Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.


A Confession (1882)

by Leo Tolstoy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7752227,049 (4.05)26
This work marks the author's movement from the pursuit of aesthetic ideals toward matters of religious and philosophical consequence. The poignant text describes Tolstoy's heartfelt reexamination of Christian orthodoxy and subsequent spiritual awakening. Generations of readers have been inspired by this timeless account of one man's struggle for faith and meaning in life.… (more)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 26 mentions

English (20)  Esperanto (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
ok boomer ( )
  hk- | Apr 12, 2023 |
This a fascinating account of Tolstoys search for answers to the basic existential questions - who am I, and what is the meaning of my life? He was depressed for a long time as he rejected science and philosophy to answer his search for truth and meaning. Also, leaving a lot of orthodox beliefs and church dogmatic but finding an answer in the simple life of faith that the peasants and poor people display. ( )
  ctpress | Jan 9, 2023 |
This book describes Tolstoy's struggle with depression. Though nominally Christian, he lacked belief in his early years. As he became a well-known writer, he found that people were congratulating him while he lived a life of debauchery. He is especially confused that people look to writers as teachers, while he himself does not know what he is teaching. Finding no satisfaction in life, he feels the desire to end it. Life, he feels, is a "stupid and eil practical joke someone is playing on me." When he consults philosophy, he finds the general thesis that life has no meaning. And science doesn't have much in the way of a practical answer.

For people of his social class, he says there are 4 answers: ignore it, engage in epicureanism, kill yourself, or live a knowingly meaningless life. But when he starts to look at how people actually live, this supposedly indubitable answer crumbles. The problem is one of comparison of different times -- life is finite but a proper meaning is (or at least feels like it should be) infinite. The only real answer to this is faith.

"Faith is the force of life. If a man lives, then he must have faith in something. If he did not believe that he had something he must live for, then he would not live."

In this light, we are parts of an infinite. Without faith, we just spin our wheels endlessly when it comes to meaning. Tolstoy finds his philosophy best represented by the "poor, the simple, the uneducated folk." They endure without question or resistance.

This is my favorite passage in the book:

"If a naked, hungry beggar should be taken from the crossroads and led into an enclosed area in a magnificent establishment to be given food and drink, and if he should then be made to move some kind of lever up and down, it is obvious that before determining why he was brought there to move the lever and whether the structure of the establishment was reasonable, the beggar must first work the lever. If he will work it, then he will see that it operates a pump, that the pump draws up water, and that the water flows into a garden. Then he will be taken from the enclosed area and set to another task, and then he will gather fruits and enter into the joy of his lord. As he rises from lower to higher concerns, understanding more and more about the structure of the establishment and becoming part of it, he will never think to ask why he is there, and there is no way he will ever come to reproach his master.

Thus the simple, uneducated working people, whom we look upon as animals, do the will of their master without ever reproaching him. But we, the wise, consume everything the master provides without doing what he asks of us; instead, we sit in a circle and speculate on why we should do something so stupid as moving this lever up and down. And we have hit upon an answer. We have figured it out that either the master is stupid or he does not exist, while we alone are wise; only we feel that we are good for nothing and that we must somehow get rid of ourselves."

The agonizing feeling Tolstoy had while he wanted to kill himself but didn't was the search for God. Then Tolstoy makes this point which always bothers me: while he believes in God, he lives and while he doesn't, he dies; therefore, he should believe in God."

Anyway, he realizes that luxury is just a shroud over life. "Man's task in life is to save his soul." He used to see faith as an arbitrary position. He saw it as "useless gibberish." But faith is something that cannot really be expressed because it is not a single answer, but as many as there are people.
  ashwinreddy | Jan 7, 2022 |
Tolstoy weaves a beautiful tapestry of his journey of doubt. I found it extremely relevant to our struggles today with teenage depression, increased rates of suicide, and the millennial struggle for meaning. His description of science and art resonated strongly with me. One I hope to revisit in future. :) ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
Reread this over Mother's Day weekend, 2021. Made some comparison of it to the 2014 translation by Peter Carson; will consider making more comparisons.
  Elizabeth80 | May 9, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leo Tolstoyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Briggs, AnthonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dunmore, HelenForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
First words
True religion is the establishment, in accord with reason and human knowledge, of a relationship between man and the infinity that surrounds him, which binds him to that infinity and also determines his actions. (Chapter Three)
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


This work marks the author's movement from the pursuit of aesthetic ideals toward matters of religious and philosophical consequence. The poignant text describes Tolstoy's heartfelt reexamination of Christian orthodoxy and subsequent spiritual awakening. Generations of readers have been inspired by this timeless account of one man's struggle for faith and meaning in life.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alum

Leo Tolstoy's book A Confession was available from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Popular covers

Quick Links


Average: (4.05)
1 3
2 7
2.5 1
3 20
3.5 2
4 62
4.5 3
5 52

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

» Publisher information page


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 194,743,187 books! | Top bar: Always visible