The best books on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing

Andrew Monaghan Author Of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition
By Andrew Monaghan

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures. I started to learn Russian in 1998, and intrigued by the language, I began to study Russia more—delving into history and politics and then doing a PhD in Russian foreign policy. Ever since, trying to learn about and understand Russia has been my professional focus. Alongside books in Russian, these books are all to hand on my reference shelf, well-thumbed and marked up, as I try to write my own work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! 

I wrote...

Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

By Andrew Monaghan,

Book cover of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

What is my book about?

Is the Russian leadership acting strategically or opportunistically—or simply led by a madman? Should Russia’s activity be understood in regional or more global terms? Does Moscow have a long-term plan? These questions have become ever more urgent since February 2022 when Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.  

This book looks at Russia’s military and maritime strategies, its role as an energy power, and efforts to diversify its economy to a ‘post-West’ world to show how Moscow has sought to position Russia for intensifying global geoeconomic competition and conflict into the 2020s. The book highlights Moscow’s priorities and problems as it seeks to establish Russia as a ubiquitous and indispensable power.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

The Russian Mind

By Ronald Hingley,

Book cover of The Russian Mind

Why did I love this book?

I found this book to be full of insights into Russian thinking and culture. I never met Hingley, but would have loved tohis work has had a real influence on my own approach to studying and thinking about Russia. I find him a fluent writer who can take complex and controversial subjects and make them accessible. This is such a rich book. Hingley tries to explain problems of perspective in thinking about a different culture, before moving on to address a wide range of themes from Russian literature to history, geography, and politics. Times and attitudes change, but I find that it helps to frame some persistent questions about Russian life, and this book is such a good way to understand how things doand don’thappen in Russia. 

By Ronald Hingley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Book by Hingley, Ronald

Book cover of The Russian Economy: A Very Short Introduction

Why did I love this book?

The strength and resilienceor notof the Russian economy is one of the most important questions in international affairs since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022: policymakers and observers alike are asking what effects the wide-ranging sanctions are having, and whether the Russian economy will implode, thwarting Moscow’s aggression. I’m not an economist so I need help understanding this, and I found this book to be the best introduction to this complex and difficult subject. Connolly also wrote a fine book on the impact of sanctions on Russia since 2014, but I think this one gives a concise and accessible assessment of the Russian economy as a whole, the role of the state, and Moscow’s attempted diversification of economic partners and integration into the global economy.

By Richard Connolly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Russia today is as prominent in international affairs as it was at the height of the Cold War. Yet the role that the economy plays in supporting Russia's position as a 'great power' on the international stage is poorly understood. For many, Russia's political influence far exceeds its weight in the global economy. However, Russia is one of the largest economies in the world; it is not only one of the world's most important exporters of oil and gas, but also of other
natural resources, such as diamonds and gold. Its status as one of the largest wheat and grain…

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

By David M. Glantz, Jonathan M. House,

Book cover of When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler

Why did I love this book?

The Great Patriotic War is central to Russian politics and thinking about international affairs today. It is important as a symbolic and political reference, but senior military figures often point to the war’s relevance to how Russia should think about war today. There are so many good books to read on this, but I think David Glantz is the doyen of Western historians of the Russian military, and this book is the ideal overview guide to understanding the trajectory and key features of the war: a concise but highly informative examination of one of the most catastrophic wars. Essential reading, I think, and shows why history is important to understanding where we are today.

By David M. Glantz, Jonathan M. House,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On first publication, this uncommonly concise and readable account of Soviet Russia's clash with Nazi Germany utterly changed our understanding of World War II on Germany's Eastern Front, immediately earning its place among top-shelf histories of the world war. Revised and updated to reflect recent Russian and Western scholarship on the subject, much of it the authors' own work, this new edition maintains the 1995 original's distinction as a crucial volume in the history of World War II and of the Soviet Union and the most informed and compelling perspective on one of the greatest military confrontations of all time.…

Book cover of First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President

Why did I love this book?

So much has been written about Vladimir Putin since he came to power, from long biographies to short psychological assessments to fleeting conspiracy theories, all to try to better understand Russia’s long-term leader. This book is a publication of a series of interviews he gave to three Russian journalists when he first came to power back in 1999/2000. So much has happened since, but I found this book to be full of fascinating insights into Putin himself, but also how he views Russian (political) culture, and also those around him that he has continued to rely on ever since. “Surely there are more details?” one of the interviewers asks. “Yes, there are,” comes his reply. But I think this is the place to start.

By Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who is this Vladimir Putin? Who is this man who suddenly- overnight and without warning- was handed the reigns of power to one of the most complex, formidable, and volatile countries in the world? How can we trust him if we don't know him? First Person is an intimate, candid portrait of the man who holds the future of Russia in his grip. An extraordinary compilation of over 24 hours of in-depth interviews and remarkable photographs, it delves deep into Putin's KGB past and explores his meteoric rise to power. No Russian leader has ever subjected himself to this kind…

Book cover of China and Russia: The New Rapprochement

Why did I love this book?

Too often, Russia is seen through Euro-Atlantic eyes and in European terms. But the Russian leadership has long spoken of a shift in global power, the emergence of a “post-West” worldand of the 21st Century being a “Pacific Century.” China has long been at the heart of this view, and an important priority in Russian foreign policyand this book by a prominent Russian expert traces a Russian view of the emergent Sino-Russian rapprochement. Not everyone will agree with his analysis, but I like thinking about things from different angles, and the intellectual challenge he poses becomes ever more important as sanctions take hold of the Russian economy and as the Sino-Russian partnership becomes one of the central questions of international affairs today.

By Alexander Lukin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With many predicting the end of US hegemony, Russia and China's growing cooperation in a number of key strategic areas looks set to have a major impact on global power dynamics. But what lies behind this Sino-Russian rapprochement? Is it simply the result of deteriorated Russo-US and Sino-US relations or does it date back to a more fundamental alignment of interests after the Cold War?

In this book Alexander Lukin answers these questions, offering a deeply informed and nuanced assessment of Russia and China's ever-closer ties. Tracing the evolution of this partnership from the 1990s to the present day, he…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Russia, the Soviet Union, and the Kremlin?

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

Russia Explore 302 books about Russia
The Soviet Union Explore 283 books about the Soviet Union
The Kremlin Explore 8 books about the Kremlin

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Twenty Letters to a Friend, Putin's People, and Russia at War, 1941-1945 if you like this list.