As this suggests, Brief Lives: Leo Tolstoy is not a hagiography as short biographies can tend to be. Thus, while Briggs praises some of Tolstoy's work, he also recognizes weaknesses. "It is remarkable how the same writer could so easily write with distinction and descend to the depths of inanity almost without recharging his pen," he writes. This doesn't mean Briggs takes a dim view of his subject. Like good biographers, he attempts to provide an objective and detached assessment and does not hesitate to commend and celebrate Tolstoy and his talents where warranted.
Ultimately, what makes this so impressive is that Briggs conveys biography and discerning analysis with clarity in such limited space. Just as some people are hesitant or may not have the time to pick up a lengthy or in-depth biography of a noted author, very short biographies run the risk of giving short shrift to the author or insufficient perspective. This concise but never terse contextual account of Tolstoy's life not only avoids the latter risk, it satisfies readers who want to learn more than just the basics of the author's life.