Tolstoy’s Words To Live By: Sequel to A Calendar of Wisdom

Photo of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy considered his calendar books to be every bit as important as his novels.

Tolstoy’s Words to Live By reproduces the inspiring quotes Tolstoy collected from more than forty philosophers such as Confucius, Jesus, Mohammad, Kant, Marcus Aurelius, Spinoza, Plato, Voltaire and the Talmud. This—his first compilation of once-suppressed teachings, originally published in 1903—led Tolstoy to produce three more collections of wisdom before his death in 1910.

One hundred years before the internet, Leo Tolstoy was an inventive moralist who went “viral” as the first intellectual to seek as much wisdom as possible, from as many great thinkers as possible, from as many centuries as possible. This was his grand achievement. Among those who were profoundly influenced by Tolstoy were a young Hindu lawyer named Mahatma Gandhi and a young preacher named Martin Luther King.

Leo Tolstoy’s primary focus during the last three decades of his life was not family, fame, finances or literature.

In the 1880s, he dropped his title of Count and requested his servants address him as plain Leo Nikolayevich. He increasingly adopted the attire of a peasant, worked with a scythe in the fields and took daily instructions from a shoemaker in order to learn a useful trade. Like a Russian Aesop, he wrote fables for the children of his serfs and he encouraged a literacy program at his Yasnaya Polyana estate.

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