The year is 1805. The Rostov's celebrate the name days of Natasha and Countess Rostova, while there is much discussion about the possible inheritance by an illegitimate son, Pierre Bezuhov, from his wealthy, and dying, father. Meanwhile Napoleon makes steady progress through Europe, and toward Moscow.
Pierre Bezukhov tries to come to terms with his large inheritance, the new society in which he finds himself, and displays some controversial opinions about Napoleon. Andrei Bolkonsky meanwhile is in a rush to depart his doting wife, and leave for war.
The allied forces are constantly surprised by Napoleon's rapid progress through Europe. Andre Bolkonsky and Nikolai Rostov face the extremes of war - the boredom from waiting for action, and conflict on and off the field of battle.
Preparations are underway for war on the fields of Austerlitz - France on one side, and the armies of Austria and Russia on the other. Military intelligence is sought, battle plans are laid, all to the accompanying clash of personalities and egos.
Ignoring both advice and a treaty with Russia Napoleon continues his march toward Moscow. Andrei Bolkonsky has a quest of his own, and can't be swayed from it by his sister. Pierre, meanwhile, is torn between staying at home, where he senses he is destined to achieve something of significance, and joining the army.
France advances through Russia, and despite the Fatherland rising to battle landowners are forced to leave their estates. The retreat leads to personal tragedy and to a chance encounter for Maria Bolkonsky.
Pierre Bezukhov, as with many in Moscow, is faced with a choice of leaving the city for St Petersburg or staying, but for him there is a third option. Preparation, meanwhile is underway for a much anticipated battle at Borodino.
Thousands of exhausted troops make for a troubled peace in the aftermath of battle. Moscow is in retreat and difficult decisions and sacrifices made. Pierre receives some bad news and decides on a course of action, while a related discovery is made from among the survivors, one that must be kept secret to one of the Rostovs.
Napoleon and his troops finally arrive in Moscow, but they encounter unforeseen difficulties. Pierre remains in the same city and is determined to see through what he sees as his destiny. An unexpected visitor, however, delays any immediate action.
Moscow has been occupied by the French, but is it really a victory? Domestically Nikolai Rostov has a change of heart which means backing down on a lifetime promise, while a related event leads to a discovery for Natasha and an opportunity to make right on past wrongs.
While Andrei lies gravely ill in bed being nursed by Natasha, Pierre has a serious run in with the authorities, and makes a discovery. Meanwhile Sonya writes a life-changing letter, but will it have effect she thinks it will?
Napoleon is forced to retreat from Moscow, and tries to do so in a way which still protects the honour of France. Pierre is caught up in the trek with French soldiers through wintry Russian countryside. Food is scarce and he fears he has only days to live.
Maria tries to rouse Natasha out from her mourning. Pierre returns, to many it seems, from the clutches of death. Various losses from war are considered, and from among them the various gains pondered.
Fifteen years have passed since the story's beginning. Pierre and Natasha are married and there are unresolved issues between Nikolai and Maria. The past is reflected upon, and from that the future contemplated.