[Tolstoy] denounced [many historians'] lamentable tendency to simplify. The experts stumble onto a battlefield, into a parliament or public square and demand, Where is he? Where is he? Where is who? The hero, of course! The leader, the creator, the great man! And having found him, they promptly ignore all his peers and troops and advisors. They close their eyes and abstract their Napoleon from the mud and the smoke and the masses on either side and marvel at how such a figure could possibly have prevailed in so many battles and commanded the destiny of an entire continent. There was an eye to see in this man, wrote Thomas Carlyle about Napoleon in 1840, a soul to dare and do. He rose naturally to be the King. All men saw that he was such.But Tolstoy saw differently. Kings are the slaves of history, he declared. The unconscious swarmlike life of mankind uses every moment of a king's life as an instrument for its purposes. Kings and commanders and presidents did not interest Tolstoy. History, his history, looks elsewhere: it is the study of infinitely incremental, imperceptible change from one state of being (peace) to another (war).The experts claimed that the decisions of exceptional men could explain all of history's great events. For the novelist, this belief was evidence of their failure to grasp the reality of an incremental change brought about by the multitude's infinitely small actions.
Daniel Tammet