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Tolstoy: A Russian Life

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  348 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
The first new biography in twenty years of the literary colossus, spiritual leader, and icon of the nineteenth century -Conveys Tolstoy to me more vividly than any biography I have read.---A. N. Wilson, Financial Times -Engaging . . . impressive.---Claire Messud, Telegraph
ebook, 544 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30)
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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
Misha
I found myself saying to a colleague the other day - 'If there really was a God, he would probably resemble Leo Tolstoy.' Blasphemous, I know.

After reading War & Peace and some of his short works, the only way to explain the insight with which Tolstoy talks about humanity and its flaws, failures and growth, and the way in which his words seem to cut across centuries and be relevant to human condition right now, was to assign him with superhuman or even godlike qualities.

Yet, as I read Bartle
...more
Joan Colby
May 01, 2012 Joan Colby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
...more
Steve Bennett
Jan 24, 2012 Steve Bennett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Carl Rollyson
Oct 19, 2012 Carl Rollyson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Amanda McDougle
Jan 27, 2013 Amanda McDougle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: never-to-re-read
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
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
...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
...more
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
...more
Ci
Sep 14, 2016 Ci rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tolstoy the man is much bigger and more complex than the writer of "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina". In fact, the later Tolstoy showed indifference toward his own works, much to the dismay of Turgenev and others. By the time Tolstoy finished "Anna Karenina", he had already moved toward a new realm of religious and political efforts, going from devout to apostate, from literary depiction to active involvement in denouncing the government and the Church.

This biography is relatively lean and co
...more
Mehmet Akif  Koc
May 02, 2015 Mehmet Akif Koc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Büyük Rus yazar ve düşünür Leo Tolstoy üzerine yazılmış hacimli (544 sayfa) bir biyografi. Kitapta, Tolstoy'un en önemli romanları Savaş ve Barış, Anna Karanina ve Diriliş'in kaleme alınma süreçlerinden serflik ve toprak sahipliğine ilişkin düşüncelerine, sanat ve edebiyatı algılayışından din (daha doğrusu Kilise ve kurumsallaştırılmış din) ve devlete olan eleştirel yaklaşımına ve ölümünden sonra 1917 Bolşevik İhtilali'ne olan etkisine kadar çok farklı konular başarıyla ele alınmış.

Kitabın belki
...more
Vanessa
Sep 09, 2011 Vanessa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 08, 2014 Roger Prado rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Tolscar Einstoy
Jun 17, 2011 Tolscar Einstoy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Lorna
Jan 25, 2015 Lorna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This biography was the perfect companion to War and Peace and the perfect transitional companion when I had finished War and Peace and was longing to return to 19th Century Russia and Tolstoy's original yet wise view of the world.
The writing style is lively and readable, skillfully combining the huge subject of the politics and religion of the time with the tiniest details of Tolstoy's life and passions.
A great read!
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.
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
...more
David James
Aug 03, 2015 David James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Bartlett, Rosamund. Tolstoy: A Russian Life

This book is not an exegesis of War and Peace or Anna Karenina, but a meticulously detailed life of Pyotr Andreyevich Tolstoy, the man. A glance at Bartlett’s Select Bibliography runs to 9 pages of small print, embracing Tolstoy’s correspondence, diaries and family memoirs. The novels themselves are overshadowed by the sheer volume of letters and political and moral treatises to which the author devoted the majority of his latter years. Tolstoy was not
...more
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Dec 17, 2011 Joseph Adelizzi, Jr. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“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
Brucus Scriptus
Jul 21, 2015 Brucus Scriptus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers kean on Tolstoy novels.
Tolstoy: A Russian Life ... by Rosamund Bartlett

SPOILER ALERT! Bartlett tells a story as well as Tolstoy which helps us suffer the foibles of a man who is easy to criticise (not least by his wife), but impossible not to admire. Lev had enough self-knowledge to make fun of himself, but nevertheless was wont to lecture everyone on everything. Admirably, he put in long days sickling and shocking grain with the peasants. Was a true educator with his ABC primer. Lev gave up wine, meat and finally, I
...more
Amanda Mecke
Dec 05, 2011 Amanda Mecke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Donna
May 14, 2016 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
Lev Tolstoy was a very interesting and often contradictory person. He was part of the wealthy aristocracy, yet embraced the plight of the serfs, although after taking advantage of them and from his position of comfort. He had a rocky relationship with his wife, but had a very modern, almost feminist relationship with some of his grown daughters as he developed his religious views around the Sermon on the Mount and sought to live them out. He was an active and internationally known pacifist that ...more
Neal Murphy
Sep 16, 2011 Neal Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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
...more
Steve
May 13, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 12, 2012 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
Fernando Cleber
Dec 25, 2016 Fernando Cleber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Confesso que quando comecei a ler essa biografia, Tolstoi para mim era apenas o autor de Anna Karenina e Guerra e Paz. Mas qual não foi minha surpresa em saber que esse autor tão venerado foi muito maior do que isso. A sua história se mistura com a historia da russa num dos momentos mais conturbados de sua história. Escritor, filósofo, era um aristocrata inconformado com a sua situação e com o que vivia o resto do povo russo. Muito interessante em saber como se desenvolveu um dos maiores escrito ...more
Jackson Cyril
Jul 26, 2014 Jackson Cyril rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this is a magnificent work, breathing life back into the restless and contradictory life of Lev Tolstoy, it is much too short! 450 pages cannot do justice to a life as long and full as that of the count. However, the author's decision to tell the tale of Tolstoy's ideas and his 'Tolstoyans' even after the count's death in 1910 is admirable; their gall to not submit quietly into the Soviet terror and hold true to their lofty ideals gives one reason to hope that ordinary men and women, even ...more
Pete
Apr 12, 2011 Pete rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, russian
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.
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