on 10 February 2014
This is far from being the most closely reasoned argument for belief. It is a product of a unique moment in history - in which arrogance has assumed a new legitimacy; in which the new industrial machine is churning its way through old livelihoods and communities; in which society is stratified and embittered; in which the state is abusive and elites aggregate power; in which the church is in disrepute; and in which faith is an empty ritual of the elite; and a vague longing of the poor. So far so 2014... Tolstoy sees love; brotherhood; non violence through Christian libertarian socialism as the inevitable pathway forward. Most crucially, he insists that only the transformation of the individual soul can lead to liberation from the strictures of class, bureaucracy and institutional corruption. The mindfulness of Buddhists he abandons as individualist vanity. The liberation he seeks is personal, but not individual. The truth of love and non-resistance to evil is extraordinarily simple; and may strike us today as simplistic - especially in light of the corruptions and contortions of socialism.
And yet it is hard to see any alternative the truth he offers. Arguably the greatest prose-writer in history, writes about the most fundamental truth of existence: To find and nurture love within ourselves. There is nothing to add.
on 28 February 2006
This series of essays should be remembered as being among the great philosophical works of its day - more relevant now than ever.
It is pretty much impossible to encounter a rational/objective exposition of life today, and things seem to be getting worse. The logic of the world seems to be getting more convoluted and ridiculous and that is why this book reads like a breath of fresh air, like a little dosage of sanity to give you hope.
It's like Nietszche, Ghandi, Joseph Heller and the Pope all mixed into one book. Genius.
on 10 March 2006
Tolstoy is rightly renowned for being a great novelist and for his ability to bring alive fictitious characters as though they were real people; that talent is very much on display in this book. His articulation of the emotional and intellectual turbulence involved in seeking truth is astounding. His subsequent philosophical conclusions are not accurate; albeit very interesting.
Tolstoy makes certain valuable observations about the Christian church but falls to victim to the glasshouse syndrome in regard to other major religions(he accuses others of things which he is guilty of himself - a common failure of logic). Strangely, he displays a real shortfall in his understanding of Judaism and Islam in particular - the later essays included in this book read a little bit like propoganda, in surprising contrast to the main article(a confession) - which is very objective.
Ultimately there is no one book or perspective which will give an adequate answer to the question of existence but these works by Tolstoy are genuine contributions. Take these contributions and combine them with a wider investigation of Western philosophy, Eastern philosophy and a better understanding of the worlds major religions, and you will be much wiser.