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What Is Leo Tolstoy’s Best Book?

leo tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was a Russian writer who is considered one of the greatest authors of all time. He was born on September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, his family’s estate, in the Tula Province of the Russian Empire.

Tolstoy’s early education was conducted at home by French and German tutors. He later attended Kazan University but left without completing his studies. Initially, he sought to immerse himself in the metropolitan lifestyle of Moscow and St. Petersburg, but his experiences in these cities led him to a period of personal and moral crisis.

Tolstoy served in the army during the Crimean War, and his experiences greatly influenced his perspective on life. He started writing while still in the army, and his first published work, “Childhood,” was well received. This was the beginning of a rich literary career.

In 1859, he published “The Cossacks,” which reflected his experiences in the Caucasus and his growing disaffection with the upper class’s superficiality.

Tolstoy published his first great novel, “War and Peace,” between 1865 and 1869. It is an epic tale of Russian life during the Napoleonic era. This monumental work intertwines historical events with the private lives of two main families, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. The novel is renowned for its deep exploration of life, death, love, and philosophy.

In 1873, Tolstoy started working on “Anna Karenina,” a novel that further established his reputation as a master of the psychological analysis of characters. The novel, published in 1877, explores the tragedy of a woman trapped in a stifling society’s conventions.

Towards the later part of his life, Tolstoy underwent a profound moral and spiritual crisis, leading him to embrace a form of Christian anarchism or anarcho-pacifism. His philosophical treatises such as “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” and “What I Believe” had a profound influence on notable figures, including Mahatma Gandhi.

Tolstoy died on November 20, 1910, leaving behind a body of work that continues to be revered worldwide. His exploration of the human soul’s depths and his deep understanding of a wide range of human emotions make his works timeless and universally relevant. Before we vote, let’s be careful to note that the following table and subsequent vote is far, FAR from complete. See Tolstoy’s full bibliography.

Book Publication Year Genre Notable Accolade
Childhood 1852 Autobiographical Novel First Published Novel
The Cossacks 1863 Novel Based on Tolstoy's Experiences in the Caucasus
War and Peace 1869 Historical Novel Regarded as One of the Central Works of World Literature
Anna Karenina 1877 Novel Frequently Listed Among the Greatest Novels Ever Written
The Death of Ivan Ilyich 1886 Novella One of the Top Masterpieces of Late 19th Century Literature

What Is Leo Tolstoy’s Best Book?


Childhood is Leo Tolstoy’s first published work, serving as an autobiographical novel that provides a detailed and vivid account of life in 19th-century rural Russia from the perspective of a child. The novel, in its exploration of the complexities of family and societal relationships, provides unique insights into Tolstoy’s own upbringing and lays the groundwork for his future literary endeavors.

  • Publication Year: 1852
  • Genre: Autobiographical Novel
  • Notable Accolade: First Published Novel

The Cossacks

The Cossacks, a novel based on Tolstoy’s experiences in the Caucasus, is an insightful exploration of the contrasts between urban intellectual life and the simplicity and harsh reality of life in the wilderness. The narrative follows the life of Olenin, a wealthy, disaffected Muscovite who joins the army for a taste of a ‘real’ life among the Cossacks.

  • Publication Year: 1863
  • Genre: Novel
  • Notable Accolade: Based on Tolstoy’s Experiences in the Caucasus

War and Peace

War and Peace is considered one of the central works of world literature. Tolstoy’s epic novel, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, explores the impact of international events on the domestic lives of five aristocratic Russian families. It is a masterful blend of fiction and history, philosophy and passion, public life and private experience.

  • Publication Year: 1869
  • Genre: Historical Novel
  • Notable Accolade: Regarded as One of the Central Works of World Literature

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina, frequently listed among the greatest novels ever written, tells the tragic story of Anna, a married socialite, and her ill-fated love affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. The narrative concurrently follows Levin, a wealthy country landowner who struggles with his faith and purpose. Tolstoy explores themes of love, faith, hypocrisy, and the Russian social and political climate of his time.

  • Publication Year: 1877
  • Genre: Novel
  • Notable Accolade: Frequently Listed Among the Greatest Novels Ever Written

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich, one of the top masterpieces of late 19th-century literature, is a poignant novella that examines the life and death of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia. The narrative delves into existential questions and the quest for genuine human connection, offering a searing critique of Russian society’s obsession with status and materialism.

  • Publication Year: 1886
  • Genre: Novella
  • Notable Accolade: One of the Top Masterpieces of Late 19th Century Literature