How Much Land does a Man Need? and Other Stories
Leo Tolstoy
Penguin Books, New York (USA), 1993 (1886)
228 pages

Much to my own embarrassment, I must acknowledge that I had never read any of Tolstoy's books until now (no, it is far from being the only serious hole in my cultural knowledge). As serendipity has it, I was recently reading an article published somewhere on the Web on a topic that is not related at all, where the author referred to one of the stories contained in this volume: How Much Land Does a Man Need?. If I remember correctly, the author of the article was discussing our human tendency to be overly ambitious and always wanting to pile up more and more possessions around us. Well, if that was the case, he did well in illustrating his point with this story.

How Much Land Does a Man Need? tells us the story of a peasant named Pakhom who complains that he does not have enough land to satisfy his own needs and those of his family. In a moment of weakness, he says to himself, "if I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!". Little did he know that the Devil was actually listening and already scheming a plan against him. The thing is that, after some time, Pakhom is introduced to the Bashkirs who, supposedly, are so simple-minded that they own a huge amount of land, do not know what to do with it and are always willing to give it away for a pittance. The peasant decides to visit these strange people, and they make him an interesting offer: for a total of a thousand rubles, he can walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak, marking the route with a spade along way. If, by the end of the day, he reaches the starting point, the entire area of land enclosed by his route is his. Although Pakhom is delighted by the deal, he soon discovers that there is a major problem he did not take into account: his own greed. And let us just leave it at that, so we do not reveal the end of the story.

Other stories included in this collection are just as entertaining and deep. For example, What Men Live By tells us the story of a shoemaker who goes out one day to buy sheep-skins to sew a winter coat for his wife and himself, accidentally encounters a stranger next to a church and brings him home, much to his wife's distaste. However, the stranger turns out to be an excellent assistant in his business and works hard without much of a complaint. In the end, it turned out that Simon, the stranger, was actually a fallen angel who had been sent to Earth by God to learn the answer to the following key vital questions: what dwells in man? , what is not given to man?, and what do men live by?

Both these stories and others from this volume are a clear example of the strand of Christian Anarchism espoused by Tolstoy. They are entertaining enough for the contemporary reader (at least I think so, unless, perhaps, the reader is too heavily influenced by the chase-and-run style of recent literature, I suppose) while, at the same time, containing a kernel of moral knowledge. In other words, this is great classic literature, not just the usual stuff that is popular these days (i.e., fodder for the masses, a "product" for the market).

Entertainment Factor: 6/10
Artistic Factor: 8/10