Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Tolstoy” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.27  ·  Rating details ·  519 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Leo Tolstoy embodies the most extraordinary contradictions. He was a wealthy aristocrat who preached the virtues of poverty and the peasant life, a misogynist who wrote Anna Karenina, and a supreme writer who declared, "Literature is rubbish." From Tolstoy's famously bad marriage to his enormously successful career, Troyat presents a brilliant portrait that reads like an e ...more
Paperback, 896 pages
Published January 18th 2001 by Grove Press (first published 1965)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Tolstoy, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Tolstoy

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Tolstoy stars here as the villainous hero of his own life story, my abiding memory is the sense that Troyat didn't much like his subject, admittedly this memory coming from his description of Tolstoy's wedding, he married the daughter of a woman he had once asked to marry when he was a young man and having been turned down by the mother popped up years later to carry off the daughter, by which time he had made a name for himself as a writer, but had also been treated several times for syphilis, ...more
Sep 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
For all of its size, this biography of Tolstoy becomes increasingly claustrophobic as it tracks Tolstoy's intellectual development; Tolstoy's intellect seems always to have been driven by guilt, but to have progressed from an intellect that could tolerate guilt to one that could not. Thus Tolstoy became increasingly judgmental and paralyzed, and to read an intimate portrayal of his later years becomes excruciating -- even setting aside the chaotic pressures provided by his wife, family, and disc ...more
Anna Kim-galante
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the top three biographies I've ever read in my life. Almost liked it as much as reading Tolstoy
Grace Tjan
Troyat's 700-plus pages biography reads like a Tolstoy novel. It follows Tolstoy's life in detail, quoting extensively from his and his family's copious diaries. His marriage, which started happily enough, and then turned into a nightmare for both him and his wife was morbidly fascinating. It was like watching a slow train wreck. Altogether, a satisfiying if rather lengthy portrait of a complicated genius.

James Mitchell
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
When you read about what your favorite author's life was like in real life you get a better picture of how they became who they are and a little more on how the characters came to life. Interesting how a lot of those characters match people they knew in real life.
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the most extensive biogrpahies I have ever read - this book is monumental in scope but precise in its detail. Suddenly you see Tolstoy's life like he must have, and his actions begin to make sense in their own context, instead of seeming crazy like they might to someone who just plotted his life on a calendar.

Really remarkable. I'd never read any tolstoy until I took a survey class my Freshman year - the Life and Art of Lev Tolstoy with the head of our Slavic Languages department at GW.
Mishka Zakharin
Oct 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Troyat is the greatest biographer I've read--and not just because he's covered pretty much all of the Russian writers and tsars... (though, yes, that was pretty swell of him to do...) He doesn't just spit out facts, he tells a story... I only wish more of his bios were available in English.
Oct 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"La Lev Tolstoi, nevoia de a fi impotriva opiniei generale devenise o a doua natura. Ca si cum, print-o contrazicere sistematica, si-ar fi dovedit propria sa existenta. Parea ca spune: 'Gindesc pe dos decit ceilalti, deci exist!'"
Mar 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Reading this wonderful biography of Tolstoy is almost better than reading a Tolstoy novel. His life was an adventure, and the way he wove his own life into his books is fascinating.
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A thoroughly researched and detailed telling of Count Tolstoy's life and work, Henri Troyat's biography of Russia's greatest novelist is an incredible masterpiece. The author weaves a wonderfully written and critical story of Tolstoy's creative development, deteriorating marriage, and spiritual evolution that at times makes the Count the villain in his own life. At times, the biographer seems harshly critical of his subject, but always ends up providing enough evidence to support his chosen lens ...more
Rich Dailey
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Henri Troyat's biography of Tolstoy is the one to read... probably one of the top literary biographies ever. I recommend also reading his 'Firebrand:The Life of Dostoyevsky'. Then reread Crime and Punishment, Notes From the Underground, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Devils. You gain insight into how they both prophesied the socialist/communist state by more than forty years. Then read Solzhenitsyn. Then Anna Politkovskaya's 'A Russian Diary'. And witness why “Those who don't know histor ...more
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Rendkívül precízen Tolsztojnak szinte minden napjáról tudósít hitelesnek tekinthető források (naplók, levelek, visszaemlékezések, életrajzok) alapján. Sokat megtudhattam a világ egyik legnagyobb írójáról, de nem állíthatom, hogy megszerettem a személyiségét. 15 gyermeket nemzett, akikkel kevéssé törődött. 16 évvel fiatalabb felesége mindig mindenben a rendelkezésére kellett, hogy álljon. Rendszeresen különféle erkölcsi, életvezetési fogadalmakat tett, ezekre azonban többnyire már másnap nem is e ...more
Nicholas Whyte
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was ok

Having immensely appreciated both War and Peace and Anna Karenina in recent years, I picked this book up to try and get acquainted with the great author.

Oh dear.

