War and Peace is well known as being one of the longest novels ever written, though not the longest. It is actually the seventh longest novel ever written in a Latin or Cyrillic based alphabet and is subdivided into four books or volumes, each with sub parts containing many chapters.
Tolstoy never documented why in 1867 he changed the name of his novel from The Year 1805 to War and Peace. He may have borrowed the title from the 1861 work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: La Guerre et la Paix ('The War and the Peace' in French). The title may also be another reference to Titus, who is described as being a master of "war and peace" in The Twelve Caesars, written by Suetonius in 119 CE. Titus (anglicized to "Tit" by some English translations) is mentioned several times in War and Peace and may be a muse for the characters, struggling to master their own lives through the dramatic transitions of war and peace.
He began writing War and Peace in the year that he finally married and settled down at his country estate. The first half of the book was written under the name "1805".
During the writing of the second half, he read widely and acknowledged Schopenhauer as one of his main inspirations. However, Tolstoy developed his own views of history and the role of the individual within it.
The first draft of War and Peace was completed in 1863. In 1865, the periodical Russkiy Vestnik published the first part of this early version under the title 1805. In the following year, it published more of the same early version. Tolstoy was dissatisfied with this version, although he allowed several parts of it to be published with a different ending in 1867, still under the same title "1805". He heavily rewrote the entire novel between 1866 and 1869. Tolstoy's wife, Sophia Tolstaya, copied as many as seven separate complete manuscripts by hand before Tolstoy considered it again ready for publication. The version that was published in Russkiy Vestnik had a very different ending from the version eventually published under the title War and Peace in 1869.
The completed novel was then called Voyna i mir (new style orthography; in English War and Peace).
The 1805 manuscript (sometimes referred to as "the original War and Peace") was re-edited and annotated in Russia in 1983 and since has been translated separately from the "known" version, to English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Albanian, and Korean. The fact that so many versions of War and Peace survive make it one of the best insights into the mental processes of a great novelist.
Russians who had read the serialized version were anxious to acquire the complete first edition, which included epilogues, and it sold out almost immediately. The novel was translated almost immediately after publication into many other languages.
The novel can be generally classified as historical fiction. It contains elements present in many types of popular 18th and 19th century literature, especially the romance novel. War and Peace attains its literary status by transcending genres.
Tolstoy was instrumental in bringing a new kind of consciousness to the novel. His narrative structure is noted for its "god-like" ability to hover over and within events, but also in the way it swiftly and seamlessly portrayed a particular character's point of view. His use of visual detail is often cinematic in its scope, using the literary equivalents of panning, wide shots and close-ups, to give dramatic interest to battles and ballrooms alike. These devices, while not exclusive to Tolstoy, are part of the new style of the novel that arose in the mid-19th century and of which Tolstoy proved himself a master.