andrew interacts with Tsar Alexander and his state leaders, putting forth a liberal set of military laws. Despite their disagreements, Andrew is made a part of the military reform committee and meets with Speranski, the state secretary, who impresses him greatly. Meanwhile, Pierre tires of the inaction within the Masonic brotherhood and heads to Europe seeking enlightenment. On his return, he faces accusations of revolutionary sympathies from fellow Masons. His estranged wife, Helene, seeks reconciliation and Pierre, in a forgiving mood, accepts her back. They resume living together while Pierre continues his spiritual self-investigation privately. Due to financial troubles, Count Rostov moves his family to St. Petersburg. His daughter, Vera, accepts a marriage proposal from Berg, who is transparent about his financial needs. Count Rostov promises a dowry despite his financial constraints. Natasha, now sixteen, is often visited by Boris who is captivated by her beauty, despite the lack of a dowry. However, Countess Rostova disapproves of their relationship and Boris stops visiting. At a grand ball, Natasha outshines with her innocent beauty and Andrew contemplates marrying her. Berg and Vera host a party where Pierre notices a change in Natasha when Andrew talks to her. Andrew eventually proposes to Natasha, though he asks her to wait a year before they wed. He then leaves, causing Natasha distress, but she eventually recovers. Prince Bolkonski grows grumpy after Andrew's departure and treats his daughter Mary harshly. Mary finds solace in religion and often writes to her friend Julie about faith. She observes that Andrew appears unwell since his return from St. Petersburg and believes that he will not marry Natasha. Despite her father's growing anger and threats to remarry, Mary finds comfort in the visits of pilgrims, especially a woman named Theodosia.
Nicholas is at the military front when he gets letters about his family's money troubles. He decides to return home and congratulate Natasha on her engagement to Andrew. However, he's puzzled about Andrew's absence, assuming it is for health reasons. He attempts to manage the family's financial crisis, accusing their manager, Mitenka, of stealing. His father calms him down and Nicholas vows to stay out of money matters, focusing on hunting instead. During the hunt, Natasha impresses everyone with her horseback riding. Nicholas tries to earn respect by killing a wolf but fails. The wolf is caught by other dogs. Later, they chase a fox which is caught by a dog belonging to their neighbor, Ilagin. He invites them to hunt on his land, and they catch a hare. They spend the night at a village, enjoying local food and music. This inspires Natasha to learn guitar. As they head home, Natasha feels an intense happiness she believes she'll never repeat. The Rostovs' financial woes worsen and they contemplate selling their estate. The countess thinks Nicholas should marry rich heiress Julie Karagina. However, Nicholas disagrees, stating love is more important than wealth. Meanwhile, Andrew informs Natasha he'll be away longer due to health issues, leaving her bored and restless. The family dress up and entertain themselves and their neighbors. Nicholas realizes he loves Sonya, who is disguised as a man, and kisses her. The family play a fortune-telling game, and Sonya pretends to see Andrew happy, followed by something blue and red. Nicholas's parents disapprove of his decision to marry Sonya, calling her a gold-digger. Despite feeling upset, Nicholas stands by his decision and returns to the military front.
After hearing about Natasha and Andrew's engagement and the loss of his mentor Bazdeev, Pierre becomes dispirited, quits his Masonic pursuits, and spends his time reading and partying in Moscow. His disillusionment with himself and his surroundings grows. Simultaneously, Prince Bolkonski relocates to Moscow, where his opposition to the French aligns him with prevailing anti-French sentiment. His forgetfulness and senility increase along with his irritability. His daughter Mary feels lonely in her new environment, missing the religious pilgrims and her friend Julie's social lifestyle. Despite promising Andrew to discuss his upcoming marriage with their father, Mary fears raising the topic. The Prince, showing affection for Mademoiselle Bourienne, contemplates marrying her. He expels a French doctor assigned to him, accusing him of spying, and continues sharing his spy tales and anti-French views with friends. Meanwhile, Pierre warns Mary that Boris is courting her in hopes of securing her inheritance through marriage. Mary confesses her wish to wed anyone just to escape her critical father. Boris, preferring Mary, is forced to propose to Julie due to a rival suitor's threat. Julie happily accepts Boris's proposal. Count Rostov, with Natasha and Sonya, arrives in Moscow to sell Otradnoe and prepare for Natasha's wedding. They stay with Marya Dmitrievna, who advises Natasha on handling her future father-in-law. When the Count takes Natasha to meet Prince Bolkonski, the Prince refuses to meet them, and Natasha finds Mary boring. Both women feel the insincerity when Mary reluctantly wishes Natasha well. Upset, Natasha cries after the visit. At an opera, Natasha wishes for Andrew's return, and tries to ignore the attention she receives from Boris, Julie, and Helene. She is disturbed when Anatole Kuragin flirts with her and finds the opera meaningless. Anatole, hoping to curb his extravagant lifestyle and find a wealthy wife, is attracted to Natasha. She, though expecting Andrew, is also intrigued by Anatole. After a party at Helene's, Natasha is confused about whether she loves Andrew or Anatole. To avoid conflict, Marya Dmitrievna suggests the Rostovs return to Otradnoe. Things get worse when Natasha receives a letter from Anatole expressing his love, and she decides she loves him. She plans to elope with Anatole, despite Sonya's threats to expose their secret. The elopement is thwarted by Marya Dmitrievna, and Anatole leaves Moscow. Pierre reveals that Anatole is already wed, and forces him to leave immediately. Natasha tries to poison herself out of guilt. Andrew, back in Moscow and out of favor with Speranski, refuses to forgive Natasha for her betrayal and entrusts Pierre with breaking the news to her. Watching the comet of 1812, Pierre senses a new life awakening as he consoles Natasha.
French forces march into Russia on June 12, 1812. The narrator disputes historians' explanations for this invasion, suggesting it resulted from millions of small events rather than grand decisions or diplomatic failures. The narrator also argues that even leaders like Napoleon and Alexander weren't truly in control, but were driven by circumstances. In Prussia, Napoleon is preparing for an eastward journey. His presence prompts Polish officers to perilously leap into a river to impress him, resulting in forty deaths. Over in Russia, there's chaos in Vilna with no defense strategy in place. The tsar attends a ball with influential figures like Helene and Boris. The tsar sends General Balashev to Napoleon with a cordial note querying Napoleon's intentions about crossing the Niemen River. Balashev has a heated discussion with French commander Murat about who instigated the war, and is treated rudely at Napoleon’s camp. However, Napoleon treats him civilly at dinner after a long monologue justifying the French invasion. Andrew is appointed to General Kutuzov’s staff in St. Petersburg and later requests a transfer to the western front. Andrew visits Bald Hills, where he confronts his father about his treatment of Mary and blames their tutor for the family discord. He leaves without reconciling with his father, despite Mary's pleas for forgiveness. At the western front, Andrew finds confusion among the strategists and faces the tsar and his advisors who speak various languages. Andrew's lack of opinion angers the advisors, and his preference to serve in the army costs him favor with the tsar. The Rostovs urge Nicholas to return home through letters, but he insists on staying with his regiment. Nicholas is tempted to see his crush, Mary Hendrikhovna, at a tavern. Later, he leaps into a premature charge against the French resulting in a French soldier’s surrender. Although recommended for military honors, Nicholas is disappointed with his act of bravery. In Moscow, Natasha's illness worries the Rostovs. She recovers slowly, finding comfort in Pierre's company and a newfound religious devotion. The Rostovs get increasingly anxious with the worsening military situation and rumors of impending disaster. Pierre, who finds joy in visiting Natasha, prophesies using Masonic codes and predicts Napoleon's downfall in 1812. Pierre informs the Rostovs about Nicholas's military accolades and observes Natasha's improved mood. The love between Natasha and Pierre intensifies even as Petya, Natasha’s younger brother, expresses his desire to join the army. Following the tsar's appeal for sacrifices, Petya heads to the Kremlin to enlist, further fueled by a glimpse of the tsar. Pierre attends a gathering of noblemen responding to the tsar's appeal. Amid loud patriotism, Pierre advocates for a practical strategy but is ignored. The tsar’s heartfelt gratitude towards the noblemen moves them to tears. Even Count Rostov, who initially resisted, enlists Petya in the army. Pierre feels regret over his earlier rational comments, swept up in the patriotic fervor.
