Brain Pickings

Tolstoy Reads from ‘A Calendar of Wisdom': Rare 1909 Recording


The beloved Russian author, shortly before his death, on the object of life.

“I’m only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation,” Susan Sontag famously confessed in her collected meditations on love. And yet, one some level, in ways both resolute and subtle, almost all of us are on a constant quest to get better at life.

Last week marked 129 years since Leo Tolstoly conceived of A Calendar of Wisdom — his Tumblr-like compendium of famous thoughts on the meaning of life, which took him twenty years to complete. In this rare audio from 1909, recorded four years after the book was finalized and a year before Tolstoy passed away, the beloved author reads a passage from the book that bespeaks that universal pursuit of self-improvement:

That the object of life is self-perfection, the perfection of all immortal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be correct by the fact alone that every other object is essentially a new object. Therefore, the question whether thou hast done what thou shoudst have done is of immense importance, for the only meaning of thy life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He who or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?

Imbibe some of the wisdom Tolstoy collected in the book, including his own meditations on knowledge and life, here, then revisit his journey of finding meaning in a meaningless world.

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