A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul Written and Selected from the World's Sacred Textsby Leo Tolstoy
This is the first-ever English-language edition of the book Leo Tolstoy considered to be his most important contribution to humanity, the work of his life's last years. Widely read in prerevolutionary Russia, banned and forgotten under Communism; and recently rediscovered to great excitement, A Calendar of Wisdom is a day-by-day guide that illuminates the/i>… See more details below
This is the first-ever English-language edition of the book Leo Tolstoy considered to be his most important contribution to humanity, the work of his life's last years. Widely read in prerevolutionary Russia, banned and forgotten under Communism; and recently rediscovered to great excitement, A Calendar of Wisdom is a day-by-day guide that illuminates the path of a life worth living with a brightness undimmed by time. Unjustly censored for nearly a century, it deserves to be placed with the few books in our history that will never cease teaching us the essence of what is important in this world.
Can it really be -- something new from Tolstoy? Perhaps a forgotten, 1,200-page canvass of history found propping up a broken bedstead at the great man's dacha? Is the mystic count of Russian literature about to have a go -- à la Louisa May Alcott -- at the late-20th century bestseller lists, thanks to a misplaced manuscript? Not quite. Tolstoy's "new" book, A Calendar of Wisdom, has gone though the printing presses in Cyrillic several times, but has just now been translated into English by Peter Sekirin.
Sad to say, Tolstoy will not be going head-to-head in bookstores this fall with Underworld and Mason & Dixon. In fact, he'll be far from the fiction section; he'll keep company instead with the Life's Little Treasure Books near the cash register. A Calendar of Wisdom is a sort of commonplace book with added commentary, a collection of quotations culled from world literature and grouped thematically for each day of the year. It is, in Tolstoy's words, "an accumulation of the cultural heritage of our ancestors, the best thinkers in the world." Jack Handy, take a hike; these are really deep thoughts. Call it "Cabbage Soup for the Soul."
This book is, by design, popular reading from a great master; it was made, in his words, "to present for a wide reading audience an easily accessible, everyday circle of reading which will arouse their best thoughts and feelings." It is touching to think of this great fiction maker so consumed by the search for the simple, communicable truth that he's thrown away all of his trusty tools: out with character, away with plot. This book is all theme, all the time. And, as a book of daily inspiration, it is probably the best of the lot. Certainly it presents a tougher, flintier view of the human condition than the current "Chicken Soup" bestsellers, a series that has had its schmaltz inadequately skimmed. And whose life wouldn't be bettered by a daily nibble of Shakespeare, Lao Tsu, Ruskin, the Talmud, the Dhammapada, Socrates, Jefferson and a host of small and tall 18th and 19th century thinkers?
Tolstoy's sentiments are truly affecting, simple but not easy prescriptions for daily living. If you must have an owner's manual for life, by all means try this one first. But keep in mind that it was not enough for the count himself, who died -- barely two years after the publication of the last edition of the calendar -- at a lonely train station as he attempted to flee the bonds of his gentrified life. Life serves up far more measures of grief than comfort food, in Tolstoy's vision. Think of this calendar as Tolstoy's spiritual Rolodex; whether such a thing puts you in touch with the kind of truth you can live with is yours to decide. -- Salon
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Read an Excerpt
Nobody knows where the human race is going. The highest wisdom, then, is to know where you should go: toward perfection.
A wise man seeks wisdom; a madman thinks that he has found it.
It is not the place we occupy which is important, but the direction in which we move.
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
Your actions should be determined not by the desire of the people around you, but by the needs of all mankind. April 23
Real goodness is always simple.
Simplicity is so attractive and so profitable that it is strange that so few people lead truly simple lives.
Do not seek happiness elsewhere. Give thanks to God, who made necessary things simple, and complicated things unnecessary.
Most of our spending is done to forward our efforts to look like others.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Every great thing is done in a quiet, humble, simple way; to plow the land, to build houses, to breed cattle, even to think you cannot do such things when there are thunder and lightning around you. Great and true things are always simple and humble.
No one looks less simple than those people who artificially strive to seem so. Artificial simplicity is the most unpleasant of all artificial things. July 9th
People mistakenly think that virtue lies in the knowledge of many things. What is important is not the quantity but the quality of knowledge.
Socrates thought that stupidity was incompatible with wisdom, but he never said that ignorance was stupidity.
We live in the age of philosophy, science, and intellect. Huge libraries are open for everyone. Everywhere we have schools, colleges, and universities which give us the wisdom of the people from many previous millennia. And what then? Have we become wiser for all this? Do we better understand our life, or the meaning of our existence? Do we know what is good for our life?
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU
Reading too much is harmful to your independence of thought. The greatest thinkers I've met among scholars are people who do not read too much.
Do not fear the lack of knowledge, fear false knowledge. All evil in this world comes from false knowledge.
Knowledge born in argument and discussion is to be doubted. October 16
God is in all of us, and it is possible for all of us to find and understand him there.
To know yourself is to discover the good that lies within.
God is close to us, he is with us: the divine spirit is inside of us. If he were not, the power to be good would be beyond our reach. A person cannot be good without God.
LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA
If you are going through a hard time, work harder to understand God; as soon as you understand Him, all difficult things will become easy, and you will feel love and joy.
If a person does not feel a divine force within himself, this does not mean that a divine force does not exist in him, but that he has not yet learned how to recognize it.
Translation copyright © 1997 by Peter Sekirin
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