Great Short Works

ISBN: 0060586974
ISBN 13: 9780060586973
By: Leo Tolstoy Aylmer Maude Louise Maude John Bayley

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Classics Currently Reading Fiction Literature Russia Russian Russian Lit Russian Literature Short Stories To Read

About this book

Of all Russian writers Leo Tolstoy is probably the best known to the Western world, largely because of War and Peace, his epic in prose, and Anna Karenina, one of the most splendid novels in any language. But during his long lifetime Tolstoy also wrote enough shorter works to fill many volumes. Here reprinted in one volume are his eight finest short novels, together with "Alyosha the Pot", the little tale that Prince Mirsky described as "a masterpiece of rare perfection."The Death of Ivan IlychThe CossacksFamily HappinessThe DevilThe Kreutzer SonataMaster and ManFather SergiusHaji MuradAlyosha the Pot

Reader's Thoughts

Kris Newman

Below is a review I wrote for in 2003. I think it sums up my thoughts on Tolstoy quite nicely! - KrisTolstoy? Timeless!What Men Live ByBy Kris A. NewmanNovember 3, 2003In an age where we are inundated with information, sometimes it’s hard to remember what the nitty-gritty of Christianity is all about—is it found in worship? Is it found in Bible memorization? Is it found in hearing the best preacher? Isn’t there someone who can tell us the simple rules that men ought to live by?Actually, the simple lesson has been found. Count Leo Tolstoy wrote it many years ago in his novella and short story collection entitled What Men Live By and Other Tales.It begins with What Men Live By, where we find an angel named Michael, disobedient to the plan of God, has fallen to earth and relies upon the mercy of a simple peasant family. Michael is assigned three lessons to learn—what dwells in man, what is not given to man, and what men live by. Unwittingly, the peasants and their neighbors teach him the answers.Woven through this beautiful allegory of giving is a sense of common beauty. The beauty of family life and community breathe through every chapter. Tolstoy’s characters live simply, unburdened by the traps of possessions. They have one another. They have their work. They have God. What else could they need? They are not oblivious to the grand riches of the wealthy around them. Rather, they are satisfied with the richness of their relationships.The first lesson is learned when the peasant looks beyond his own discomfort to share his coat and clothes with Michael as he suffered by the wayside. The peasant’s wife, likewise, has pity on Michael. They feed him, clothe him, and give him work. Their kindness teaches Michael that love is what dwells in man.A year later, a verbose, obnoxious wealthy man demands that Michael make him a pair of boots from a specially tanned piece of hide. The rich man threatens that Michael will not be paid for the work unless the boots last for an entire year as if they were new. Michael, however, sees the death angel hovering near the rich man. He knows that God is about to take the man’s life. Carefully, he cuts and stitches the leather into a very fine pair of slippers. While the confused peasant is reprimanding Michael for wasting the gentleman’s materials, a messenger enters to tell them the gentleman perished before arriving home. They will need burial slippers instead. Thus, it was learned that it is not given to man to know what he needs. One must rely upon God for his needs to be met.Several years pass before the final lesson is learned. Through the telling of a sad story with a rich ending, we learn that men live by love for another.I John 4:20 tells us, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20). Tolstoy is clearly teaching this lesson in What Men Live By. This thought is exemplified by the last line of the story, “All men live not by the thought they spend on their own welfare, but because love exists in man.” When we learn to give, we discover a new depth in God and the relationship He has with us.Continuing on this theme, Tolstoy moves on to “Three Questions,” the story of a king who seeks to find the answers to these questions—“What is the most important thing to do? Who is the most important person? When is the most important time?” The answers are found when the king becomes actively engaged in helping others. The busier the king is about giving, the happier and safer his life becomes.“The Coffee House of Surat” explores thoughts of spiritual prejudice and misconception. A discussion of religiosity introduced by a bitter, deceived man causes a disruption in the coffee house. Finally, a student of Confucius quietly addresses the crowd. He likens God to the sun and man’s ideas of God to their ideas of the sun. He concludes that the more learned a man becomes about the subject of God, the more he realizes how big God is, how small man is; He points out that our relationship with God should draw us closer to one another and never cause us to become haughty.Finally, the Devil presents himself to a man who is overcome with greed in “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Driven to succeed, Pahom continues seeking after the elusive perfect piece of land. Finally, the title question is answered—six feet deep by six feet long. That’s all you have in the end.It is common knowledge that the great Russian author was a wealthy landowner. How, then, could he write about peasant life, and why would he choose peasant life as his recurring subject in this book? (After all, he did write War and Peace.)However, Tolstoy had a spiritual awakening of some sort in his later years. Realizing his need of people rather than riches, he denounced the money he made, freed his serfs, and worked among them as an equal. Thus, his teachings relating to Christianity flow from a forgiven heart.Although rife with historical intricacies, the substance of Tolstoy’s teaching is timeless. Likewise, the opium drink in the coffee house was a common thing in Tolstoy’s day and certainly not allowable today. However, coffee houses still brew conversations and discussions as meeting places for bright minds.Tolstoy is worth reading. Just don’t start with War and Peace. Start with his short story collections. You need go no© 2003, Kris Newman


This collection of short stories are the best. Highly recommend this gem.


