Leo Tolstoy is known for his literary genius and his impact on world literature. His works are known for their profound themes and philosophies that continue to resonate with readers today. In this article, we will explore the 10 best Leo Tolstoy books you should read, including his masterpieces, lesser-known novels, short stories, and nonfiction works.
Understanding Leo Tolstoy’s Literary Genius
Leo Tolstoy was a Russian writer who is widely considered one of the greatest novelists in world literature. He was born in 1828 to a noble family and spent his early years on his family’s estate in Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy’s upbringing and experiences in the military greatly influenced his writing, which often explored themes of war and social justice.
Tolstoy’s literary career began in the 1850s with the publication of his first novel, Childhood. He went on to write several more novels, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which are considered some of the greatest works of literature ever written. Tolstoy’s writing was known for its vivid descriptions, complex characters, and deep philosophical themes.
One of Tolstoy’s unique contributions to literature was his style of narration. He often used multiple perspectives and an intricate plot to tell his stories. This allowed him to explore complex themes and ideas in a way that was both engaging and thought-provoking.
The Impact of Tolstoy’s Works on World Literature
Tolstoy’s works had a significant impact on world literature. His writing was highly influential and inspired many other notable authors. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce were all influenced by Tolstoy’s writing. Hemingway, in particular, was known to have read War and Peace multiple times and considered it one of the greatest novels ever written.
Tolstoy’s ideas on nonviolent resistance and social justice also had a profound impact on leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi was greatly influenced by Tolstoy’s book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, which advocated for nonviolent resistance as a means of social change. Similarly, King was inspired by Tolstoy’s ideas on nonviolence and incorporated them into his own philosophy of civil disobedience.
The Themes and Philosophies in Tolstoy’s Writing
Tolstoy’s writing was known for its deep philosophical themes. In his works, he often explored complex ideas such as the nature of love, the meaning of life, and the importance of morality. His writing was also deeply influenced by his personal beliefs, including his rejection of organized religion and his embrace of simple and humble living.
One of Tolstoy’s most famous philosophical ideas was his belief in the concept of nonviolence. He believed that violence was never justified and that it was always possible to find a peaceful solution to any conflict. This idea was reflected in his writing and had a profound impact on the world.
Tolstoy’s writing also explored the complexities of human relationships. He was particularly interested in the nature of love and the ways in which it could both bring people together and tear them apart. His characters were often flawed and struggled with their own emotions, making them relatable and compelling to readers.
Overall, Tolstoy’s literary genius continues to be celebrated today. His works have left a lasting impact on world literature and continue to inspire readers around the world.
The Masterpieces: War and Peace and Anna Karenina
Tolstoy’s two most well-known works are War and Peace and Anna Karenina. These novels are considered masterpieces and have been widely studied and analyzed for their literary virtues.
War and Peace: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Redemption
War and Peace is an epic novel that chronicles the lives of several aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a tale of love, loss, and redemption that explores the themes of history, politics, and spirituality. The novel is known for its sprawling plot, complex characters, and vivid descriptions of war and society.
The novel is set against the backdrop of the French invasion of Russia in the early 19th century. Tolstoy masterfully weaves together the stories of several characters, including Pierre Bezukhov, Andrei Bolkonsky, and Natasha Rostova, to create a sweeping portrait of Russian society during this turbulent time. Through their experiences, Tolstoy explores the complexities of human nature and the impact of historical events on individual lives.
One of the most striking aspects of War and Peace is Tolstoy’s portrayal of war. He vividly describes the chaos and brutality of battle, while also exploring the psychological toll that war takes on soldiers and civilians alike. The novel also delves into the political and social forces that shape the course of history, and the role of the individual in shaping the course of events.
Anna Karenina: A Tragic Love Story and Social Commentary
Anna Karenina is a tragic love story that also serves as a commentary on the social mores of 19th century Russia. The novel follows the life of Anna Karenina, a married woman who falls in love with a charming young officer. The novel explores themes such as love, marriage, and the role of women in society. It is known for its vivid descriptions, realistic characters, and innovative use of multiple narratives.
Anna Karenina is a complex character who defies the expectations of society. Her affair with Count Vronsky is scandalous, and she faces ostracism and condemnation from those around her. Tolstoy uses Anna’s story to explore the double standards that existed in 19th century Russia, where men were allowed to have affairs with little consequence, while women were expected to remain faithful to their husbands.
The novel also features several other characters who grapple with issues of love and marriage. Levin, for example, struggles to find meaning and purpose in his life, while Kitty must navigate the expectations placed on her as a young woman in society. Through these characters, Tolstoy offers a nuanced portrayal of the complexities of human relationships.
