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

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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