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Tolstoy: A Russian Life

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  181 ratings  ·  37 reviews
"Magisterial sweep and scale."--"The Independent" (UK)
In November 1910, Count Lev Tolstoy died at a remote Russian railway station. At the time of his death, he was the most famous man in Russia, with a growing international following, and more revered than the tsar. Born into an aristocratic family, Tolstoy had spent his life rebelling against not only conventional ideas
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ebook, 544 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin (first published 2010)
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MJ Nicholls
Bartlett’s heroic and lean retelling of the life of Lev is a powerhouse of bios. Despite its concision and tendency to rush over the most interesting parts (the writing of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, his final decade), this offering allows the reader to inhabit the mercurial, complex, pious, staggering mind of Lev T. For those seeking an even shorter précis—born, happy kid, gambler, warfare, wrote, found God, helped peasants, wrote more, revolutionary views, too many kids, a cult, unhappy m ...more
☽ Moon Rose ☯
There is in Tolstoy's life a spark of hope in humanity to embrace love in its most unconditional form, full of profound understanding, respect and compassion to all creatures, to all forms of life, universal in its meaning and bestowal of godliness, the most ardent trait any human being can tapped within himself, usually hidden from sight and kept aloof by the selfish desires brought about by the worldly aspects of life.

His life exemplifies the possibility of any ordinary life conditioned by soc
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Steve Bennett
Tolstoy has an honored military career, creates schools and new teaching methods to educate the Russian peasnatry, writes two of the greatest novels ever, courageously opposes the Czar and the Russian Orthodox Church, becomes a vegetarian and an anti-vivisectionist, gives away his lands to his peasants, renounces all money and materialism, learns to ride a bicycle at age 65, advocates non-violence and pacifism, takes up the causes of various outcaste peoples, defines how to live a religious, spi ...more
Amanda McDougle
I really like the dedicated research on Tolstoy provided by Bartlett. The beginning chapters provided a bad taste for the person, writer, and larger-than-life (Romanticized) ruler. Tolstoy and his wife produced fourteen children. According to Bartlett, his wife's feelings could be forgiven. This wife sold Tolstoy's writings for income. This wife raised fourteen children on her own, took care of the house on her own, and probably felt great resentment towards her husband. Tolstoy became just like ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
As a history major in undergrad, I have some familiarity with history books such as this one. Many of them are painfully dry and dishearteningly long. Thankfully, since I was reading this for fun and not with the threat of a test to push me through, Bartlett's tome, while long (which is to be expected given the subject matter), proved to be pretty readable.

That is not to say, of course, that it was a speedy read. It was not, at least not for me. However, Bartlett is a good writer and she conveye
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Joan Colby
While Bartlett had access to material previously unavailable, her exhaustive biography, while praiseworthy, does not compare with Henri Troyat’s superb “Tolstoy.” The problem is that she never engages the spirit of Tolstoy as does Troyat, though she presents a comprehensive portrait of the master’s life. Particularly interesting are the details of the mechanics of Tolstoy’s creation of his masterpieces, especially the many versions of Anna Karenina that preceded the final novel. From a tale of a ...more
Carl Rollyson
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) remodeled the modern novel with "War and Peace," making it as much a work of history as of literature. Historians may find fault with this or that detail, but in his handling of such crucial events as the battle of Borodino -- where Napoleon won the Pyrrhic victory that virtually doomed his invasion of Russia -- Tolstoy prevails as the colossal chronicler of the clash between major characters and events.

Then Tolstoy remodeled the modern novel again with "Anna
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John
I started reading Bartlett's biography of Tolstoy just as soon as I finished Isaiah Berlin's "Russian Thinkers," because of the fascinating material and insights that Sir Isaiah presented in two essays published in that collection. The notes on the dust jacket promised me a work of [inevitably] "majesterial sweep and scope," whatever that is, as well as the most vivid evocation of Tolstoy in prose - ever. Well, I'm not transfixed.
I will say that so far - after 200 pages -that Bartlett has writte
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Vanessa
I was planning on giving the book four stars up until the chapters that followed his death. Bartlett then pivots the focus of her tale, and describes the arduous task undertaken right after his death to compile a Collected Works, and how the new Soviet government controlled the perceptions of Tolstoy after his death. Bartlett describes how Tolstoy was repositioned as primarily an author of fictions, rather than the revolutionary philosopher he was during most of his lifetime. I too always though ...more
Roger Prado
Numa palavra: excelente.

Pontos negativos: edição brasileira descuidada (vários erros de datas, provavelmente por inversão de digitação: 1987 no lugar de 1897, etc).

Afora isso, o tradutor escolhe o termo estadunidense para se referir aos norte-americanos.

Eu divido as pessoas do mundo inteiro em dois grandes grupos: aquelas que têm chance de receber minha admiração e aquelas que usam o termo estadunidense para se referir aos norte-americanos.

Não sei se é o caso do tradutor, mas o termo estaduni
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Tolscar Einstoy
I am only about a eighth of the way through this, but I already love it and absolutely recommend it to any Tolstoy fans. I have read Anna Karenina, some of War and Peace and A Confession and am fascinated with Tolstoy. The film; The Last Station and a recent BBC documentary on Tolstoy's life wasn't enough to quench my curiosity for Tolstoy knowledge, but this book gives the depth I have been craving to really understand more about him and the influences on his literary works.


