On My Shelves: Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Tuesday is ‘On My Shelves’ day where I explore some of the favourite books on my bookshelves and this week, with time being at a premium, I’ve actually taken a bit of a ‘cop out’ by selecting Tolstoy’s War and Peace, a book-set I’ve already spoken about on Flickr. Nevertheless the Tolstoy set is an important one to me, and as I seem to be in a Russian literature mood this week (with the launch of my Chekhov reading challenge), it seems relevant to speak about it again.

Having never read War & Peace before, I wanted to treat myself to a version that had more character than a mass market paperback version, and this is the result. I consider myself very lucky in owning this War & Peace set. Not only does it stands as proud testament to my desire to seek out a more unusual and luxurious version of Tolstoy’s epic, it’s a set that I managed to buy for next to nothing. Karma was definitely smiling down on me that day :o)

The 3-volume set is published by Heron Books, sometime in the 1960s I think. The volumes are lavishly covered in a blue faux-leather with gold gilt and all the volumes are in immaculate condition; the pages are clean, smoke-free and have that special ‘old book’ smell :o)

What makes this set even more special though, is each of the volumes is illustrated throughout with copies of lithographs from artist Christian Wilhelm von Faber de Faur, the famous French artillery officer who followed Napoleon on his Russian campaign. Faber de Faur produced these lithographs from sketches that he made ‘in the field’, and so they really add a touch of real historical value to the novel.

As I write I’ve still to read this set but it is one I’ll get around to soon. Meanwhile the set holds a proud and distinguished place on my bookshelf, sitting aside Elting’s highly acclaimed Swords Around the Throne (a magnifciently researched book on Napoleon’s Grand Armee), and the definitive word on the Battle of Waterloo – Mark Adkin’s Waterloo Companion

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. That’s a pretty impressive display – I’ve often thought about War & Peace – but I think it would take me ten years to get through!

  2. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

    I dunno. A reader like you Mrs S? I think you’d have all three ticked off in under a week…hehe sounds like a challenge!!

  3. Keith Ryan says:

    Does anybody know who translated the War and Peace published by Heron and dicsuused here by Rob?

  4. Ah! I have the same set, a gift from my Grandfather, who kept them on a bookshelf doing nothing for many years! I must say the classic ‘old book smell’ is marvellous and they do look simply fantasic on display! Ive yet to read them but im taking this summer as the perfect opportunity! I hope to have them finished by the end of the year!

  5. Keith Ryan says:

    This translation of War and Peace released by Heron Books in 1968 was first published in New York in 1886 by William S Gottsberger. I discovered this by searching the web for a specific sentence from my Heron edition. The Gottsberger edition states that Tolstoy’s original text was “Translated into French by a Russian Lady and from the French (into English) by Clara Bell.” So I would say, because of this two-step process, the Heron version could be one of the most unreliable ones ever published in English.

    There is a version translated by Louise and Alymer Maude early in the 20th century that can be downloaded from the Project Gutenberg site. The Maudes collaborated closely with Tolstoy in the translation of much of his work. He was so impressed with their efforts that he wrote to them in 1900 saying:

    ‘To lose such translators as you and your wife would be very, very unpleasant. Better translators, both in your knowledge of both languages and in your penetration into the very meaning of the matter translated, could not be invented.’

    The 2007 translation by Pevear and Volhokonsky has received very favourable reviews. However we shall never know what Tolstoy might have thought of it.