Leo Tolstoy Makes 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 NightsDavid Cop­per­fieldThe 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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in July, 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Why Should We Read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (and Fin­ish It)? A TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Makes the Case

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

Tol­stoy and Gand­hi Exchange Let­ters: Two Thinkers’ Quest for Gen­tle­ness, Humil­i­ty & Love (1909)

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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