As I am now finished
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Carol
Jul 20, 2012 Carol is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. Still reading. Want my own copy. She really brought him to life for me. I think of him as a character in Anna Karenina as I read it because it seems like he is a part of the story.
Joe Adelizzi
“Nobody is perfect.” It's an accepted cliché, but I often think it is something we rely on to comfort us when we come up short. It may even go beyond “rely on,” edging towards something we need and will go to great lengths to prove and protect. History is full of individuals who asymptotically approached perfection, coming closer than any of us ever thought or wanted to believe was possible. We ended up killing most of them; those we didn't kill we took great pains to drag off their “high horse. ...more
Neal Murphy
I was interested to read about the man behind the epic books, about the time, setting and other people who influenced his writing. I was concnered that it might be too academic, but in fact found it really accessible.

It's a big book, but with quite large writing. I enthusiastically read the first half, and then read the final few chapters one at a time - picking up other books inbetween. I needed a break, to read some lighter or varied material, before coming back th Tolstoy.

I have to give this
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Amanda Mecke
Only a few pages into the first chapter, and I am already hooked on all the detail about Tolstoy's family myths. Glad I read the new translation of War and Peace last year.

I finished this book with new respect for Tolstoy's political ethics, despite the sadness of the way he neglected his wife and younger children.

He was not a theoretical radical. In his struggles with spiritual and moral "right action" in the world, he did not just "talk the talk," but he "walked the walk," using his unique po
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Louise
Recently there seems to be a lot of interest in Tolstoy. Did it begin with the Last The Last Station which garnered two Academy Award nominations? This is the second of two full scale biographies published this year. It follows a volume on Tolstoy's death, a biography of Sophia and a republication of her diaries, and a fictional title paying homage to the Tolstoy ouvre.

Author, Rosamund Bartlett, starts with Tolstoy's adventuresome forbearers who provide him not just the status of nobility, but a
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Lynette Koh Webster
Thanks to Rosamund Bartlett I finally am able to unravel the mystery of why Tolstoy was considered "the greatest writer of fiction" (this phrase appeared in 'Harper's Bazaar' by an American critic in 1887).

To us, who are now exposed to very little of his writing except his fictional work, we are unaware of his phenomenal humanitarian work, his staunch commitment to practising what he preached, his non-fiction writing which included pedagogical work eg his 'New ABC' book for children and his reva
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Jenny Brown
The portrait painted of Tolstoy was so distasteful, that once I'd read through the section where he wrote War and Peace, I had no reason to wish to read on, since the whole rest of the book was going to be about his idiosyncratic, selfish, spiritually deluded behavior.

The author can't be blamed for her subject being a slave-owning sexual exploiter of women or for his terrible treatment of his wife who he forced to have 8 children after a 6th almost killed her. But she can be faulted for brushin
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Steve
I've always been interested in Leo Tolstoy. Author of two of the greatest Western novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina; educational reformer; religious prophet; social critic. Bartlett's biography shows this complicated man in all periods of his life and all his varied pursuits. She is empathetic with Tolstoy and his wife Sofia, who was long-suffering, intelligent, and supportive of her husband--up to a point. Tolstoy lived through some cataclysmic changes in Russian society, including the ab ...more
Jeff
This was a good biography of one of the more complicated figures in Russian literature: Leo Tolstoy. It supplies a great deal of background for 19th century Russia -- particularly the tension between the autocratic regime of the tsars and the peasants. Tolstoy's family life is richly described in context with both his literary and religious/philosophical works. It was interesting to see how his personal views and actions in the public square affected his art. There is a copious amount of footnot ...more
Elaine
So many things I didn't know about this great author! Now I want to go reread Anna Karenina and finally sit down with War and Peace. Not an easy man to live with, Tolstoy was certainly a character with strong ideas and a lot of confidence.

It was a very dense read, though, so if you like your biographies on the "light" side, this is not for you!
Mary
Tolstoy, the seminal OG.
Pete
Enjoyed this a lot after attending a talk given by the author about it.
The history of Tolstoy's youth and ruinious gambling, Anna Karenina's publication in very delayed installments, Sonia endless pregnancies, and the final chapter about the struggles for control of tolstoyism after his death made it very illuminating.
Emily Callahan
I always wondered why Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky would have different characters with the same first names...who does that? Well apparently in pre revolutionary Russia they only had 5 male names and 5 female names to choose from. So now that makes sense. Also learned the difference between a Cossack and a cassock.
Irina
I love War and Peace

I can not make myself like Tolstoy though. Very despotic and selfish man, what exactly did he believe in? I give him a credit for questioning everything however, he constantly lost interest in every new pursuit of his.... Like many great men that left a legacy he is not a likable person :(
Stephanie Moseley
This was a fascinating account of a wonderful author who was much more comoplex than his well know admirable novels. Personally, I think he was a tad mentally ill, bi-polar or at the least ADA!
The book certainly gives wonderful detail and comphrehenisive feel for the deep emotion of the Russian psyche
Beth Blahut
Fascinating but this author is a bit too thorough with research about Tolstoy's childhood and his parents' and his grandparents' histories. I had to speed-read through some of those sections about his family-I was too impatient to get into reading about Tolstoys accomplishments.
Marjolijn
Eindelijk, eindelojk heb ik deze biografie gelezen. Het stond al een tijd in de kast én het was een hele kluif om te lezen. Net zoals de romans van Tolstoj was het allemaal erg veel. Maar ook: wat een interessant boek over een bijzondere man.
Jane Massy
A well written sweep through a huge life - well contextualised - and balanced in sympathy to his wife who was amazing and long suffering, recommend to anyone wanting to get a sense of the man and his influence on Russia then and later
Mike
Incredibly interesting story, but the author does not bring any emotion or even passion to her subject. A better biography can be written about this fascinating historical figure.
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