A.N. Wilson was born in 1950 and educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he holds a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism. He is an award-winning biographer and a celebrated novelist, winning prizes for much of his work. He lives in North London.
About the Author
A. N. Wilson is the author of the acclaimed biographies Tolstoy, C. S. Lewis, Jesus, and Paul; God's Funeral, and several celebrated novels. He lives in London.
This is a very readable and entertaining journey through the life of a great writer. AN Wilson rarely slackens the pace and all the major novels and stories plus the most important non-fiction works are subjected to his keen critical eye. His analysis of Tolstoy's technique of pouring his own life and that of his family into his fiction is very revealing and Wilson evidently has a great admiration for the old man.
This admiration does not extend to forgiving Tolstoy his occasional lunacies (e.g. his essay on Shakespeare) or submitting to the Tolstoyan version of the Gospels or his doctrines of non-violence, anarchy and non-resistance to evil although Tolstoy's bitter battle with his wife is treated sympathetically and his final flight from home is detailed with mercifully quick strokes.
The one star reviewer on Amazon has it that Wilson fails to appreciate Tolstoy because he does not agree with his version of Christianity. I think it's true that Wilson is a little unfair on Tolstoy when he says that `The Kingdom of God is Within You' "has very little to say to the slain of the trenches...or the countless millions who died" at the hands of Hitler or Stalin. Surely if more soldiers had followed the example that Wilson details of a Christian Russian conscript steadfastly refusing to do military service (despite being sent to a lunatic asylum) and eventually being released, the terrible events referred to could have been averted. The First World War in particular was surely produced by rapacious, propaganda-addicted and warmongering nationalist governments. If so-called Christians had actually followed Christ's laws, the war could not have happened. This was Tolstoy's simple, radical proposal.
One more thing: the subject matter is sometimes (necessarily) heavy but time and again I found myself chuckling at Wilson's jokes or turn of phrase.
Overall a great book which is well worth reading, especially for the Tolstoy enthusiast.
Wilson writes a biography which is more thrilling and moving than many novels. As Tolstoy's life (and the book) progressed and got nearer to the end I started to feel sad about his death just like if I did not know it was going to happen. For admirer's of Tolstoy's non-fictional work it may seem a little patronizing but there's an obvious effort of accuracy in the way Wilson describes facts and shares his opinions. Tolstoy's life is interconnected with Russian history which is very well written (in a summarized and pleasent way) and the book has plenty of little curious stories (like the one in which Tolstoy learned greek in 3 months and had to prove it to a Professor who deemed it to be impossible) that make it an enormous pleasure for any reader who's interested in Tolstoy's work and/or character.
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A N Wilson's authoritative biography is an excellent starting point for further knowledge of one of literature's giants. Having only read part of Anna Karenina, I took great enjoyment from reading about his life and his maddeningly irrational approach to it and have now purchased all his books for later consumption. He is somewhat pragmatically dismissive of Tolstoy's latter stance on religion, but don't let this detract from what is a fine book.
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