Short Story: How Much Land Does a Man Need?

How Much Land Does a Man Need, a short story by Leo Tolstoy, written in1886. You can read it here, for free.

All of our children read this recently, and being somewhat out of the loop, I took a half hour today to read it. I do not regret it. First of all, it’s Tolstoy, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee satisfaction, but it definitely guarantees food for thought. The story is less than 20 pages long, which costs very little of your time. Consequently, I will offer a teaser, but no quotes, leaving you to decide for yourself if you wish to invest the half hour of your life.

Pakhom is peasant man, enjoying a happy and healthy life. One day, he overhears his wife debating with her wealthy sister the advantages and disadvantages of country life versus urbane life. He says to himself, “If only I had more land, I wouldn’t fear the Devil himself.” He has no idea that the Devil is sitting behind the stove, eavesdropping on him as he muses to himself aloud, and things begin to get quite interesting.

We read a hard copy pamphlet of this story which was prefaced by an 8-page foreword by Os Guinness. I decided to read the story before reading the foreward, so as not to be “tainted” by someone else’s analysis of this beloved morality tale. I will however, share a snippet from Guinness’ foreword:

Throughout history, the most universally acknowledged problem with money is that its pursuit is insatiable. As we seek money and possessions, observers note, the pursuit grows into a never-satisfied desire that fuels avarice- described by the Bible as a vain “chasing after the wind,” by Buddhists as “craving,” and by moderns as an “addiction.” The very Hebrew word for money (kesef) comes from a verb meaning “to desire” or “languish after something.” This emphasis is important because avarice is often confused with an Ebeneezer Scrooge- like hoarding. Traditionally, however, it has been better described as a form of spiritual dropsy or an incurable thirst that can never be slaked. The insatiability touches two areas: getting what we do not have and clutching on to what we do.

If you have a spare 30 minutes of reading time and you haven’t read this one (or haven’t read it in a very long time), give it a read. It’ll make you think.

4 thoughts on “Short Story: How Much Land Does a Man Need?

  1. Eternity Matters says:

    That was a great story, thanks for sharing. The lesson of being content with what you have and not just thinking of yourself is timeless.

    I’ve always enjoyed Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They definitely had a farm vs. city tension going in 19th century Russia. If only they could have seen how bad things would get with the Communists!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bike Bubba says:

    Oops! That noted,getting to there is most of the fun Reminds me of the old joke: how many Russian novelists does it take to change a light bulb?

    Answer: one, but it takes him 400 pages to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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