77 Iconic Leo Tolstoy Quotes About Life

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Leo Tolstoy Quotes

Russian novelist and realistic fiction extraordinaire, Leo Tolstoy, is regarded as one of the most exceptional writers of all time. He's published over 24 novels, among them, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilych. From philosophical essays to short stories to novellas, his work spans across a range of content and form.

In 1828, Tolstoy was born in the Tula Province of Russia at his family’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana. His mother died two years after his birth. Seven years after that, his father passed away and his Aunt took custody over him and his three brothers. After his Aunt died, the Tolstoy boys moved to Kazan, Russia, where their other aunt lived.

Needless to say, at a very young age, Leo Tolstoy's heart weighed heavy with grief.

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In 1843, he enrolled himself at the University of Kazan; he dropped out in 1847. In addition to poor grades and a weak work ethic, he partied far too hard and never obtained his degree. He returned to his parent’s estate where he failed miserably at farming. Thus, causing him to enlist as a junker in the Crimean War.

Battles by day, burgeoning writer by night, it wasn't until he joined the army that his writing career took off. When the Crimean War ended, Tolstoy found himself as a major literary figure on the St. Petersburg literary scene.

He died of pneumonia in 1910.

Although he never was the recipient of a Novel Peace Prize, he received nominations from each year in 1901-1906 and 1910. To this day, literary critics dispute over the fact that he never received the award for himself.

The novel, to Tolstoy, was a tool best used to rearrange the psychological framework of one's mind, rather than an entertainment source. Art is not simply pleasure, but the true gateway to reflecting on the human condition.

The impact Tolstoy's writing had on society was incomparable. An advocate for pacifism, his ideas had a profound effect on activists such as Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Cesar Chavez. To this day, War and Peace is considered one of the greatest novels in existence, and his work is championed by many.

Here are 77 awe-inspiring Leo Tolstoy quotes that all will cherish:

1. Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. ― Leo Tolstoy

2. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. — Leo Tolstoy

3. It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness. — Leo Tolstoy

4. I think... if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. — Leo Tolstoy

5. Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. — Leo Tolstoy

6. We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom. — Leo Tolstoy

7. Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them. — Leo Tolstoy

8. When you love someone, you love the person as they are, and not as you'd like them to be. — Leo Tolstoy

9. Be bad, but at least don't be a liar, a deceiver! — Leo Tolstoy

10. Love. The reason I dislike that word is that it means too much for me, far more than you can understand. — Leo Tolstoy

11. The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience. — Leo Tolstoy

12. If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war. — Leo Tolstoy

13. Boredom: the desire for desires. — Leo Tolstoy

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14. There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth. — Leo Tolstoy

15. All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. — Leo Tolstoy

16. It's much better to do good in a way that no one knows anything about it. — Leo Tolstoy

17. The best stories don't come from "good vs. bad" but "good vs. good.” — Leo Tolstoy

18. Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them. — Leo Tolstoy

19. True life is lived when tiny changes occur. — Leo Tolstoy

20. But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable. — Leo Tolstoy

21. If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed. — Leo Tolstoy

22. What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are but how you deal with incompatibility. — Leo Tolstoy

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23. I often think that men don't understand what is noble and what is ignorant, though they always talk about it. — Leo Tolstoy

24. We are asleep until we fall in Love! — Leo Tolstoy

25. Everything I know, I know because of love. — Leo Tolstoy

26. To get rid of an enemy one must love him. — Leo Tolstoy

27. Every lie is a poison; there are no harmless lies. Only the truth is safe. Only the truth gives me consolation — it is the one unbreakable diamond. — Leo Tolstoy

28. Every heart has its own skeletons. — Leo Tolstoy

29. Which is worse? the wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not. — Leo Tolstoy

30. There are no conditions to which a person cannot grow accustomed, especially if he sees that everyone around him lives in the same way. — Leo Tolstoy

31. Here's my advice to you: don't marry until you can tell yourself that you've done all you could, and until you've stopped loving the women you've chosen, until you see her clearly, otherwise you'll be cruelly and irremediably mistaken. Marry when you're old and good for nothing...Otherwise all that's good and lofty in you will be lost. — Leo Tolstoy

