This summer on my way to work, I found something just for me in a box of cast-off books on a sidewalk in downtown Northampton: a biography of Tolstoy by Henri Troyat published in 1967 and translated from the original French by Nancy Amphoux. A clipping with a photo of Troyat and his bio was inside the book—probably this was taken from the original dust jacket. Troyat was a Russian-born French novelist and biographer. He died in 2007.

I found something even cooler inside: a yellowed and fragile New York Times Book Review clipping, from April 2, 1978: a list of the books that Tolstoy was most impressed by, organized by the age at which he read them. Gold for this wannabe Tolstoy scholar. I have reproduced it here. Isn’t it tempting to create a list like this for oneself?

* * * *

“Tolstoy Was Impressed”

The following list was provided by Leo Tolstoy to a Petersburg publisher who had asked Tolstoy and many other famous people for the books that had most influenced them. It was Tolstoy’s idea to divide the list into phases of his life. The list was attached to a letter written from Yasnaya Polyana on Oct. 25, 1891 [he was 63 years old] and appears in “Tolstoy’s Letters,” edited by R. F. Christian, which will be published by Scribner’s next month.


Childhood to the age of 14 or so

The story of Joseph from the Bible Enormous

Tales from The Thousand and One Nights: the 40 Thieves, Prince Qam-al-Zaman Great

The Little Black Hen by Pogorelsky V. great

Russian byliny: Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets, Alyosha Popovich. Folk Tales Enormous

Puskin’s poems: Napoleon Great

Age 14 to 20

Matthew’s Gospel: Sermon on the Mount Enormous

Sterne’s Sentimental Journey V. great

Rousseau: Confessions Enormous

Emile Enormous

Nouvelle Héloise V. great

Puskin’s Yevgeny Onegin V. great

Schiller’s Die Räuber V. great

Gogol’s Overcoat, The Two Ivans, Nevsky Prospect Great

Viy [a story by Gogol] Enormous

Dead Souls V. great

Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches V. great

Druzhinin’s Polinka Sachs V. great

Grigorovich’s The Hapless Anton V. great

Dickens’ David Copperfield Enormous

Lermontov’s A Hero for our Time, Taman V. great

Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico Great

Age 20 to 35

Goethe. Hermann and Dorothea V. great

Victor Hugo. Notre Dame de Paris V. great

Tyutchev’s poems Great

Koltsov’s poems Great

The Odyssey and The Iliad (read in Russian) Great

Fet’s poems Great

Plato’s Phaedo and Symposium (in Cousin’s translation) Great

Age 35 to 50

The Odyssey and The Iliad (in Greek) V. great

The byliny V. great

Victor Hugo. Les Misérables Enormous

Xenophon’s Anabasis V. great

Mrs. [Henry] Wood. Novels Great

George Eliot. Novels Great

Trollope, Novels Great

Age 50 to 63

All the Gospels in Greek Enormous

Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) V. great

Henry George. Progress and Poverty V. great

[Theodore] Parker. Discourse on religious subject Great

[Frederick William] Robertson’s sermons Great

Feuerback (I forget the title; work on Christianity) [“The Essence of Christianity”] Great

Pascal’s Pensées Enormous

Epictetus Enormous

Confucius and Mencius V. great

On the Buddha. Well-known Frenchman (I forget) [“Lalita Vistara”] Enormous

Lao-Tzu. Julien [S. Julien, French translator] Enormous