The narrator suggests that depictions of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia are distorted and incorrect. According to him, Napoleon didn't fully understand the risks of a Russian winter, and Tsar Alexander did not intentionally lure the French into Russia. Rather, he wanted to repel them. These events are often depicted as strategic and intentional, but were in essence unpredictable and random. Over at Bald Hills, Mary is unfairly blamed by her father for a disagreement with Andrew. Despite her limited understanding of the war and her concerns for her brother, her father is dismissive of the danger Russia faces from the French. Meanwhile, the prince's servant Alpatych goes to Smolensk to inquire about their safety. Despite official reports claiming safety, the governor advises the Bolkonskis to leave for Moscow. Chaos ensues on the streets and the town of Smolensk is set afire to deter the French. Alpatych comes across Andrew, who urgently advises his family to escape to Moscow. Andrew is profoundly affected by the desolation of Smolensk and his abandoned home at Bald Hills. In St. Petersburg, social gatherings continue undisturbed by the invasion, with differing opinions on the war. Kutuzov's appointment as commander in chief is seen as a positive step towards Russian unity. Napoleon readies to move towards Moscow. The narrator criticizes historians for exaggerating Napoleon’s strategic planning and cunning, especially in relation to a Cossack informer, Lavrushka, who was in fact just a drunken looter. The old prince and Mary are unexpectedly located at Andrew’s estate at Bogucharovo, where the prince suffers a paralytic attack. Mary fears for his safety as the French draw near. The prince finally thanks Mary for her lifelong dedication to him, shortly before his death. Mary attempts to persuade the local peasants to relocate to Moscow, but fails. Post her father's burial, Mary considers seeking protection from the French invaders. She offers stored grain to the peasants and asks them to leave with her, but they suspiciously refuse. Unexpectedly, Nicholas arrives to restore order and helps Mary leave for Moscow. Both contemplate the prospect of marriage. Andrew, summoned by General Kutuzov, meets Denisov and reminisces about Natasha. He discusses his father's death and his frustration with the military advisors. As the French near Moscow, the city's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. Pierre finances his own regiment but doesn't prepare to battle himself. He is alarmed by the imminent French invasion and decides to leave Moscow. The Battle of Borodino weakens Russian forces. The narrator disputes historians who credit Kutuzov's brilliance for a perceived Russian victory, maintaining that the choice of Borodino as the battleground was coincidental. On his way from Moscow, Pierre sees the injured soldiers from the battle and later witnesses Kutuzov's religious procession. Andrew expresses his cynicism about war to Pierre, but is optimistic of a Russian victory at Borodino. Napoleon readies for battle by meticulously planning troop deployment, although none of these instructions are ultimately followed. The battle commences and Pierre gets caught up in the chaos, witnessing the French capture of the Russian battery. Napoleon observes the battle but fails to understand the unfolding events. The Russian troops are inspired by Kutuzov's decision against retreating. Andrew is injured and taken to a surgical unit, where he witnesses an amputation and realizes the importance of compassion. Napoleon downplays his defeat at Borodino and the loss of lives, calling it a miscalculation. The narrator concludes that despite their losses, the Russian spirit triumphed over the French.