Tolstoy was a truly awful person. Having had a couple of (extraordinary) literary successes, he set himself up as a political prophet and became the centre of a cult following which does not appear to have embarrassed him in the slightest. His disciples were in constant conflict with his wife and
Sep 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
With Tolstoy's penchant for writing a diary throughout his life and his voluminous correspondence a biographer has much material to work with. In addition his wife Sonya kept a diary. Recorded impressions of Tolstoy written by all the major Russian writers active during his lifetime were available. What comes out of all of this is similar to that which comes out when just about any famous figure's life is minutely examined. Despite the achievements the famous person has flaws and difficulties no ...more
Dec 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-life, europe, owned
Hard to rate this book. It's the first biography of Tolstoy I've read, and will not be the last. I think it was a great starting point, because it was oh so thorough. Copious quotations from Tolstoy's letters and diaries, and the writings of those who surrounded him. Troyat's prose is exceptional much of the time, dry and matter-of-fact at other times. I hate to say it, but this could have been trimmed from 800 to 600 pages, and would have been strengthened by the process.
Troyat definitely has b
سما غنوة
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourite
أخيراً أنهيته ...
ماذا يمكن القول عن هنري ؟ كاتب رائع ... لقد جعل من حياة تولستوي قصيدة حقاً..
لم أشعر بأي ملل طوال فترة قراءتي الكتاب ...كنت أغوص تماماً ... كان ينسيني الزمن ..
الكتاب يتحدث عن حياة تولستوي وكأنك تعيش معه ...يجمع الأحداث من مذكرات تولستوي ورسائله لأصدقائه الكتّاب وأقاربه وحتى مذكرات زوجته ..
تولستوي الكونت المتقلب المزاج ..... المتعطش للمجد ..الطامح للخير ....الذي استسلم طويلا لنفسه ... وكان يؤنب نفسه دائما ولكن لم يحدث الامر فرقا كبيرا يعني....والمُتعب كثيراً أيضاً ...والذي أحب اعت
Sep 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is an exhausting and exhaustive biography on the great Leo Tolstoy. I am a Tolstoy lover, so this book made the man behind the great works very real, with all of his hypocrises and true passions. His manic-depressive relationship with his wife put a lot of strain on him. He wanted to live a peaceful life, but his own voracious passions, and his fame, prevented him from fading away into a commune. Although there were already Tolstoyan communes in the Caucausus region. I have read this book t ...more
Wow, this is really in-depth, almost a day by day account. It took me a while to read because of the amount of info crammed onto each page. I've loved all of Troyat's books, that I've read. My fear after reading this is that all other biographies will seem like they're skimming the surface. It did a good job of showing Tolstoy as a young man as well as the bearded old man that he is so often thought of.
Jerry Sattin
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Despite its length, and despite the fact that it is translated from the French, this biography is wonderfully readable. It depicts Tolstoy with a critical eye, and Troyat shares with his reader his amusement at Tolstoy's inconsistent and hypocritical character. The selections from Tolstoy's diaries are also well chosen.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read this book when I was 14 and loved it. As an adult, I found an inexpensive used copy and snatched it up. Tolstoy was an interesting person and an excellent writer. Troyat made Tolstoy's life come alive for me and made me want to read Tolstoy's books. After this biography I ploughed through every Tolstoy book I could get my hands on.
Gwenyth Crabtree
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Awesome. A biography with so much "life," even Tolstoy would have approved, I bet. Flowing, beautiful, complex language - harmonious with Tolstoy's style and compatible with the depth in which his life is described. Tolstoy was more of a revolutionary than I knew. A short interesting fact: Princess Marya from War and Peace was modeled after his own mother.
Rob Prince
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
From his profligate youth (addicted gambler, screwed his brains out with anything female that crossed his path) to moral compass...this is a wonderful biography of the "spiritual journey" - a term I cringe to use - of a great author. If War and Peace is to imposing, try his short stories or my personal favorite "Resurrection"
Pradeep Badatiya
May 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Tolstoy's ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Bevel.
Oct 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
This is an exhaustive and excellent biography of Tolstoy.
Lee-Ellen Macon
Really interesting book about Russian history with revelations which will explain America today, and I've read many history books.
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredibly crazy story of an incredibly crazy life.
Donna Halloran
Aug 17, 2009 marked it as to-read
I'm reading this biography while reading Anna Karenina.
Tom Schulte
This biography of the famous Russian paints him as a vain literary genius wasting away a fortune with a profligate lifestyle and feeling really guilty about it.
Kara- Lynne
Aug 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow. What a life. So beautifully written by Troyat.
Aug 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Am re reading for the third time in 40 years.
It just gets better. It's more of a Tolstoyan
novel than the real thing. I also re read Jay
Parini's "The Last Station" recently too.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Tolstoy: A Russian Life
  • Tolstoy: A Biography
  • Nikolai Gogol
  • Anton Chekhov
  • Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time
  • Byron: Life and Legend
  • Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography
  • Helen Keller: A Life
  • Robert Frost: A Life
  • E. M. Forster: A Life
  • Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece
  • Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot
  • My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson
  • Michael and Natasha: The Life and Love of Michael II, the Last of the Romanov Tsars
  • The Portable Henry James
  • Russian Thinkers
  • Scott Fitzgerald
  • Hemingway: The Final Years
Troyat was a French author, biographer, historian and novelist.

Troyat was born Levon Aslan Torossian in Moscow to parents of Armenian descent. His family fled Russia in anticipation of the revolution. After a long exodus taking them to the Caucasus on to Crimea and later by sea to Constantinople and then Venice, the family finally settled in Paris in 1920, where young Troyat was schooled and later
More about Henri Troyat
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »