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
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
Tolstoy's last major work reflects his desire to proselytize the moral faith and ideals he struggled to put into practice in his later years. Tolstoy believed that reading daily from the world's great literature was imperative for both his own spiritual edification and that of his readers, so he set himself the task of gathering a wide range of wisdom for every day of the year. He translated, abbreviated, and in many cases expressed entirely in his own words these "quotations" from diverse sources such as the New Testament, the Koran, Greek philosophy, Lao-Tzu, Buddhist thought, and the poetry, novels, and essays of both ancient writers and contemporary thinkers. An important book now released in English for the first time.
From the Publisher
Sarah Ban Breathnach
All writers believe that there is one book that they and they alone were born to bring into the world. The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy believed his was A Calendar of Wisdom. Here is a profound and passionate collaboration between the Great Creator and one of history's consummate artists. That we should be able to reach through the portcullis of the past to share the private observations that inspired Leo Tolstoy to discover the sacred in the ordinary a century after he gleaned them from the world's sacred texts seems to me to be nothing less than miraculous. You'll feel as if a devoted spiritual guide, with a wink in his eye, has secretly helped you circumvent the laws of heaven and earth in order to nourish and sustain you on your own personal journey to wholeness. Savoring each day's passage fills me with gratitude, delight, and often awe. Here is a book to be cherished.
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