Kutuzov cautiously reports a victory at Borodino but then retreats beyond Moscow due to his diminished forces. Despite Bennigsen’s opposition to leaving Moscow to the French, Kutuzov comprehends that it is the only choice. Muscovites start leaving the city, ignoring orders to stay. During this time, Helene develops romantic interests in a foreign prince and an older Russian man. She converts to Catholicism intending to get her marriage with Pierre annulled. She finally decides to remarry the Russian man, despite being publicly shamed by Marya Dmitrievna. Pierre, disoriented after Borodino, heads to Mozhaysk for refuge. He wakes up to news of the town's abandonment, and the deaths of Andrew and Anatole Kuragin. In Moscow, he is warned by Count Rostopchin against the Masons and learns about Helene's plans. He abruptly leaves a meeting without telling anyone where he's going. Countess Rostova is alarmed as her son Petya joins the hussars. The Rostovs plan to leave Moscow. Nicholas's romantic interest in rich Princess Mary pleases the Countess. Natasha and Petya are excited about the impending events. The Rostov household is chaotic as they prepare to leave. Natasha invites wounded soldiers to stay at their home. Petya learns about a battle the next day. Andrew arrives wounded and finds shelter in their home without the family's knowledge. Moscow is in disarray as the Rostovs prepare to leave. The Count offers to use his carts for the wounded, influenced by Natasha. Sonya tells the Countess about Andrew's presence, which is kept secret from Natasha. On their way out, Natasha meets Pierre who says he'll stay in Moscow. Pierre, saddened by Helene's remarriage plans, has been living in Bazdeev's house, sorting his belongings, and has disguised himself for safety. Napoleon is excited about capturing Moscow but is shocked to find the city abandoned. The city descends into chaos as looting and murders increase. Rostopchin struggles to maintain order while dealing with a political traitor, Vereshchagin. Rostopchin meets Kutuzov and blames him for the chaos, even though he himself is struggling. The French troops start looting Moscow, and fires break out in the city. Pierre, now in a state of constant inebriation, devises a plan to assassinate Napoleon. When French officer Ramballe enters the house, Pierre saves him from a gunshot. Pierre confesses his love for Natasha to Ramballe. The Rostovs see Moscow burning, leading to sadness among them. Natasha, now aware of Andrew's presence, meets him in secret. Andrew, initially confused, realizes Natasha is real and she asks for his forgiveness. Pierre, still planning to kill Napoleon, walks in a haze. He saves a girl from a burning house, but fails to find her family. His attempt to protect an Armenian girl attracts the French authorities' attention, leading to his arrest on suspicion of spying.
Despite the nation's turmoil, life in St. Petersburg remains largely unaffected. Helene is critically ill, a consequence of her marital predicament. A bishop's prayer for military victory is read at Anna Pavlovna's party. Anna anticipistically announces the arrival of good news on the tsar's birthday. A string of news coincides with the tsar's birthday, including a victory at Borodino, multiple generals' deaths, and Helene's sudden demise due to a drug overdose. The tsar gets a letter from Rastopchin detailing Kutuzov's decision to abandon Moscow, which deeply upsets him. Kutuzov sends Colonel Michaud with news of Moscow's burning, spurring the tsar to vow every action to save his nation. The narrator points out that personal interests still took precedence over national concerns. Nicholas travels to Voronezh for business, and while there, flirts with a married woman at a governor's ball. Mary's aunt Malvintseva invites him to visit them. The governor's wife proposes a marriage between Nicholas and Mary. Nicholas confesses his attraction towards Mary but admits he is betrothed to Sonya. The prospect of this arranged marriage unsettles Mary. A letter from Sonya ends her engagement with Nicholas and informs him that Natasha is nursing Andrew. However, Sonya secretly believes Nicholas is her destiny and suggests to Natasha that she and Andrew are meant to be together. Simultaneously, Pierre is held captive by the French on espionage suspicions, treated with hostile respect. Pierre is put on trial, found guilty and led to his execution, but he is unexpectedly pardoned and instead imprisoned in a filthy shed. Pierre is struck by the genuine kindness and optimism of fellow prisoner Platon Karataev. Prince Mary, upon hearing that the Rostovs are in Yaroslavl, rushes to see her brother Andrew. She is warmly welcomed by the Countess, and Natasha speaks to her about Andrew's condition. Andrew, nearing death, expresses his approval of Mary and Nicholas' marriage and confesses his love for Natasha. Finally, under Mary's and Natasha's care, Andrew passes away.
