Leo Tolstoy’s Recommended Reading List for each phase of life

In 1891, publisher, bookseller and author Mikhail Mikhaylovich Lederle wrote to Leo Tolstoy (and many other famous people) to ask for a list of the hundred books which had the greatest influence on their life.

Tolstoy had actually made such a list in 1889 and first asked his daughter to submit this old list to Lederle. When the publisher wrote again to obtain Tolstoy’s permission to publish the list, the great author opted to revise it and offer another version. His answer can be found in Tolstoy’s Letters.

As Tolstoy writes to him “I have come to the conclusion that the plan for compiling a list of the 100 absolutely best books is unrealisable“, and he actually sent a list that he began, but didn’t complete. This list was not intended for publishing since it is “far from complete.”

Tolstoy’s reading list, titled “WORKS THAT MADE AN IMPRESSION,” is organised by age. next to the book’s title, he also used the words ‘enormous,”very great,’ and ‘great’ to characterise the degree of impression. Tolstoy stopped as 63, his age when he wrote the list.

Works Which Made an Impression or Tolstoy’s Reading List

Childhood to the age of 14 or so

– The story of Joseph from the Bible (Enormous)
– Tales from The Thousand and One Nights: the 40 Thieves, Prince Qamr-al-Zaman (Great)
The Little Black Hen by Pogorelsky (V. great)
The Byliny folk tales: Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets, Alyosha Popovich (Enormous)
Pushkin’s poems: Napoleon (Great)

Age 14 to 20

Matthew’s Gospel: Sermon on the Mount (Enormous)
– Sterne’s Sentimental Journey (V. great)
– Rousseau: Confessions (Enormous)
– Rousseau: Emile (Enormous)
– Rousseau: Nouvelle Héloise (V. great)
– Pushkin’s Yevgeny Onegin (V. great)
– Schiller’s Die Räuber (V. great)
– Gogol’s Overcoat, The Two Ivans, Nevsky Prospect (Great)
– Gogol’s Viy (Enormous)
– Gogol’s Dead Souls (V. great)
– Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches (V. great)
– Druzhinin’s Polinka Sachs (V. great)
– Grigorovich’s The Hapless Anton (V. great)
– Dickens’ David Copperfield (Enormous)
– Lermontov’s A Hero for our Time, Taman (V. great)
– Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico (Great)

Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, illustrated by Fred Barnard. This books is one of those recommended if you don’t know where to start reading Charles Dickens.

Age 20 to 35

– Goethe. Hermann and Dorothea (V. great)
– Victor Hugo. Notre Dame de Paris (V. great)
Tyutchev’s poems (Great)
Koltsov’s poems (Great)
The Odyssey and The Iliad (read in Russian) (Great)
– Fet’s poems (Great)
– Plato’s Phaedo and Symposium (in Cousin’s translation) (Great)

Age 35 to 50

The Odyssey and The Iliad (in Greek) (V. great)
The Byliny (V. great)
– Victor Hugo. Les Misérables (Enormous)
– Xenophon’s Anabasis (V. great)
Mrs. [Henry] Wood. Novels (Great)
George Eliot. Novels (Great)
Trollope, Novels (Great)

Age 50 to 63

– All the Gospels in Greek (Enormous)
– Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) (V. great)
– Henry George. Progress and Poverty (V. great)
– [Theodore] Parker. Discourse on religious subject (Great)
– [Frederick William] Robertson’s sermons (Great)
– Feuerbach (I forget the title; work on Christianity) [“The Essence of Christianity”]
Pascal’s Pensées (Enormous)
Epictetus (Enor (V. great)
– On the Buddha. Well-known Frenchman (I forget) [“Lalita Vistara”]
Lao-Tzu. Julien [Stanislas Julien, French translator]

For more recommendations by prominent authors, see also the reading list of Ernest Hemingway.