Life and Fate Read Along, Part 3 Chapter 11

This post, covering Part 3, Chapter 11 is part of The Slavic Literature Pod’s chapter a day read along of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Learn more about our project here.

In War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy lays out a thorough critique of what we would today term “great man theory.” That is, the idea that it is decisions of particularly notable individuals that create history. 

The idea certainly still has purchase today. Still, Tolstoy’s point — that history happens as a result of every person’s collective actions, each of those actions influenced by the context they live in — probably has greater hold today (a result of an education system affected by academic criticisms of this very theory) than its counterpart. 

That being said, not all of Tolstoy’s predicates hold up. Much of his argumentation about the confusion of war negating the possibility of tactical genius, for example, has since been made irrelevant by technological advances (radios, planes, UAVs, artificial intelligence). This is not a criticism of Tolstoy — it is not the responsibility of an author to future-proof their books. 

But for an author who might want to grapple with Tolstoy’s points in a more modern work — as Grossman does in Stalingrad and Life and Fate — this point does become pertinent.