War and Peace begins in 1805 with a soire in Petersburg held by Anna Pavlovna Scherer. Prince Vasili is present and Anna Pavlovna makes it clear that she does not like his youngest child, Anatole, but says she will try match-making for him. Pierre Bezuhov is also present and it is made clear that he does not know how to behave in this sort of environment. Other central characters are then introduced. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and his wife Lisa, for example, are referred to and it is emphasized that he is bored with her. Furthermore, allusions to the impending war are made, as when Anna Pavlovna asks Prince Andrei if he has enlisted.
Princess Drubetskoy (Anna Mihalovna) asks a favor of Prince Vasili as she wants her son, Boris, to be transferred to the Guards. Another discussion about Bonaparte follows this request and Pierre defends him. Anna Pavlovna regards Pierre as too opinionated for this type of social gathering. After the soire, Pierre makes it clear that he does not want to fight against Napoleon, who he thinks is the 'greatest man in the world'. When Pierre and Prince Andrei are alone, Prince Andrei warns him against marrying as he feels as though he has lost his freedom. He then goes on to criticize women.
The action shifts to Moscow, in Chapter VII, where Anna Mihalovna is visiting the Rostovs. There is conversation regarding Pierre - how he is the illegitimate son of Count Bezuhov and also how he (Pierre) has been sent to Moscow for being part of a group who tied a bear to a policeman. The Rostovs are also introduced to the reader and Boris tells Natasha Rostov he will ask her to marry him when she is 16.
Count Bezuhov is dying and Boris and his mother visit him in order to ask for money. Because this attempt is of no avail, Countess Rostov finally gives her financial assistance. Pierre then attends a dinner at the home of the Rostovs and meets Natasha.
In Chapter XVIII, Pierre's father has now had his sixth stroke. Prince Vasili is anxious that there is a will that leaves everything to Pierre and wants it destroyed. Anna Mihalovna assists Pierre in teaching him how to conduct himself at this time of his father's illness and death as she tries to look after his interests (which are also evidently her own too). Pierre's father finally dies as those around him (not including Pierre) have a physical struggle over his last will.
The last chapters of Book One (XXII to XXV) are set in Bald Hills, which is the estate belonging to the Bolkonskys. Through a letter which Princess Maria (the sister of Prince Andrei) receives from Julie Karagin, it is related that Pierre has been recognized as the legitimate son of Count Bezuhov and he has inherited everything. This Book ends with Prince Andrei departing for war and having left his wife Lisa with his sister and father.
Book One sets the scene, of July 1805, and introduces the main families and characters that will be seen through the course of the novel, such as Pierre, the Rostovs, and the Bolkonskys. The social setting is also emphasized with the use of the soire as a starting point. It is of note that the characters use French in such circles as a sign of their social standing. This preference alters somewhat as the novel progresses as the realities of war with the French come to be recognized.
The prevalence of insincerity in these aristocratic circles is epitomized by the actions of Prince Vasili as he attempts to manipulate the situation regarding Count Bezuhov's will. This is written of with ironic detachment, but it is also transparent that this falseness is condemned in the narrative. In this initial Book, Pierre is characterized by his ignorance of social etiquette and by his innocence in financial matters. The parallel between his naivety and Prince Vasili's cynicism demonstrates his honesty all the more.