Fresh translation destined to introduce a new generation to a fuller understanding of Tolstoy’s mind.

A new translation of Tolstoy’s rewriting of the Christian Gospels, first completed in 1881.

Most English translations of this work are now over a century old and of questionable quality. Translator Condren has gone back to the original text in an attempt to reintroduce this important but largely forgotten work to English-speaking readers. The result is an admirably clear and lucid translation of Tolstoy’s short but complex book. Reflecting the intense spiritual journey he underwent in his later life, the narrative is an attempt to synthesize the author’s findings regarding a close examination of the Christian faith. It also represents his desire to reach the common Russian believer with his own heterodox beliefs. Tolstoy broke the Gospels into 12 short chapters, each one committed to a specific lesson of Jesus’ teachings. Each chapter begins with an introduction by Tolstoy, marked by italics in this text. Tolstoy rejects the miraculous and divine aspects of the Gospels in an obvious response to 19th-century criticisms of the Bible, which deeply influenced his own study of the book. Instead, the author focuses entirely on Jesus’ social teachings. Of special interest is “False Life,” which reflects Tolstoy’s growing belief in asceticism. In the story of the rich young ruler, for instance, Tolstoy’s retelling is much harsher than that in the original Gospels. Whereas the Gospel of Mark, for instance, has Jesus simply saying, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Tolstoy elaborates with, “there is no way to be rich and to fulfill your father’s will…It is impossible for him who holds his own property to be within the father’s will.” In Tolstoy’s theology, understanding and living out the ethical and moral commands of the Gospels are of primary importance; belief in Christ’s divinity and other points of traditional Christian dogma are merely a matter of personal preference.

Fresh translation destined to introduce a new generation to a fuller understanding of Tolstoy’s mind.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-199345-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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