Overall, War and Peace and Anna Karenina are masterpieces of world literature that continue to captivate readers today. Tolstoy’s writing is both beautiful and insightful, and his exploration of the human condition remains as relevant today as it was in the 19th century.
Exploring Tolstoy’s Lesser-Known Novels
Tolstoy is best known for his masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but his lesser-known novels and novellas are also worth exploring. These works, while not as widely read, offer unique insights into Tolstoy’s philosophical and social beliefs.
One such work is The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a novella that explores the theme of mortality. The story follows the life of a high-ranking government official who becomes ill and begins to reflect on the meaning of his life. As Ivan Ilyich comes to terms with his own mortality, he realizes that he has not lived a meaningful life and has instead focused on superficial pursuits. The novella is known for its profound insights into the nature of death and the importance of living a purposeful life.
Another lesser-known work is Resurrection, a novel that focuses on the idea of redemption and social justice. The novel follows the life of a young aristocrat who is transformed by his experiences in a Siberian prison. Through his interactions with other prisoners, the protagonist comes to understand the injustices of the social system and becomes an advocate for reform. The novel explores themes such as poverty, crime, and the power of forgiveness.
Hadji Murat is another novella that is often overlooked but is a must-read for fans of Tolstoy. The story follows the life of a Chechen rebel leader who switches sides and becomes a loyal ally to the Russians. The novella is known for its vivid descriptions of the Caucasus region and for its exploration of the complexities of loyalty and betrayal. Hadji Murat is a fascinating character who embodies the contradictions of the human experience.
While Tolstoy’s lesser-known works may not be as famous as his more celebrated novels, they offer unique insights into his worldview and are well worth exploring. These works are often more focused on exploring philosophical themes and are less concerned with plot and character development, making them ideal for readers who enjoy thought-provoking literature.
Delving into Tolstoy’s Short Stories and Novellas
Tolstoy’s short stories and novellas are known for their depth and their exploration of complex themes.
The Kreutzer Sonata: A Dark Exploration of Marriage and Jealousy
The Kreutzer Sonata is a novella that explores the theme of marriage and jealousy. The story follows the life of a man who kills his wife after suspecting her of infidelity. The novella is known for its psychological insights and its stark portrayal of the destructive effects of jealousy.
Master and Man: A Story of Loyalty and Sacrifice
Master and Man is a short story that explores the theme of loyalty and sacrifice. The story follows the relationship between a wealthy merchant and his servant as they embark on a dangerous journey through a blizzard. The story is known for its exploration of the complexities of human nature and for its themes of loyalty and sacrifice.
Father Sergius: A Spiritual Journey of Self-Discovery
Father Sergius is a novella that explores the theme of self-discovery. The story follows the life of a young nobleman who becomes a monk and must grapple with his own moral failings. The novella is known for its exploration of spiritual themes and for its realistic portrayal of human nature.
Tolstoy’s Non-Fiction Works
Tolstoy’s non-fiction works are known for their philosophical insights and their exploration of spiritual themes.
A Confession: Tolstoy’s Personal Spiritual Crisis
A Confession is a memoir that describes Tolstoy’s personal spiritual crisis. In the book, Tolstoy grapples with questions of faith and morality, and reflects on his own spiritual journey. The book is known for its honesty and its exploration of profound spiritual themes.
The Kingdom of God Is Within You: A Treatise on Non-Violent Resistance
The Kingdom of God Is Within You is a non-fiction work that explores the idea of nonviolent resistance. In the book, Tolstoy argues that violence is never justified and that true change can only be achieved through nonviolent means. The book influenced leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and is known for its exploration of social and political themes.
In conclusion, Leo Tolstoy’s works continue to resonate with readers today because of their profound themes and their innovative style of writing. Whether you choose to read his masterpieces, his lesser-known works, or his non-fiction, you are sure to be engaged by Tolstoy’s unique perspective on the world.
Who is Leo Tolstoy?
Leo Tolstoy is one of the classic Russian writers of the 19th century. He produced some of the longest, and most descriptive classic novels in literary history and is regarded as one of the best writers of all time.
What is Leo Tolstoy famous for?
Tolstoy is best known for his two bestselling works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. His books always explore political division, war, society, love, and national importance.
What are the best books written by Leo Tolstoy?
Aside from the two aforementioned, Tolstoy has also written The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Childhood, Resurrection, What Men Live By, and The Three Questions.