cover image The Gospel in Brief: The Life of Jesus

The Gospel in Brief: The Life of Jesus

Leo Tolstoy, trans. from the Russian by Dustin Condren, Harper Perennial, $10.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-199345-9

Tolstoy's no-frills, just-the-facts-ma'am version of the life of Jesus Christ and his teachings makes a readable account out of the four Gospels that begin the New Testament, but it bears little stylistic trace of the Tolstoy familiar to most readers. Starting with the conception by an "unknown father" (but glossing over the first 30 years of Jesus' life) and ending with the crucifixion (but avoiding the resurrection), Tolstoy's account is a tight, accessible, and refreshing distillation of Christ's teachings. The author eschews the miracles from Christ's story to focus instead on his messages. Those messages can be pedantic, but generally are conveyed with economy, although some of Christ's teachings—for instance, his views on celibacy for bachelors—are a hard sell today. Tolstoy's preface, in which he explains his conversion to Christianity and justifies his reconstruction of the Gospels by arguing that Jesus never wrote his own version, is a nice addition, as is the appendix of verses the Russian author draws on for his life of Christ. (Mar.)