I probably could not have told you anything about Russian literature before I enrolled in college. But not long after I arrived, I began to hear my older classmates rave about a must-take course from Gary Saul Morson in which students read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. A couple years later I finally took the class, and my life has never been the same. Through the eyes of these world-renowned authors, especially Dostoevsky, I began to gain deeper perspective on sin, relationships, world history, meaning, and much more. I went on to take another course devoted solely to Dostoevsky and continued even in private reading to seek out Russian insights that had thus far eluded my Western formation.
You can understand, then, why I was so encouraged to see the new book Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times by University of Virginia professor Andrew Kaufman. I looked forward to learning more what I missed the first time reading through the fabled classic, and Kaufman did not disappoint. Full of fascinating details about Tolstoy's tumultuous life, the book explores his gift and aims as an artist along with his strong convictions that inspired the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela. Kaufman even dares to apply Tolstoy's views to today's troubles and thus shows why this 19th-century novel deserves contemporary readership.