The best books about Siberia for those with insatiable wanderlust

Who am I?

Sharon Hudgins is the award-winning author of five books on history, travel, and food; a journalist with more than 1,000 articles published worldwide; and a former professor with the University of Maryland's Global Campus. She has spent two years in Russia, teaching at universities in Siberia and the Russian Far East, and lecturing on tours for National Geographic, Smithsonian, Viking, and other expedition companies. Endowed with an insatiable wanderlust, she has lived in 10 countries on 3 continents, traveled through 55 countries across the globe, and logged more than 45,000 miles on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.


I wrote...

T-Bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks: Cooking with Two Texans in Siberia and the Russian Far East

By Sharon Hudgins,

Book cover of T-Bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks: Cooking with Two Texans in Siberia and the Russian Far East

What is my book about?

Filled with fascinating food history, cultural insights, and personal stories, T-Bone Whacks and Caviar Snacks is first cookbook in America about the foods of the Asian side of Russia. It chronicles the culinary adventures of two intrepid Texans who lived, worked, and ate their way around Siberia and the Russian Far East—from modern cities to log-cabin villages, from grassy steppes to snow-capped mountains. Featuring 140 traditional and modern recipes, with 75 photos, this unique memoir-cookbook includes dozens of regional recipes from local cooks in Asian Russiafresh seafood dishes from Russia's Far East, venison-blueberry dumplings from Siberia, potato salad with crab and caviar, pine-nut meringues, traditional Russian holiday treats and Easter desserts, along with enticing appetizers from the dining car of a luxury Trans-Siberian train. You'll also find recipes for the European and Tex-Mex dishes the author cooked on the "Stoves from Hell' in her own Russian apartments there. 

"Sharon Hudgins' charming food memoir about living in Russia is both a fun read and an excellent cookbook….the moving story of life in a foreign land and a comprehensive collection of Russian recipes you will find nowhere else." — James Oseland, Editor-in-Chief, World Food, and judge on Top Chef Masters

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia

Sharon Hudgins Why did I love this book?

For readers venturing into the history of Siberia for the first time, East of the Sun is an excellent introduction to this Asian side of Russia, stretching 5,000 miles between the Ural Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The book's narrative covers four centuries, from the conquest of Siberia by Russians in the late 16th century through the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century—including early expeditions into the uncharted lands east of the Urals and the Russians' push toward the Pacific Ocean; native people in Siberia; Russian expansion into North America, from Alaska to California; Siberia as a place of prison and exile, but also a land of opportunity for millions of voluntary settlers; the impact of the Trans-Siberian Railroad; and the effects of modernization under the Soviets in the 20th century. If you're an armchair traveler interested in history, or planning a trip to Siberia yourself, this book is one of the best for gaining an overview of this fascinating part of Russia.

By Benson Bobrick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The very word Siberia evokes a history and reputation as awesome as it is enthralling. In this acclaimed book on Russia’s conquest of its eastern realms, Benson Bobrick offers a story that is both rich and subtle, broad and deep.From its conquest by Cossacks and its exploration and settlement in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, through its terrifying Gulag history, to its modern place in a world hungry for natural resources, Siberia –covering a sixth of the world’s surface – has a history unlike any other land. East of the Sun captures all of Siberia’s history with a depth and…


Book cover of To the Great Ocean: The Taming Of Siberia And The Building Of The Trans-Siberian Railway

Sharon Hudgins Why did I love this book?

A highly readable and well-illustrated history of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, from the earliest Russian railways to the construction of the Trans-Siberian route to the modern railway of the mid-20th century. Built between 1891 and 1916, it was the longest passenger line in the world and one of the greatest engineering feats of its time. But few people riding on Trans-Siberian trains today are aware of the immense obstacles the builders had to overcome, from tunneling through snow-covered mountains and draining dangerous swamps, to coping with deadly diseases and attacks by bandits and Siberian tigers.

In 1916, when the last railroad bridge was constructed over the Amur River in Russia's Far East, the trip by train from Moscow to Vladivostok took 14 to 16 days. Today it takes only 7 days to cover the 5,771 miles between Russia's capital and the Pacific Ocean—but it's still the railway journey of a lifetime. Although Tupper's book covers the Trans-Siberian's history only up to the mid-1960s, it remains the best introduction to that legendary line. Read it before you go!

Book cover of The Princess of Siberia: The Story of Maria Volkonsky and the Decembrist Exiles

Sharon Hudgins Why did I love this book?

