Leo Tolstoy was a Russian novelist born in 1828. A profound social and moral thinker, Tolstoy was one of the greatest writers of realistic fiction during his time. The son of a nobleman landowner, Tolstoy was orphaned at the age of 9 and taught mainly by tutors from countries like Germany and France.
At the young age of 16, he enrolled in Kazan University but quickly became dissatisfied with his studies and dropped out soon after. After a brief, futile attempt to improve the conditions of the serfs on his estate, he plunged into the dissipations of Moscow's high society.
In 1851, Tolstoy joined his brother's regiment at the Caucasus, where he first met with cossacks. He later portrayed the natural cossacks life with sympathy and poetic realism in his novel 'The Cossacks', published in 1863. Tolstoy completed two autobiographical novels during his time in the regiment and the works received instant acclaim.
Back in Saint Petersburg (now Leningrad) Tolstoy became interested in the education of peasants and started a local elementary school that fostered progressive education.
In 1862 he married 18 year old Sofya Andreyevna Bers, a member of a cultured Moscow family. In the next 15 years he raised a large family, ultimately having 19 children. During this time he also managed his estate and wrote his two most famous novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).
In the uniquely candid powerful novel Confession, Tolstoy described his spiritual unrest and started his long journey toward moral and social certainty. He found them in two principals of the Christian gospels: love for all human beings and resistance to the forces of evil. From within autocratic Russia, Tolstoy fearlessly attacked social inequality and coercive forms of government and church authority. His didactic essays, translated into many different languages, won hearts in many countries and from all walks of life, many of whom visited him in Russia seeking advice.
At the age of 82, increasingly tormented by the disparity between his teachings, his personal wealth and by endless fights with his wife, Tolstoy walked away from his home late one night.
He became ill three days later and died on November 20, 1910 at a remote railway station. At his death he was praised the world over for being a wonderfully moral man. That force and his timeless and universal art continue to provide inspiration today.