Fair warning, I did not actually read this book. I purchased it and made it to page 81 (well, my bookmark landed between page 80 and 81) but my notes will be heavily relied upon for the about to be very brief recap.
When we selected this book we did not specify a specific publication and we thought it wouldn't matter. We thought there would be time to discuss the nuances between the different versions. We are foolish. We failed to remember that there are entire college courses devoted to the study of this work of fiction, and we thought that in addition to discussing the tone, story, character development, imagery, plot, historical accuracy, the essays, and intended messages that we could also compare various versions. FOOLS.
We could have spent the entire 2 hours discussing the different plot points - who died in one book didn't in another, and which version of the story was "better". As an observer it did seem that the gals who read the unabridged version seemed quite pleased with the longer more elaborate story line.
Regardless of version read, there was a common feeling that the sections where Tolstoy is discussing his views of war were beating you over the head. "Here's my point. Here it is again, and just in case you missed it, this is my point." No one seemed to dislike or take issue with the fact that in addition to the linear story of the five families that there were what read like essays interspersed.
One point that Tolstoy seemed to drive home is that there is a clear juxtaposition between the ideal of how glorious war is (was) often depicted and the reality of what it is really like. He also makes it clear that it is his opinion that the idea that the war lends an implicit authorization to kill a large number of people, but in the end, it is still just murder. Murder on a larger scale.
Tolstoy himself experienced war and did extensive research on the French invasion of Russia in 1812. He used is own history and his learned knowledge to craft what is one of the best known books of all time. Most every point of fact regarding the events in his book have been annotated, in fact, there are points where he didn't have a reference and he calls those out as well. This here* is fact and this** is something I couldn't find reference on. That attention to detail is rarely seen.
The book was well received by the book group even though "it took 300 pages to figure out who was who", but after the characters were established the book "flew by". This was one of our few book groups were the discussion of the book started the moment there was a majority of attendees and didn't stop until people were dropping like flies. Heck, I brought a 4 week old baby to the meeting and she was of minor interest.
The excited discussion was very fun to listen to and made me want to finally take the time to read it. However, I went home fell asleep and my copy is now buried under other books that are getting my limited attention. Maybe someday. Maybe.