It took me exactly seven months to read (June - December 2014). Sure, I could have cut that time in half had it been the only book I focused on; however, I do not believe I would want to read it any faster given the amount of information to consume.
There are many characters to know and remember; and with that, there are numerous interactions, confrontations, events, and relationships to follow - many of which intertwine. Tolstoy provides countless themes and ideas to explore, analyze, and interpret - and you know how Tolstoy loves to venture into philosophical tangents. Also it is somewhat helpful, though not necessary, to understand the historical context of the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, and the reigns of Napoleon and Alexander I. Tolstoy does provide an historical overview of these events, but it is beneficial if you know a little about them before you read.
For me, my favorite parts overall involve Natasha, Andrey, and Pierre. Whenever Tolstoy cut away to war or other characters and their stories, I longed to continue on with Natasha and her story. While I did not mind the long dissertations on war, I did prefer the human-interest stories more often.
One of my favorite themes of War and Peace was about Russia's patriotism. Patriotism comes very naturally to people; they don't have to be taught to love their country. (Unfortunately, today, at least in the United States, a lot of young people are being taught to hate their country and feel disconnected from it.) Imagine if the Russians were not patriotic: they would have easily handed over their nation to Napoleon. There is nothing wrong with patriotism, as it is a very healthy and honorable feeling to have toward your country. (Shoot! Before War and Peace was over, I loved Russia, too. When Tolstoy was saying "we" - meaning the Russians - I imagined he was including me, the reader.)
The final parts of War and Peace seemed to pick up speed; everything happened so quickly. The abandonment of Moscow (by the Russians), and the capturing and immediate loss of Moscow by the French were fascinating. Tolstoy did an entertaining job theorizing his opinion as to why the French lost Moscow. He continued philosophizing well into the epilogue, which was altogether one of my most memorable parts from the entire book. (He really does take issue with Rousseau and even drags him into the story.)
|Pierre, Natasha, Andrey...that's all you care about.|
So back to my milestone comment: I may have read War and Peace once, but this is a book I will have to reread because it is absolutely necessary. Reading War and Peace once is like viewing the tip of an iceberg sticking up out of the ocean; there is so much more underneath that has yet to be seen. The milestone won't feel fully accomplished until I can experience this again another time. But I am definitely grateful that I committed and experienced it even this much.