The best books on Central and Eastern European history

Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski Author Of The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1733-1795: Light and Flame
By Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by Central and Eastern Europe all of my adult life. Many cruises along the Danube and around the Baltic Sea have allowed me to see the stunning best of the region. Since the early 1990s, I’ve taught the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Russian Empire to a generation of students. Professor of Polish-Lithuanian History at University College London since 2013, my next challenge is to promote the history of Poland to allcomers via the Polish History Museum in Warsaw, the wonderful city which is my home.


I wrote...

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1733-1795: Light and Flame

By Richard Butterwick-Pawlikowski,

Book cover of The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1733-1795: Light and Flame

What is my book about?

I tell the compelling story of the last decades of one of Europe’s largest and least understood polities: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Drawing on the latest research, I explain its turbulent path to destruction by the neighbouring powers: Russia, Prussia, and Austria. But far from seeing the Commonwealth as a failed state, I show the ways in which it reformed itself, drawing on its own civic values and the ideas of the Enlightenment. All too briefly, the Commonwealth threw off the stranglehold of Russia and regained its sovereignty, and on May 3, 1791 it gave itself a modern Constitution, fit for the nineteenth century.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Habsburgs: To Rule the World

By Martyn C. Rady,

Book cover of The Habsburgs: To Rule the World

Why this book?

Martyn Rady has an extraordinary ability to tell stories that make sense. His jaw-dropping anecdotes about the men and women of the world’s most inbred royal dynasty help us to understand how and why the Habsburgs managed to keep reinventing themselves and their global pretensions for seven hundred years. By the time you’ve finished laughing and wincing at their antics, you’ll also understand why the Habsburgs’ Central European heartland became far more than the sum of its diverse parts.


Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March

By Adam Zamoyski,

Book cover of Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March

Why this book?

Adam Zamoyski writes with rare lucidity and grace. In this book, my favorite in his distinguished oeuvre, he takes on an epic subject and triumphs—unlike Napoleon in 1812. We understand the unfolding tragedynot only of the Grande Armée, but of the people in its pathjust as we are scorched by the sun, drenched by the rain, and frozen by the early onset of winter.


The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation

By Robert John Weston Evans,

Book cover of The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550-1700: An Interpretation

Why this book?

Robert Evans’s masterpiece is the reader’s equivalent of scaling Himalayan peaksand marveling at the views. The author’s linguistic and intellectual range is breathtaking. Those who read this classic of learned prose carefully will be taken on an unforgettable journey right over and below the horizon of the Central European mind between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. One of the greatest works of early modern intellectual history ever written.


The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999

By Timothy Snyder,

Book cover of The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999

Why this book?

This modern classic is still a must-read for my students nearly twenty years after its first publication. Nothing else comes close to its sweep over time and space as it explains how the legacies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth continue to shape the relations between its successor nations and their founding narratives. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the protests in Belarus have made this well-written book even more essential to understanding the region.


The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union 1385-1569: Volume I

By Robert I. Frost,

Book cover of The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union 1385-1569: Volume I

Why this book?

The first volume of Robert Frost’s trilogy is a superbly researched account and explanation of how two very different realmsthe Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuaniacame together to forge a shared Commonwealth that covered most of east-central Europe. While it supports republican ideas of liberty serving the common good, it steers an impartial course between rival nationalist narratives and offers important lessons for the making and maintenance of unions between states and communities.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Eastern Europe, Poland, and Ukraine?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Eastern Europe, Poland, and Ukraine.

Eastern Europe Explore 30 books about Eastern Europe
Poland Explore 77 books about Poland
Ukraine Explore 36 books about Ukraine

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Blue River, Black Sea, We Are Witnesses, and How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed if you like this list.