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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Tolstoy on Aesthetics: What Is Art? by H. O. Mounce (Ashgate) This book presents a clear exposition of Tolstoy's What is Art?, highlighting the value and importance of Tolstoy's views in relation to aesthetics. Mounce considers the problems which exercised Tolstoy and explains their fundamental importance in contemporary disputes. Having viewed these problems of aesthetics as they arise in a classic work, H. O. Mounce affords readers fresh insights not simply into the problems of aesthetics themselves, but also into their contemporary treatment. Students and interested readers of aesthetics and philosophy, as well as those exploring the works of Tolstoy in literature, will find this book of particular interest and will discover that reading What is Art? With attention, affords something of the excitement found in removing the grime from an oil painting ‑ gradually from underneath there appears an authentic masterpiece.

 Tolstoy believed that the importance of art lies not in its purely aesthetic qualities but in its connection with life, and that it becomes decadent when that connection is lost. This view has often been misconceived and its strength overlooked. My purpose is to correct the conventional view by giving a clear exposition of what Tolstoy really meant.


Students of aesthetics who are primarily interested in What is Art?, Tolstoy's main work in aesthetics, may wish to concentrate on Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10. They will there find a detailed exposition of the work, chapter by chapter. My exposition is critical where this is appropriate but my chief aim has been to bring out what is valuable and important in the work.

 The more general reader who is primarily interested in Tolstoy as a man and as a thinker will find in the first two chapters an account of his life and of the background to his thought. Chapter 9 presents a detailed case study of the type of art to which Tolstoy is opposed. Since I believe that my work will be of interest to students of literature, I have concluded with a chapter on Tolstoy's famous view of Shakespeare. This view has often been criticized‑for example, by George Orwell ‑ as the result of prejudice. I show that this criticism is mistaken. Even those who disagree with Tolstoy's view can learn much about Shakespeare by studying it closely.

 Student and general reader alike will discover that reading What is Art? with attention affords something of the excitement found in removing the grime from an old painting. Gradually, from underneath, there appears an authentic masterpiece.

The Wisdom of Humankind by Leo Tolstoy, introduced, translated and abridged by Guy de Mallac (CoNexus Press) Leo Tolstoy’s brilliant summation of wisdom from across the ages was based on his deep encounter with Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Baha'i, and other religious and philosophical texts. Originally published in 1911 in Russia, this new English edition, the first since 1919, further distills Tolstoy's final work into a compact and accessible volume. Readers will find here clear and challenging guidance for a spiritually grounded life, based on Tolstoy's synthesis of the wisdom conveyed by humanity's best teachers.

LEO TOLSTOY (1828-1910) was among the very greatest of Russian novelists and thinkers. His courageous perspectives inspired readers Worldwide. Tolstoy received over 50,000 letters, including appreciative correspondence from the young M. K. Gandhi. The main points of his philosophy are spiritual self‑improvement, renunciation of violence and hoarding, and love and respect for all living beings. Among his other works are War and Peace, Anna Karenina, My Confession, and various calendars of wisdom.

GUY DE MALLAC has enriched this translation of Tolstoy's work with introductions to his life and writings, and appendices on his search for wisdom, key terms, suggested readings, and sources. De Mallac is Professor at the University of California, Irvine, where he teaches Russian studies and nonviolence. He is the author of Boris Pasternak: His Life and Art, and Remedies to Mass Poverty.

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