Kutuzov guides the Russians back to Moscow, holding them back from assaulting the remaining French forces. Napoleon sends a pompous note from Moscow to Kutuzov, which Kutuzov perceives as a call for negotiation. The Russian army, now rested and stronger, has the edge over the French troops in Moscow. Realizing he can't control his forces, Kutuzov uses his unique talent for capitalizing on unpredictability, and commands an advance. He grows irritated when his orders aren't followed and is compelled to delay for a day. In the ensuing fray, Russian units become scattered and disorganized, leading to needless deaths. However, one regiment fights valiantly. Kutuzov earns accolades for keeping his troops from charging. Napoleon surprisingly retreats from Moscow and avoids further conflicts. He announces to Moscow's citizens that normalcy is returning, with churches, theaters, and markets open once again. However, these claims have no impact, and the French plunder the city as they leave. In a prison, Pierre spends a month in ragged clothing and without shoes, but gains respect from his jailers and befriends a stray dog. His cellmate Platon Karataev crafts a shirt for a French officer and is made to give up the remaining cloth pieces. The officer, struck by guilt, returns the remnants to Platon for use as leg bandages. Remarkably, in captivity, Pierre experiences happiness for the first time, cherishing basic comforts like food and sleep. He recalls Andrew's cynical view that happiness is just the absence of suffering, but now agrees without the cynicism. Upon releasing the Russian captives, the French force them to join their troops in leaving Moscow. During this march, despite the French's harsh treatment, Pierre and the soldiers maintain their spirits. Pierre senses a protective force shielding him from harm. He realizes that the French can't harm his spirit, regardless of what they do to his body. Russian commanders Dokhturov and Konovnitsyn learn that Napoleon is in Forminsk and relay this to Kutuzov. Kutuzov appreciates this news, realizing that Napoleon has left Moscow and Russia is safe. As the French retreat towards Smolensk, Kutuzov is unable to stop Russian assaults on them.
War's erratic nature is reiterated by the narrator who insists that the downfall of the French in Russia defies logical interpretation. The remaining French forces suffer at the hands of Russian guerillas, with characters Dolokhov and Denisov among the Cossack guerrillas in pursuit. Denisov, receiving a message from Petya Rostov who is now part of the army, discovers a French camp and considers an attack. A Russian peasant escaping the French camp, identified by Denisov as Tikhon, is known for his penchant to rob French soldiers. Tikhon is instructed to capture a French spy but ends up killing a French soldier. Denisov is appalled by Tikhon’s ruthlessness. Petya shows kindness to a French captive, aiming to impress Denisov and participate in the planned attack on the French camp. Undercover as French officers, Dolokhov and Petya infiltrate the French camp to gather intelligence on Russian war captives. Back in the Russian guerrilla camp, Petya, anxious and restless, converses with a Cossack who sharpens his weapon. Petya's excitement about the upcoming battle ends in tragedy when he is killed amidst the fray. Dolokhov and Denisov liberate Russian prisoners, including Pierre, from the French camp. Pierre had been suffering alongside his ailing friend Platon Karataev. Platon, who once narrated a story about a merchant who happily embraced death after suffering for others, was shot by the French for being sick and lagging behind. Pierre is overjoyed at his liberation, and Petya is laid to rest. The French forces continue to deteriorate, with soldiers turning against each other and Napoleon deserting his men. Despite this, Russian historians express disappointment that their army didn't annihilate the remaining French troops. The narrator reasons that assaulting the retreating French would have been pointless, akin to lashing a fleeing animal.
