Leo Tolstoy Creates a List of the 50+ Books That Influenced Him Most (1891)


War and PeaceAnna KareninaThe Death of Ivan Ilyich — many of us have felt the influence, to the good or the ill of our own reading and writing, of Leo Tolstoy. But whose influence did Leo Tolstoy feel the most? As luck would have it, we can give you chapter and verse on this, since the novelist drew up just such a list in 1891, which would have put him at age 63.

A Russian publisher had asked 2,000 professors, scholars, artists, and men of letters, public figures, and other luminaries to name the books important to them, and Tolstoy responded with this list divided into five ages of man, with their actual degree of influence (“enormous,” “v. great,” or merely “great”) noted.

It comes as something of a rarity, up to now only available transcribed in a post at Northampton, Massachusetts’ Valley Advocate:


Childhood to the age of 14 or so

The story of Joseph from the Bible – Enormous

Tales from The Thousand and One Nights: the 40 Thieves, Prince Qam-al-Zaman – Great

The Little Black Hen by Pogorelsky – V. great

Russian byliny: Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets, Alyosha Popovich. Folk Tales – Enormous

Puskin’s poems: Napoleon – Great

Age 14 to 20

Matthew’s Gospel: Sermon on the Mount – Enormous

Sterne’s Sentimental Journey – V. great

Rousseau Confessions – Enormous

Emile – Enormous

Nouvelle Héloise – V. great

Pushkin’s Yevgeny Onegin – V. great

Schiller’s Die Räuber – V. great

Gogol’s Overcoat, The Two Ivans, Nevsky Prospect – Great

“Viy” [a story by Gogol] – Enormous

Dead Souls – V. great

Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches – V. great

Druzhinin’s Polinka Sachs – V. great

Grigorovich’s The Hapless Anton – V. great

Dickens’ David Copperfield – Enormous

Lermontov’s A Hero for our Time, Taman – V. great

Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico – Great

Age 20 to 35

Goethe. Hermann and Dorothea – V. great

Victor Hugo. Notre Dame de Paris – V. great

Tyutchev’s poems – Great

Koltsov’s poems – Great

The Odyssey and The Iliad (read in Russian) – Great

Fet’s poems – Great

Plato’s Phaedo and Symposium (in Cousin’s translation) – Great

Age 35 to 50

The Odyssey and The Iliad (in Greek) – V. great

The byliny – V. great

Victor Hugo. Les Misérables – Enormous

Xenophon’s Anabasis – V. great

Mrs. [Henry] Wood. Novels – Great

George Eliot. Novels – Great

Trollope, Novels – Great

Age 50 to 63

All the Gospels in Greek – Enormous

Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) – V. great

Henry George. Progress and Poverty – V. great

[Theodore] Parker. Discourse on religious subject – Great

[Frederick William] Robertson’s sermons – Great

Feuerbach (I forget the title; work on Christianity) [“The Essence of Christianity”] – Great

Pascal’s Pensées – Enormous

Epictetus – Enormous

Confucius and Mencius – V. great

On the Buddha. Well-known Frenchman (I forget) [“Lalita Vistara”] – Enormous

Lao-Tzu. Julien [S. Julien, French translator] – Enormous

The writer at the Valley Advocate, a Tolstoy aficionado, came across the list by sheer happenstance. “On my way to work, I found something just for me in a box of cast-off books on a sidewalk,” they write: a biography of Tolstoy with “something cooler inside”: a “yellowed and fragile New York Times Book Review clipping” from 1978 containing the full list as Tolstoy wrote it. “Gold,” in other words, “for this wannabe Tolstoy scholar.” If you, too count yourself among the ranks of wannabe Tolstoy scholars — or indeed credentialed Tolstoy scholars — you’ll no doubt find more than a few intriguing selections here. And if you simply admire Tolstoy, well, get to reading: learn not how to make the same things your idols made, I often say, but to think how they thought. Not that any of us have time to write War and Peace these days anyway, though with luck, we do still have time to read it — along with The Thousand and One Nights, David Copperfield, The Odyssey, and so on. Many of these works you can find in our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

Related Content:

Rare Recording: Leo Tolstoy Reads From His Last Major Work in Four Languages, 1909

Vintage Footage of Leo Tolstoy: Video Captures the Great Novelist During His Final Days

The Complete Works of Leo Tolstoy Online: New Archive Will Present 90 Volumes for Free (in Russian)

Leo Tolstoy’s Family Recipe for Macaroni and Cheese

David Bowie’s List of Top 100 Books

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hemingway Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (16)
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  • JayPhilipGuerero says:

    Willl definitely check out some of these. Really cool list of Tolstoy’s.

  • kesavan says:

    Thanks for this very informative website.

    Lion K K Kesavan Salem South India

  • Ehsan Butt says:

    Strange Koran is not mentioned while we frequently read in literature Leo Tolstoy commenting on the contents of the Koran , Qur’an e.g. see

    “After I have read the Quran, I realized that all what humanity needs is this heavenly law.” – Leo Tolstoy

    “The legislation of Quran will spread all over the world, because it agrees with the mind, logic and wisdom.” – Leo Tolstoy

  • M. Emin Kasapgil says:

    It is obvious that he was deeply influenced by Koran and Prophet Muhammed. That you hide this info from your readers is not good.

  • Awais Ali says:

    I think you didn’t read the start of this post carefully. This list was crafted, by none other but by Leo Tolstoy himself. So if he didn’t include it himself, no other man should argue over it.

  • Kim Hatton says:

    The only way to check the veracity of this list is to go very thouroughly though Tolstoys letters and journals.

  • Janet Scott says:

    I’ve just got Tolstoy’s letters out of the library and it is there – October 25th !9891 :)

  • Gary says:

    I wonder what he thought of this quote from the ‘Holy’ Quran?


    Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses – We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.


  • Don Jiskra says:

    Not surprised to see Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches in this list given Tolstoy’s admiration for the nobility of rural characters. Thank you for this list.

  • Danish Khan says:


  • Paul says:

    I’m very glad to see Epictetus (a Stoic philosopher) on the list. It has had great influence on my life too, along with the works of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. I’ll value it even more now, knowing that Tolstoy, such a great man, found it worthy too.

  • Richard Orange says:


    I think Rousseau and Tolstoy were temperamentally very similar — although Rousseau milder and less priggish. Confessions probably taught the young Tolstoy what he was and how to operate.

  • Victor says:

    What caught my attention is Dickens and Trollope, the greatest English novelists of his century.

  • Barbara Lang says:

    Wow!!!!! What else can one say about Tolstoy. Reading Karenina now. Breathtaking.
    The list is fascinating. I have actually read quite a few. Not, however in Hebrew or Greek!

  • Scruffski says:

    I expected to hear mention of E.A.P., Re:T’s description of Bilibin 3 pages into Book II, Ch. 9 which sounds Edgarian, though tacking gently away from gothic and more to the Baroque! (Time frame would be about right.) Anyhow, there’s my two cents; also, Dostoevski translated Poe, who was immensely popular with the French and the Russians.

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