The best books on Russia and USSR in the 20th Century

Michael Khodarkovsky Author Of Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories
By Michael Khodarkovsky

Who am I?

History has always been my passion. Since I was 16, I tried to understand the world around me and the forces that shaped it. I thought that history as a discipline provided the best answers. In the 1970s, because of the official anti-Semitism, it was impossible to get into the history department programs at the Soviet universities. Nonetheless, I resolved to study history after my emigration to the US in 1979 and joined a graduate program at the University of Chicago. For four decades I have been writing about Russian history, although I also read, teach, and write on global history.

I wrote...

Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories

By Michael Khodarkovsky,

Book cover of Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories

What is my book about?

Michael Khodarkovsky's innovative exploration of Russia's 20th century, through 100 carefully selected vignettes that span the century, offers a fascinating prism through which to view Russian history. Each chosen microhistory focuses on one particular event or individual that allows you to understand Russia not in abstract terms but in real events in the lives of ordinary people. Russia's 20th Century covers a broad range of topics, including the economy, culture, politics, ideology, law, and society. This introduction provides a vital background and engaging analysis of Russia's path through a turbuturbulent 20th century.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Why did I love this book?

Among many books on the Holocaust, this one stands out. The story focuses on three people, the author’s grandfather and two lawyers who all hailed from the same city, Lviv (Lemberg). The lawyers were Raphael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, who respectively introduced the concepts of genocide and crime against humanity. All three lives are inextricably connected to the fate of Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 40s. The author is a well-known professor of international law who writes with extraordinary precision and elegance. The book is remarkably well researched, and it is often through small and little-known episodes that one fully understands the extent of the Nazi evil and the resilience of the human spirit.

By Philippe Sands,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked East West Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



When he receives an invitation to deliver a lecture in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, international lawyer Philippe Sands begins a journey on the trail of his family's secret history. In doing so, he uncovers an astonishing series of coincidences that lead him halfway across the world, to the origins of international law at the Nuremberg trial. Interweaving the stories of the two Nuremberg prosecutors (Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin) who invented the crimes or genocide and crimes against humanity, the Nazi governor responsible for…

Book cover of Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege

Why did I love this book?

Stalingrad was the most famous and perhaps the crucial battle during World War II, and no one described it better than Antony Beevor. Beevor’s narrative tells us about the experiences of both the Soviet and German soldiers facing each other. It also describes the life of civilians in Stalingrad and the terrible price at which the Soviets achieved victory.

By Antony Beevor,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Stalingrad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This authoritative and well written book recreates the battle for Stalingrad that became the focus of Hitler and Stalin's determination to win the gruesome and vicious war for the Eastern front. A detailed examination of the most pitiless, and perhaps the most important battle in WW2 history. Focusing on the experiences of soldiers on both sides, driven beyond the limits of physical and mental endurance this work stands as a testament to human endeavour and to the vital role of the Soviet wareffort. This will be the classic book on the subject,

Archangel: A Novel

By Robert Harris,

Book cover of Archangel: A Novel

Why did I love this book?

A brilliant novel set in 1990s Russia. The plot involves Stalin and one of his deep secrets. The author seamlessly moves the story from the 1930s to 1990s and back. One rarely sees a historical novel so accurate in capturing the historical events and so utterly captivating. It is on par with some of the best thrillers.

By Robert Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Archangel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'With Archangel, Robert Harris confirms his position as Britain's pre-eminent literary thriller writer' The Times

'He has a talent for heart-poundingly tense story-telling, and an ability to conjure up atmospheres almost palpable with menace' Sunday Times
Deadly secrets lurk beneath the Russian ice.

Historian Fluke Kelso is in Moscow, attending a conference on recently unclassified Soviet papers, when an old veteran of the Soviet secret police visits his hotel room in the dead of night. He tells Kelso about a secret notebook belonging to Josef Stalin, stolen on the night of his death.

Though Kelso expects little, he…

Book cover of Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

Why did I love this book?

Beautifully written, the book follows the lives of Russia’s two great aristocratic families in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. Their fate was typical of the entire Russian aristocracy. It is a story of the Bolsheviks' cruelty and a painful survival of their many victims.

By Douglas Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Former People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The riveting and harrowing story of the Russian nobility caught in the upheaval of the Revolution

Winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Kansas City Star and Salon

Epic in scope, precise in detail, and heartbreaking in its human drama, Former People is the first book to recount the history of the aristocracy caught up in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin's Russia. It is the story of how a centuries-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth, its service to the tsar and empire, and…

Moscow, 1937

By Karl Schlogel,

Book cover of Moscow, 1937

Why did I love this book?

The German historian, Karl Schlögel painstakingly reconstructs one year in Stalin's terror campaign, known as the Great Purges. 1,5 million people were arrested and executed in this year alone. Through the most meticulous research, Schlögel tells us how this happened and why.

By Karl Schlogel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Moscow, 1937 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moscow, 1937: the soviet metropolis at the zenith of Stalin s dictatorship. A society utterly wrecked by a hurricane of violence. In this compelling book, the renowned historian Karl Schlogel reconstructs with meticulous care the process through which, month by month, the terrorism of a state-of-emergency regime spiraled into the Great Terror during which 1 1/2 million human beings lost their lives within a single year. He revisits the sites of show trials and executions and, by also consulting numerous sources from the time, he provides a masterful panorama of these key events in Russian history. He shows how, in…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, Russia, and Moscow?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet Union, Russia, and Moscow.

The Soviet Union Explore 282 books about the Soviet Union
Russia Explore 302 books about Russia
Moscow Explore 46 books about Moscow

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