Exiled from Moscow, Mary and Natasha mourn Andrew's death. Natasha, deeply affected by the loss, refuses to return to Moscow post-danger. She finds out about the death of her brother Petya, which further increases her grief. Mary tries to comfort her, but Natasha's health deteriorates and her father insists she goes back to Moscow with Mary for medical attention. Kutuzov, unable to effectively chase the retreating French, is criticized for his 1812 blunder. The narrator, however, sees Kutuzov as an underrated hero. Despite harsh conditions, the Russian troops maintain high spirits. Two fatigued French officers, one of whom is Ramballe, previously saved by Pierre, are helped by the Russians. Kutuzov retreats to Vilna for rest. The tsar awards him the highest state honors despite critiquing his military strategy. The tsar wants to prolong the war, but Kutuzov disagrees, indicating the difficulty of recruiting new soldiers. Kutuzov is later replaced as the military commander and eventually passes away. Pierre, having reached safety, falls ill for a prolonged period. Post-recovery, he reflects on the war events and deaths of Petya and Andrew. He realizes he is free from orders, threats, and existential questions. He becomes a simpler man and perceives his financial loss due to Moscow's burning as making him richer. He returns to Moscow which is repopulated by 1813. He visits Mary and Natasha and is surprised to find himself in love with Natasha, whom he barely recognizes. Mary, Natasha, and Pierre discuss the deaths of Andrew and Petya. Pierre emphasizes the necessity of faith to cope with such tragedies. In Pierre's presence, Natasha expresses her deep-seated feelings about Andrew. Pierre shares his Moscow adventures and Mary contemplates possible love between Pierre and Natasha. Later, Natasha and Mary talk about Pierre's transformation after his trials. The following day, Pierre realizes his love for Natasha and his desire to marry her. He feels affectionate towards everyone and views Moscow's ruins as beautiful. He dines with Mary and Natasha again, overstaying his welcome and revealing his intent to stay in Moscow. Mary advises Pierre to temporarily leave Moscow for his chance with Natasha. Pierre is ecstatic, and so is Natasha when Mary informs her about Pierre's feelings.
The storyteller scrutinizes the oversimplification of historians' views on Tsar Alexander and Napoleon, reaffirming that history is shaped not by prominent figures, but by numerous minuscule elements. In 1813, Pierre and Natasha tie the knot. Count Rostov passes away in the same year, after asking his family's forgiveness for his financial mismanagement. Upon hearing about his father's death while in Paris, Nicholas takes over the family's debts, which are twice as much as the estate's worth. To repay the debts, Nicholas borrows money from Pierre and begins a government job, all while keeping his financial struggles from his mother and Sonya. Mary goes to Moscow after hearing about Nicholas's self-sacrifice for his mother. She is met with Nicholas's unexpected indifference. Countess Rostova urges Nicholas to woo Mary. After some time, Nicholas visits Mary, and despite his formal manner, Mary expresses her acceptance of his changed demeanor. She secretly confesses her love and sees the potential for a romantic relationship between them. Nicholas and Mary also get married in 1813. Nicholas manages to pay off all his debts and becomes a prosperous traditional farmer. He reconstructs Bald Hills and, despite some disagreements, he and Mary lead a content married life. Nicholas commends Mary's motherhood enthusiasm, although he is not entirely fond of her scholarly approach. Mary shows patience and strives to maintain her Christian virtues. By 1820, Natasha is a content mother of four and Pierre, completely devoted to his family, no longer flirts or socializes outside the family. Natasha anxiously waits for Pierre when he is late returning from a trip but is overjoyed when he comes back with presents. Pierre shares St. Petersburg tales with his family and friend, Denisov. Andrew's son, Nicholas Bolkonski, idolizes Pierre and yearns to spend more time with him. Pierre shares his thoughts about the challenges of managing charitable institutions and foresees a revolution in St. Petersburg. Natasha and Pierre contemplate their domestic life, pondering whether Platon Karataev would have approved of it. Nicholas Bolkonski greatly admires his uncle Pierre and dreams of achieving military glory.
In the second epilogue, the narrator dwells on the mystery of history and human power. He describes power as the shared will of the masses given to a single leader, which serves as the main force pushing history onward. However, defining power remains elusive, and thus, the enigma of history remains unsolvable. The narrator illustrates this perplexity with Napoleon—who, despite his vocal wishes to invade England, never acted on it. Instead, he invaded Russia, a country he desired to align with. The riddle of historical evolution leads to a theological debate on free will and the level of actual freedom an individual possesses, irrespective of perceived liberty. The narrator posits that full freedom is as unimaginable as complete determinism. Ultimately, he suggests we are all reliant on a power beyond our comprehension. This concept acknowledges that while our feeling of freedom is crucial, so is our suppressed realization that we are components of a larger force propelling our lives.