The Circle of Reading

By Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy's daily selection of eternal wisdom to answer the most vital question: How should I live?

Leo Tolstoy spent the last decade of his life collecting the wisdom of the ages from across the whole gamut of history, religions and cultures in search of a practical philosophy of life. He arranged his selections, along with his own thoughts, by topic (e.g. reading, wealth, truth, duty, faith) for every day of the year. The result is his last major work, which he called The Circle of Reading. This is a new, unabridged translation, published as a daily newsletter.

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    The Circle of Reading
    To: Jane Nelson

    On March 15th, 1884, Tolstoy wrote in his diary: “I need to put together a circle of reading for myself: Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Pascal, the Gospels. This is something that others would also find useful.”

    The following year, still contemplating this idea, Tolstoy writes in a letter to Chertkov: “I have experienced the kind of strength, tranquility and happiness this can provide—to communicate with such spirits as Socrates, Epictetus, Arnold, Parker… I really want to put together a circle of reading, i.e. a series of books and selections from them which all speak about the only thing that a human being needs above all else, the purpose of his life, his wellbeing.”

    It would take over a decade for Tolstoy to finally begin working on this idea. In 1903, suffering from a severe illness, Tolstoy begins to work on a book titled “The Thoughts of Wise Men for Every Day.”

    The following year, Tolstoy expands this book and arranges his selections by a particular theme for every day of the year, e.g. God, Reason, Law, Love, Faith, Falsehood, Immortality, Kindness, Freedom and so on. Each day begins and ends with Tolstoy’s own summary of the key idea. He titled this expanded version “The Circle of Reading.”

    This project is my attempt to translate the complete set of Tolstoy's selected thoughts and meditations on the most important questions of our lives.

    About the translator

    My name is Dmitry Fadeyev and I am a writer, designer, and web developer based in the UK. I have translated a selection of Leonid Andreyev's stories, as well as various shorter pieces, including Lermontov's “Borodino,” Maxim Gorky's “Man,” and Vladimir Solovyev's “The Mystery of Progress.” I also publish Falltide, an idea review newsletter.

    Why another translation?

    There are currently two English translations of The Circle of Reading, one by Peter Sekirin, and another by Roger Cockrell. Both are published under the title A Calendar of Wisdom. For whatever reason (likely in order to fit each day on a single page), both translations are abridged, at times considerably. This project is my attempt to translate the complete set of Tolstoy's thoughts and selections, which I am publishing under its original title.