The practice of historians is questioned in the narrative once more. In this instance, the versions that deem the Russian generals as 'genius' are placed in doubt. Various factors, apart from the notion of genius, are discussed to demonstrate one will is not sufficient to explain the defeat of the French.
Napoleon's incorrect decisions are also examined, such as staying in Moscow until October, and he is described as not being a genius or otherwise. His plans are ineffective, such as the control of looting. His importance is, therefore, diminished in this section. It is reiterated that his army in Moscow, and in retreat, behaved like an animal in its death throes. In Chapter X, he is compared to a child inside a carriage who believes he is driving it when only holding on to the straps.
In his imprisonment, Pierre has, however, found peace. Chapter XII examines how he has discovered that the aspects of his personality that used to be an embarrassment in the salons of Petersburg and Moscow are now making him popular with his fellow prisoners.
These prisoners are now forced to march along with the French army on their retreat and it is ordered that stragglers are to be shot. There is then a narrative shift in Chapter XVII to the Russian commander-in-chief, Kutuzov, who thanks the Lord for saving Russia.
Thematically, there is an emphatic reiteration of how claims such as 'greatness' and 'genius' are not only inaccurate when describing Napoleon (as his decisions were found to be woefully wrong) or the Russian generals, they are also impossible terms of distinction. Individual actions, it is argued, should not be taken as representative for the actions of armies (and humanity). These individuals play one of many parts in the event of war.
The comparison between Napoleon and a helpless child in a carriage who believes he is in control of the movement is peculiarly indicative of how this novel refuses to submit to the previously authoritative accounts of Napoleon's standing. Although he and many historians have presumed he was in control, this novel constantly pushes forward the analysis that no one man is responsible for the actions of thousands.
The descriptions of Pierre's privations serve to further this novel's indictment of war. Interestingly, they also demonstrate by contrast that his previous life of privilege and wealth made him less happy. In his imprisonment, he has paradoxically discovered liberty.