The Russian Winter


Minard grafficDear Russell & Friends,

A short post on a long book?  The graphic by Minard above is hanging in my study.  I first saw it in consultation with our hospital’s statistician.  He described it as the best information graphic ever.  I purchased the inexpensive print in an Edward Tufte conference on the graphical display of information that my oldest and I attended together 5 years ago.  Hobby Lobby did the rest.

The graphic depicts Napoleon’s march to and retreat from Moscow in the War of 1812.  And that was the extent of my knowledge until reading Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.  Like a visit to Israel, reading and reflecting on this book takes time.  Tolstoy has fascinated me since I read that his apologetic influenced but did not convince Gandhi.  I took Oprah’s advice to read Anna Karenina and found my favorite opening line ever, an explanation for my upbringing, and a hope for my children and grandchildren:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

Like so many of you, my history and future is an amalgam of the clauses of this brilliant sentence.  I found that Anna Karenina was a profound portrait of humanity and I found in Levin a man I could admire and even emulate in his pursuit of authentic faith.  So, when the the itch to read War & Peace arose, I was ready to scratch.  I listened to the story from Audible, just less than 1 hour a day with occasional splurges on the way to the airport.  It took a quarter of a year.

And here I am – – done.  I wrote the topics that Tolstoy approached in my journal and I’d like to share them here soon.  It is astonishing.  Calculus, astronomy, medicine, literature, theology, history, philosophy and so much more.  The characters, at least 20 major, became friends or even worthy opponents.  And here I am – – done.  As the Texas Winter begins I can’t help but feel let down.  Finishing an amazing book leaves me wistful.  Will my life ever be apportioned with the time and knowledge to write like that, even read like that in more than borrowed minutes?

Consider this an introduction if you will.  I missed you in the blog and hoped that writing about reading would help get me off dead center.  May I ask?

  • Do you enjoy long books?
  • Do you feel a let down when they are done?
  • Have you read Tolstoy?
  • What were you surprised to learn in War & Peace?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  Charles Joseph Minard’s work, hanging in my study


  1. I have not read War and Peace. I have also not read Anna Karenina. Mainly because, out of desperation for English language material in Argentina, I read Crime and Punishment twice in high school. I’m still recovering… :0)

    But give me anything by Dickens, and I’ll wist with the best.


  2. I used to read longer books, but I find that my attention span these days won’t allow me to go over 300 or so pages. The book I just started is 309. I guess the reason is that, at some point over the course of a longer book, I am bound to have a season when I cannot touch it because of work or family commitments. If that season is of any significant length, I’ll forget where I was in the book or simply lose interest. I tend to not start a book I can’t finish over some predetermined course of time. That said, my schedule is quite open until January, so if you have any recommendations for a long one I should read, I’d love to hear it. And no—I haven’t read Tolstoy.

    With any good book (not just a long one) I feel a sense of loss when it is over. I know a book is good when I keep looking at the pages I hold in my right hand and comparing them to the pages in my left, growing increasingly disappointed as the stack on the right dwindles. I know it was good when I close it after the last page and sigh and just think—when I can’t quite move on right away to whatever was next on my list of tasks for the day. It has been a while since I’ve read one like that.


  3. Tolstoy changed the world without discovering a philosophy or making a revolution. He simply tried to show the truth in the world of mendacity he was living in.
    He, as we may see through his wife diaries – she have not always been an happy women, though they were married for about six decades and they loved one another very much – was not coherent in his real life with what he wishes humankind might be and that made him a very unhappy man though being a genius recognized all over the world. The ‘father’ of the Russian revolution – not in the bloody and barbarian way it became! – were Tolstoi humanitarian ideas.
    Curiously, and though constantly being rude with the Russian aristocratic society he knew so well and he belonged to, he lived, to the end- when politicians were already using him and he could no more bare the stress between his family life and his disciples – a stable life till one of his secretaries convinced him to abandon his family home somedays before his death.
    But he remained to posterity the great man and the great christian he was, not a moralist but a man faithful to his principles and values and faithful to those who cherish and respected him.
    I had once the opportunity of speaking with someone – Lanza del Vasto – who had met him and lived the last months of his life among his followers that surrounded Yasnaia Pollyanna. He STOOD there to the end. That was TOLSTOi!

    The friend who presented me to LdV was a man who had once been a great politician but, due to a lot o reasons, he was by then teaching in a great university in Spain where his culture and intelligence were admired and where he wrote two very important books on his academic area. He had three children, each one from a different woman, and every week he traveled to Lisbon, where he had a very pretty house – not with many things but with beautiful and valuable things that had belonged to his family and he thought important for the children to feel them – and in this weekly dinner children learned to respect him as a father that links them to a common story. During Christmas and Summer holidays he always spent one or two weeks with them. During the rest of the time the children lived with their mothers and frequented the best schools either in Portugal and abroad.
    Disappointed with the society (he had first disappointed…) he didin’t give a dam for them and though talking to them when they met he avoided social life. He went to concerts, operas, he frequented women whenever he needed without creating compromises, and he manage to regain equilibrium to his life and to his children’s life, who understood that being a tolerant and friendly father his life, even though he had spend sometime questioning the existence of God, had the universal rules that allow us to live a stable life.
    That was my very good FRIEND! Who God cherish and protect because he learned to assume his controversy actions with courage and self proud.



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