The State Memorial and Natural Preserve "Museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy "Yasnaya Polyana"
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Online Project: Leo Tolstoy‘s Bookshelf


“They say one should read a lot, but not many books,“ remarked the ancient Roman writer Pliny the Younger. Leo Tolstoy’s reading list illustrates this saying very well. The author’s eldest son, Sergey Tolstoy, remembered that his father “was able to read, which not everyone is capable of.” He remembered what he had read very well and distinguished the books that should be read without any omissions and abridgements, from the ones from which only what is essential should be taken. 

For Tolstoy, books were not only a way of widening his knowledge about the world and people; reading influenced his views, and stimulated his own creative work. The writer‘s personal library contains a great many books that served as sources for his literary works and articles. It totals over 23 thousand books, many of them containing Tolstoy‘s notes. These notes not only answer the question of which books from the collection Tolstoy read, but also tell us how he read them.  

In 1891, at the request of the publisher M.M. Lederle, Tolstoy composed a list of books that had seriously influenced him at different times in his life; he called it The Books that Produced an Impression. This work can be called unfinished, as after the list was compiled, the writer lived for 19 years more. For our multimedia project Leo Tolstoy‘s Bookshelf (link to a web site in Russian), we added other works to the ones in the list, which made a “very big“ impression. One can judge their influence on Tolstoy by his letters and diaries, and also the recollections of his contemporaries.

It should be noted that not all of the books Tolstoy read at various times in his life can be found in the library of Yasnaya Polyana. The list of works read by Tolstoy given at the link shown above is illustrated partially with images of some other or later editions than the ones actually read by Tolstoy. 

We hope that this project will serve not only as a guide to Leo Tolstoy’s library, but also encourage the reading (or rereading) of the best works of world literature per Tolstoy’s recommendation. It’s not by chance that one of the sections of the collection The Life Journey, prepared in the last year of Tolstoy’s life, contained American philosopher Henry Thoreau’s saying: “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”


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