He is an amazing writer. His short works are perfect introduction to his minds and to beginners alike. I definitely recommends Leo Tolstoy beginners to read his short works first before moving on to his major novels like Anna Karenina or War And Peace in order to get used to his style of writing.I enjoyed this purchase very much.

Lb Song

The marvel of Tolstoy is his instinctive grasp of the desperate choices humans face in life.He has an uncanny skill in both portraying our ability to love and hate, as well as our motivations and fears. When reading his stories, I often feel myself completely succumbing to his world, as if I’ve known the characters my whole life. The deep emotional and intellectual resonance of his works stay with me long after I close the pages.Such a work is The Death of Ivan Ilych, a short story published in 1886.In it, the reader can see the roots of the moral questions that Tolstoy himself will wrestle with his whole life. The primary question being: what is a good life?For Ivan Ilych, he had answered this question by leading a life that was, “the most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible”. A dutiful Russian bureaucrat, his navigated life by relying on the good sense of society to decide what was proper. His chief pleasure came from a sense of his own power over inferiors, and secondary pleasures from playing bridge and indulging in bourgeoisie tastes at home.Yet throughout this innocent ascendance in social position, there were cracks that betrayed a denial of the truth underneath the life of “legality, correctitude, and propriety”. The truth at last manifested itself in the form of physical and psychological pain, plaguing him endlessly and making life more miserable than death. Faced with this curse and sensing death’s close presence, Ivan Ilych began to wonder, “What if my whole life had been wrong?”.Ilych looked backed at his life, and realized suddenly, “all that for which he had lived- and saw clearly that it was not real at all, but a terrible and huge deception which had hidden both life and death. This consciousness intensified his physical suffering tenfold.”The book ends without answering the question of what is the right life, and the only clue the reader is left with is the fresh and sunny image of Gerásim, a peasant in Ilych’s household. Gerásim alone sympathized with his master’s pain. Yet, his simple nature was unperturbed by the thought of death, and presumably his close relationship with nature allowed him to view it as a natural cycle.In Gerásim’s character, one can see Tolstoy’s admiration for the life-affirming powers of the countryside, which is echoed in Anna Karenina and other works.Tolstoy peeled back the layers of ordinary life to remonstrate against its lack of meaning, but because he was just as human as his characters, he could not show the path to a correct life. He leaves us with the image of Ivan Ilych screaming during his last days in anguish, encapsulating a hidden existential malaise that Tolstoy would struggle with his whole life.


I really enjoy Tolstoy's short works. Some are okay, and some are quite brilliant with deep, inspiring messages.

Natalie Bird

This is a fantastic collection both if you've never read Tolstoy, or if you're a seasoned fan. The Kreutzer Sonata is by far my favorite, though the Death of Ivan Ilych and Family Happiness are not far behind. Tolstoy always manages to write in a manner that makes you surprised this was the 1800's and not yesterday. However, as others have mentioned, this is akin to a "Greatest Hits" album, more than a cohesive collection of similar stories.

Loreen Niewenhuis

Gotta read the masters, man...Tolstoy does it all: life & death, love & lust, faith & hopelessness.


Many of these short stories are worthy of any and all accolades one could bestow. Superb, excellent writing all around.


Some of the most memorable stories I have read in this volume of short works, "The Death of Ivan Illich", "Father Sergius", "Family Happiness" all there. Some of these stories come back to me frequently triggered by every day occurrences. They are very definitely answers to what Tolstoy thought life was all about.

Erin Hutson

I had this book for a class freshman year, and returned to it for a class this year. I was reaffirmed my love for Tolstoy. He's an absolute literary genius and a short story expert.

Elijah Kinch Spector

A great collection. This book is all Maude translations, which may be a bit dated at times, but are overall quite good. Stories I've read so far: The Kreutzer Sonata The Death of Ivan Ilyich The Cossacks


Referring strictly to this particular edition: I speak only a lazy variation of the English language, so when I can tell that a translation is bad something is seriously wrong. I read only "Hadji Murad" and "The Cossacks". The stories themselves were strong enough to shine through, but the wording and syntax was so awkward that I just put the book down and decided to find better translations of the rest.

James Violand

Great works containing The Cossacks, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and The Kreutzer Sonata.


This edition is shit. The printing is terrible - I don't know how to describe bad printing but, like, the thing with the words didn't press down hard enough on the paper or whatever.


The saving grace of the collection was "Family Happiness," this work captivated my mind. I had come across a few quotes from this which hurried me to Tolstoy's shorter works. The complex play of both "marriage" & "innocence" put forth by Tolstoy here make me jovial.

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