The best books about the Russian people

Lisa Dickey Author Of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia
By Lisa Dickey

Who am I?

Lisa Dickey is an author and book collaborator who’s helped write 20+ nonfiction books, including 10 New York Times Best Sellers. She’s also a Russophile from way back:  her first post-college job was working as a nanny at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the last days of the Soviet Union. Lisa began her writing career in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s, writing for the Moscow Times and USA Today, and she’s the author of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia.


I wrote...

Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

By Lisa Dickey,

Book cover of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

What is my book about?

In the fall of 1995, Lisa Dickey traveled across the whole of Russia, from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg, doing deep-dive interviews with people from all walks of life. She had such a good time getting to know everyone that ten years later, in 2005, she did the whole trip again, tracking down everyone she’d talked with to see how they were doing. And in 2015, she took this “once in a lifetime trip” for the third time, once again knocking on the same people’s doors to see how their lives had changed—now 20 years after first meeting them.

Lisa wrote Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia about her experiences on the road. Madeleine Albright called the book “brilliant, real and readable,” while Kirkus dubbed it “an affecting travelogue that reveals true Russian personality.” Her curiosity about the Russian people remains unabated, so you know what that means: she’s currently planning trip #4, in 2025…

The books I picked & why

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Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning

By Alex Halberstadt,

Book cover of Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning

Why this book?

Alex Halberstadt’s paternal grandfather was the last living bodyguard for Josef Stalin. His maternal grandparents were Lithuanian Jews who watched firsthand as their world caught fire in the Holocaust. And Alex, who grew up in Moscow but moved to New York as a teenager, is now an out gay American man. From this mad tapestry of personal history, Halberstadt weaves an incredibly moving story of identity, family, and inherited trauma.


Behind Putin's Curtain: Friendships and Misadventures Inside Russia

By Stephan Orth,

Book cover of Behind Putin's Curtain: Friendships and Misadventures Inside Russia

Why this book?

Stephan Orth has a lot of nerve. The author of Couchsurfing in Iran, he decides to take his talents to Russia, stopping in places no tourist would dare to go and getting to know actual Russian people. And then he writes a funny, insightful, mind-bendingly entertaining book about them. Who does this guy think he is? Do yourself a favor: Read his book and find out. Stephan is a fabulous tour guide of the real Russia and its people.


A Russian Journal

By John Steinbeck,

Book cover of A Russian Journal

Why this book?

While sipping cocktails in a New York City bar in the late 1940s, John Steinbeck and the famed war photographer Robert Capa began musing about Russia. “What do the people wear there? What do they serve at dinner? Do they have parties?... How do they make love, and how do they die?” Though gallons of ink were routinely spilled in newspaper stories about the political situation there, no one covered the private lives of the Russian people, which is what these two great artists wanted to know about. So, they decided to find out for themselves. They detail the fruits of their fascinating and frequently madcap journey in A Russian Journal.


Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire

By David Remnick,

Book cover of Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire

Why this book?

I’m recommending this because if have any interest in Russia but haven’t yet read it, you simply must. No, really, listen: You must. David Remnick writes like Muhammad Ali boxed: with grace, power, and an unfair amount of skill. This is a deeply researched, carefully crafted, incredibly absorbing account of the final days of the Soviet Union. Never mind the “tomb” title; the book is filled with colorful characters and delicious slices of life, all captured during a time of historic upheaval.


Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

By Svetlana Alexievich, Bela Shayevich,

Book cover of Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

Why this book?

What better way to learn about the Russian people than through their own words? Svetlana Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for her oral histories, which the Swedish academy referred to as “a history of emotions—a history of the soul.” In Secondhand Time, she paints a gorgeous and heartrending portrait of a people in turmoil, and she shines a light into the deepest parts of the Russian psyche.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, Russia, and travel?

5,215 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 travel.

The Soviet Union Explore 207 books about the Soviet Union
Russia Explore 210 books about Russia
Travel Explore 143 books about travel

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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