Tolstoy was born the son of a noble landowner in Russia but his mother died when he was two and his father when he was nine. He was then raised by relatives, first a grandmother, who died, then an aunt, who also died, and finally another aunt.
He was educated privately and then went to university, where he came under the influence of the teaching of Jean Jacques Rousseau. He left without graduating and plunged into a life of dissipation in Moscow high society. In 1851 he joined his brother in the Caucasus where he came to admire the Cossack way of life. He returned to St. Petersburg in 1856 and became more and more interested in the welfare of his serfs and progressive education, starting an influential school in the estate village of Yasnaya Polyana.
He married and had 13 children but his marriage was not happy and he was tormented by the disparity between his beliefs and his own great wealth.
He left home at the age of 82 and died alone a few days later.
He is most famous today as one of the greatest novelists in history, his most famous novels being War and Peace and Anna Karenina.