32. I sit on a man's back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible....except by getting off his back. — Leo Tolstoy

33. The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless. — Leo Tolstoy

34. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story. — Leo Tolstoy

35. Everything depends on upbringing. — Leo Tolstoy

36. The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him. — Leo Tolstoy

37. Writing laws is easy, but governing is difficult. — Leo Tolstoy

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38. We love people not so much for the good they've done us, as for the good we've done them. — Leo Tolstoy

39. When one's head is gone one doesn't weep over one's hair! — Leo Tolstoy

40. Life is too long to say anything definitely; always say perhaps. — Leo Tolstoy

41. Everything ends in death, everything. Death is terrible. — Leo Tolstoy

42. History would be a wonderful thing – if it were only true. — Leo Tolstoy

43. In order to understand, observe, deduce, man must first be conscious of himself as alive. — Leo Tolstoy

44. Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold. — Leo Tolstoy

45. People of limited intelligence are fond of talking about "these days," imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of "these days" and that human nature changes with the times. — Leo Tolstoy

46. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. — Leo Tolstoy

47. Hell is the inability to love. — Leo Tolstoy

48. He never chooses an opinion, he just wears whatever happens to be in style. — Leo Tolstoy

49. I felt a wish never to leave that room - a wish that dawn might never that my present frame of mind might never change. — Leo Tolstoy

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50. There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent. — Leo Tolstoy

51. It's different for you and me. You study, you become enlightened; I study, I become confused. — Leo Tolstoy

52. I don't think badly of people. I like everybody, and I'm sorry for everybody. — Leo Tolstoy

53. Speech is silver but silence is golden. — Leo Tolstoy

54. What's all this love of arguing? No one ever convinces anyone else. — Leo Tolstoy

55. How strange it is that when I was a child I tried to be like a grownup, yet as soon as I ceased to be a child I often longed to be like one. — Leo Tolstoy

57. Happiness is pleasure without regret. — Leo Tolstoy

58. Life is fragile and absurd. — Leo Tolstoy

59. Power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand. — Leo Tolstoy

60. I think that in order to know love one must make a mistake and then correct it. — Leo Tolstoy

61. Mathematics is the queen of disciplines.... it will drive the nonsense out of your head! — Leo Tolstoy

62. I can never forget what is my whole life. — Leo Tolstoy

63. I'd rather end up wishing I hadn’t than end up wishing I had. — Leo Tolstoy

64. Pure, perfect sorrow is as impossible as pure and perfect joy. — Leo Tolstoy

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65. When in doubt, my dear fellow, do nothing. — Leo Tolstoy

66. Satan can never be driven out by Satan. Error can never be corrected by error, and evil cannot be vanquished by evil. — Leo Tolstoy

67. To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can’t eat it. — Leo Tolstoy

68. Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. — Leo Tolstoy

69. Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts. — Leo Tolstoy

70. Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here. — Leo Tolstoy

71. A man is never such an egotist as at moments of spiritual ecstasy. At such times it seems to him that there is nothing on earth more splendid and interesting than himself. — Leo Tolstoy

72. Therein is the whole business of one’s life; to seek out and save in the soul that which is perishing.— Leo Tolstoy

73. The feelings resembled memories; but memories of what? Apparently one can remember things that have never happened. — Leo Tolstoy

74. I know now that people only seem to live when they care only for themselves, and that it is by love for others that they really live. — Leo Tolstoy

75. I did not myself know what I wanted: I feared life, desired to escape from it, yet still hoped something of it. — Leo Tolstoy

76. I had begun to feel that life was a repetition of the same thing; that there was nothing new either in me or in him; and that, on the contrary, we kept going back as it were on what was old. — Leo Tolstoy

77. Some mathematician said: "Pleasure lies not in discovering truth, but in seeking it." — Leo Tolstoy

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Izzy Casey is a writer who covers quotes, relationship and pop culture topics.