A fascinating account of the remarkable lives—and wives—of several Russian aristocrats who were sentenced to prison, hard labor, and exile in Siberia after participating in a failed attempt to overthrow Tsar Nicholas I in December of 1825. Eleven wives (two of them princesses) of those unfortunate noblemen voluntarily followed their husbands to Siberia, even though the women were forced to give up their own lands, titles, and children back in Moscow and St. Petersburg. 

The Princess of Siberia focuses on one family in particular, the Volkonskys, who settled in Irkutsk, the capital of eastern Siberia, after Prince Sergei Volkonsky's years of hard labor in the silver mines in Russia's Far East. His wife, Maria—a princess from a distinguished family in European Russia—stayed with him throughout his imprisonment and exile in Siberia. She later became known in Irkutsk as "The Princess of Siberia" because of her many charitable works and cultural contributions there. Today you can still visit the wooden house that belonged to the Volkonsky family in the mid-1800s, as well as the house of another notable Decembrist family, the Trubetskoys. Nearly 200 years after those Decembrists lived in Irkutsk, Russians still honor them by leaving little gifts on their graves in a local churchyard.

By Christine Sutherland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Beautiful, cultivated, the daughter of a hero of the Napoleonic wars, Maria Volkonsky had been married only one year when in 1825 the tsar sentenced her husband to life imprisonment in Siberia. Despite her family's and the tsar's opposition, Maria was determined to join her husband in exile. She was more than halfway there when the tsar decreed that she could never return from Siberia.


Book cover of The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

Sharon Hudgins Why did I love this book?

My favorite book about reindeer and their relationship with the nomadic native people who herd them over the tundra of northern Siberia. The author is not only a renowned anthropologist at Cambridge University, but also a gifted writer who brings his field research to life on the page. He writes beautifully about the history of reindeer in northern Asia, their lives from birth to death, their uses by the herders who care for them, the disastrous attempts by the Soviets to collectivize the herders' lives and livelihood, the spiritual significance of reindeer to many native Siberians even today, and why people have long believed that reindeer can fly. As one reviewer wrote, "Like the reindeer themselves, this book takes wings."

By Piers Vitebsky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A voyage of discovery into the life of a remote aboriginal community in the Siberian Arctic, where the reindeer has been a part of daily life since Palaeolithic times. The reindeer, along with the dog, was probably the first species to be drawn into a close relationship with man. This book, by an eminent British anthropologist, is the beautifully written story of how that relationship works and of the intimacy between the nomadic reindeer people and the landscape they inhabit. What to the Western eye looks like a vast, uninhabited Arctic wilderness is in fact filled with animals, humans and…


Book cover of Tent Life in Siberia

Sharon Hudgins Why did I love this book?

An intrepid traveler and talented journalist, George Kennan (1845-1924), is better known for his second book about Russia, published in 1891: Siberia and the Exile System, a two-volume study of Siberian penal colonies and exile conditions. But his first book, published 20 years earlier, is among my favorites about Russia. In his introduction to a 1968 reprint of Tent Life in Siberia, American author Larry McMurtry called it "one of the most appealing classics of nineteenth-century travel [writing]."

In 1865, 20-year-old Kennan, an accomplished telegrapher, was hired by Western Union to survey part of Siberia for the possible construction of a telegraph line across Russia, connecting Alaska to Europe. This memoir of his two years in Siberia is a rousing tale of his adventures among the native people and the Russian settlers he encountered there, as well as the many hardships that he and his partner endured, from eating frozen raw meat in their tent during blizzards with temperatures of 60 degrees below zero, to traversing hundreds of miles on foot over wild terrain with no roads. But he never wallows in self-pity, instead tackling those formidable obstacles with good humor and youthful enthusiasm. No wonder McMurtry described Kennan's book as "breezy, confident, irreverent, and wonderfully readable."

By George Kennan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tent Life in Siberia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1870, this book is a thrilling account by telegraph operator George Kennan, who signed on to build a telegraph line across Siberia in the 1860s. Though the Trans-Siberian telegraph line failed, we are left today with this tale of virtual first contact with a land and a people.

It is an important Siberian title with many detailed passages people, fish, music, song, costume, marriage ceremonies, language, customs, Siberian tribes, volcanoes, the coasts, and a profusion of others.

At the age of twenty, Kennan was traveling all around eastern Siberia with wandering natives on dogsleds and reindeer sleds,…


You might also like...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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