Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, better known as Leo Tolstoy, was a renowned Russian writer and perhaps one of the greatest authors of all time. Best known for his two novels “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”, Tolstoy also wrote several short stories and a semi-autobiographical trilogy.
Author Virginia Woolf once called Tolstoy “the greatest of all novelists.” Even today, over a hundred years after his death, Tolstoy’s thousand long page books are still in print and continue to sell well.
A few of Tolstoy’s bestselling books.
Being one of the greats is no easy feat so I began to research which books Tolstoy loved most during his life in an attempt to gain insight into what influenced this genius writer.
According to an article by Russia Beyond, Tolstoy decided to compile a list of his own 100 must-read books after reading and being dissatisfied with author John Lubbock’s list which was published in 1891.
However, Tolstoy found that creating a list of the 100 greatest books to be difficult, so instead, he sent a letter to his publisher Mikhail Lederle with 45 books that impressed him the most. Tolstoy’s list contains a wide range of books from religious texts to Chinese philosophy, and is divided into five ages of man with their actual degree of influence ("enormous," "v. great," or merely "great").
Tolstoy’s list of the 45 books he recommends reading:
Childhood to the age of 14 or so:
Pushkin’s poems: Napoleon - Great
The Little Black Hen by Pogorelsky - V. great
The story of Joseph from the Bible - Enormous
Age 14 to 20:
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol - V. great
Die Räuber by Friedrich Schiller - V. great
Polinka Sachs by Aleksandr Druzhinin - V. great
Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin - V. great
A Sportsman’s Sketches by Ivan Turgenev - V. great
The Hapless Anton by Dmitry Grigorovich - V. great
A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne - V. great
A Hero for our Time by Mikhail Lermontov - V. great
Viy by Nikolai Gogol - Enormous
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - Enormous
Age 20 to 35:
Afanasy Fet’s poems - Great
Aleksey Koltsov’s poems - Great
Fyodor Tyutchev’s poems - Great
Victor Hugo. Notre Dame de Paris - V. great
Age 35 to 50:
George Eliot. Novels - Great
Anthony Trollope, Novels - Great
Mrs. [Henry] Wood. Novels - Great
The byliny - V. great
Anabasis by Xenophon - V. great
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo - Enormous
Age 50 to 63:
Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) - V. great
Progress and Poverty by Henry George - V. great
Epictetus - Enormous
Pensées by Blaise Pascal - Enormous
All the Gospels (in Greek) Enormous
Lao-Tzu. Julien [S. Julien, French translator] - Enormous
On the Buddha. Well-known Frenchman [“Lalita Vistara”] - Enormous
How many books on Tolstoy’s list have you read?
I’ve read only a couple books on this list (the English versions), but it looks like I have a lot more reading to do. If there’s a book on here that you think is a must-read, let me know in the comments below!
You may also want to check out these book recommendations from:
If you want to check out my list of recommended books, you can find that here.
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