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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Philippe Sands,

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

Why 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.


Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege

By Antony Beevor,

Book cover of Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege

Why 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.


Archangel: A Novel

By Robert Harris,

Book cover of Archangel: A Novel

Why 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.


Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

By Douglas Smith,

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

Why 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.


Moscow, 1937

By Karl Schlogel,

Book cover of Moscow, 1937

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, Russia, and Moscow?

5,887 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 226 books about the Soviet Union
Russia Explore 236 books about Russia
Moscow Explore 37 books about Moscow

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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