A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul Written and Selected from the World's Sacred Texts


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 pre-revolutionary 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 ...

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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 pre-revolutionary 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.

"A spiritual guide which became a bestseller in Russia." -- USA Today, Oct.9, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Edward Neuert

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

Library Journal
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 SIMPLE ABUNDANCE 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780737297157
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 6/28/1999
  • Pages: 372

Meet the Author

Leo Tolstoy
One of the great masters of the 19th-century novel, Tolstoy created a sweeping epic in War and Peace which folds together huge events in history and politics with the emotional lives of individuals. But it was his deeply spiritual outlook that made him an icon.


Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, where he spent most of his early years, together with his several brothers. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan to read Oriental Languages and later Law, but left before completing a degree. He spent the following years in a round of drinking, gambling and womanizing, until weary of his idle existence he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851.

He took part in the Crimean war and after the defence of Sevastopol wrote The Sevastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his literary reputation. After leaving the army in 1856 Tolstoy spent some time mixing with the literati in St Petersburg before traveling abroad and then settling at Yasnaya Polyana, where he involved himself in the running of peasant schools and the emancipation of the serfs. His marriage to Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862 marked the beginning of a period of contentment centred around family life; they had thirteen children. Tolstoy managed his vast estates, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote both his great novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

During the 1870s he underwent a spiritual crisis, the moral and religious ideas that had always dogged him coming to the fore. A Confession (1879–82) marked an outward change in his life and works; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist, and in a series of pamphlets written after 1880 he rejected church and state, indicted the demands of flesh, and denounced private property. His teachings earned him numerous followers in Russia and abroad, and also led finally to his excommunication by the Russian Holy Synod in 1901. In 1910 at the age of eighty-two he fled from home "leaving this worldly life in order to live out my last days in peace and solitude;" he died some days later at the station master's house at Astapovo.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books LTD.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 9, 1828
    2. Place of Birth:
      Tula Province, Russia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 20, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Astapovo, Russia

Read an Excerpt

January 24

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.


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.


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?


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.


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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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2000

    Tolstoy (and Company) Elucidate Truth

    Concise and thought provoking with depth. Buy the import and save a few bucks.

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