Most people who know more than the most cursory information about Leo Tolstoy know that he was a bit obsessed with religion. While Tolstoy is most famous for his epic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, it was shorter explorations of religion that took up most of his time. Though Tolstoy had great affection for the teachings of Jesus, he had considerable disdain for the organized church itself and much of what Christianity had become.
In an attempt to reconcile his belief with his conscious, Tolstoy set out to rewrite the gospels, focusing entirely on the teachings of Jesus without all the miraculous distractions. These includes the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the very divinity of Jesus. Theologically, The Gospel in Brief is a success. Much of Tolstoy's gospel is probably more indicative of the historical fact. Certainly, it allows the reader to see the compassionate, wise teacher that has been hidden under superstition and dogma. But strip Jesus of his miracles, force awkward phrases into this mouth that explain how being “the Son of God” merely means that he is enlightened, and his life becomes one boring and tedious story. One should not have to struggle with sleep while reading the gospels.
Those interested in anarcho-pacifist Jesus or religious studies in general will likely find this book noteworthy. It's a wonderful study, but definitely not a story. The Gospel in Brief was Tolstoy's mission to give the left side of his brain a much needed rest.