An interesting fact is that the two masters, who were contemporaries, never met each other. They were about to meet once, but Tolstoy pulled back at the last moment. They obviously had great respect for each other, but Dostoevsky was the pauper, and Tolstoy the prince, and there is no getting over that.
In the course of his writing, Steiner also mentions how essential the vast landscape of Russia was for Tolstoy, and the Christian conception of redemption for Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was once condemned to death and reprieved at the last moment. The intensity of that experience is present in every page of his oeuvre.
It is evident where Steiner's sympathies lie: Dostoevsky is the winner. The epileptic who wrote wordy paragraphs as creditors banged down the door, had more insight into the human soul than any other modern writer. Tolstoy was the popular one with the Bolsheviks.
Thankfully, Steiner seems aware of his partiality towards Dostoevsky, which seems mostly preconceived. Steiner uses most of the book to persuade himself against his own conviction. There is an interesting dialectic at work here.
Fortunately, Steiner fails in this business of proving himself wrong. In the end he almost collapses with the effort. But one feels like standing up and applauding the effort.
Fans of Pasternack may not like this, but next to Crime and Punishment, Dr.Zhivago reads like pulp fiction. Steiner says that of all modern authors, Dostoevsky is the rightful inheritor of Shakespeare's mantle; equal to the bard in dramatic felicity.
It is a delight to read Dotoevsky. If you are reading Crime and Punishment and have to take a break in between, then this feeling keeps tugging at you that a great treasure awaits you back in your room. It won't be an exaggeration to say that the same can be said about Steiner's book.