You might have come across this interesting fact in The New York Times, which noted that the British report on the run-up to the Iraq War, at 2.6 million words, is four times longer than Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel. In an attempt to capture the sheer heft of the Chilcot Report, NBC News also referred to Tolstoy’s panoramic picture of Russian society in the Napoleonic era, told through the intertwining stories of five families. Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Washington Post—all invoked one of the greatest, most riveting novels of all time, which in no way has become mere shorthand for a ponderous doorstop of a book that no one in their right mind will ever read in its entirety, just like the Chilcot Report. The British Press Association, to its credit, also threw in the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, two other things that are insanely long, but not as insanely long as the Chilcot Report.
The curious part is that there are famous novels that are way longer than War and Peace. At 1.3 million words, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is half the length of the Chilcot Report. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, and Peter Thiel’s bible Atlas Shrugged all beat Tolstoy’s novel in the word count department. Yet when it comes to signaling interminable miles of text, apparently nothing works as well as a book that can easily be read in a couple weeks.