The best books about the Soviet Union under Brezhnev

Daniel Treisman Author Of The Return: Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev
By Daniel Treisman

Who am I?

Daniel Treisman is an expert on post-Soviet Russia, whose articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, and CNN.com, among other publications. A professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, he is the founder of the Russia Political Insight project, an international collaboration to analyze Kremlin decision-making. He is the author of The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev and editor of The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia.  


I wrote...

The Return: Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev

By Daniel Treisman,

Book cover of The Return: Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev

What is my book about?

A refreshing and deeply reported look at the political, economic, and cultural changes in Russia, with an in-depth examination of Vladimir Putin's rise, the power of the oligarchy, and what it means for the world.

Almost twenty-five years after Mikhail Gorbachev began radically reshaping his country, Russia has changed beyond recognition. In his third book on this subject, Professor Daniel Treisman takes stock of the country that has emerged from the debris of Soviet communism and addresses the questions that preoccupy scholars of its history and politics: Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Could its collapse have been avoided? Did Yeltsin destroy too much or too little of the Soviet political order? What explains Putin's unprecedented popularity with the Russian public?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation

Why this book?

Like the French Revolution, the collapse of Soviet communism shocked—but somehow did not surprise—those who lived through it. (The former struck Tocqueville as “inevitable yet … completely unforeseen.”) This brilliant study by the Berkeley anthropologist Alexei Yurchak comes closer than any other I’ve read to explaining the strange sense of immutability that pervaded late Soviet life. One fascinating detail—whenever Brezhnev awarded himself another medal, artists had to sneak into official buildings at night to paint the new addition onto the General Secretary’s portraits. Such continual tweaks were essential to preserving the impression of stasis.

Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation

By Alexei Yurchak,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soviet socialism was based on paradoxes that were revealed by the peculiar experience of its collapse. To the people who lived in that system the collapse seemed both completely unexpected and completely unsurprising. At the moment of collapse it suddenly became obvious that Soviet life had always seemed simultaneously eternal and stagnating, vigorous and ailing, bleak and full of promise. Although these characteristics may appear mutually exclusive, in fact they were mutually constitutive. This book explores the paradoxes of Soviet life during the period of "late socialism" (1960s-1980s) through the eyes of the last Soviet generation. Focusing on the major…


Good Stalin

By Victor Erofeyev,

Book cover of Good Stalin

Why this book?

The Brezhnev era was when the Soviet elite decided not to come to terms with Stalin. This “fictional” memoir by one of Russia’s most interesting living writers is a penetrating meditation on fathers and sons, set against the backdrop of post-War Moscow. Erofeyev senior was Stalin’s official French interpreter, a believer in world revolution, avid tennis player, and tender parent. Erofeyev junior was a literary enfant terrible, who, by helping edit an almanac of underground writing in 1979, ended his father’s diplomatic career. The book is a beautifully crafted window into the personal and political of late communism.

Good Stalin

By Victor Erofeyev,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The novel Good Stalin is inspired by Erofeev's experience growing up amidst the Soviet political hierarchy. His father, a staunch Stalinist who has dedicated his life and soul to the party, begins as Stalin's personal interpreter, and rises rapidly to the top of the political ladder and into the leader's inner circle. The book reflects the family's prestigious - and yet precarious - position as members of the nomenklatura. In one memorable scene, the main character Victor recalls how he would walk past the Kremlin as a child and comment to friends, "that's where my father works - he and…


Omon Ra

By Victor Pelevin, Andrew Bromfield,

Book cover of Omon Ra

Why this book?

Pelevin exploded onto the Russian literary scene in the 1990s, propelled by a postmodern sensibility and satirical flair. In his masterpiece, Omon Ra, the Soviet space program becomes a metaphor for all the lies and cant of post-War communism. The Politburo cannot admit it trails the US in rocket technology. So it trains naïve recruits to secretly pilot “unmanned” one-way space missions. In fact, it’s even stranger than that, but no spoilers here. Hilarious satire, while at the same time weirdly true to life. A tale of pimply youths and slogans, empty sacrifices, moon landings, and port wine guzzled in garages.

Omon Ra

By Victor Pelevin, Andrew Bromfield,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Victor Pelevin's novel Omon Ra has been widely praised for its poetry and its wickedness, a novel in line with the great works of Gogol and Bulgakov: "full of the ridiculous and the sublime," says The Observer [London]. Omon is chosen to be trained in the Soviet space program the fulfillment of his lifelong dream. However, he enrolls only to encounter the terrifying absurdity of Soviet protocol and its backward technology: a bicycle-powered moonwalker; the outrageous Colonel Urgachin ("a kind of Sovier Dr. Strangelove"-The New York Times); and a one-way assignment to the moon. The New Yorker proclaimed: "Omon's adventure…


The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov

By Alexander Gribanov, Joshua Rubenstein,

Book cover of The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov

Why this book?

The emergence of a dissident movement and the KGB’s efforts to control it were one of the dramas of the Brezhnev era. What better way to read the history than through the agency’s reports on the period’s premier dissident? Andrei Sakharov, nuclear physicist and “Domestic Enemy Number One,” survived the mind games and isolation, emerging to lead the campaign for memory in the late 1980s as Gorbachev loosened up. The book is fascinating on the fumbling efforts of Politburo gerontocrats, who often seem confused and outplayed, as well as on the circumlocutions and ideological distortions of a security agency determined to blur the true character of its operations.  

The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov

By Alexander Gribanov, Joshua Rubenstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989), a brilliant physicist and the principal designer of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, later became a human rights activist and-as a result-a source of profound irritation to the Kremlin. This book publishes for the first time ever KGB files on Sakharov that became available during Boris Yeltsin's presidency. The documents reveal the untold story of KGB surveillance of Sakharov from 1968 until his death in 1989 and of the regime's efforts to intimidate and silence him. The disturbing archival materials show the KGB to have had a profound lack of understanding of the spiritual and moral nature of…


The Suitcase

By Sergei Dovlatov,

Book cover of The Suitcase

Why this book?

Another literary take on the era that’s impossible to leave out. The suitcase of the title is the one Dovlatov took into exile when he rode the wave of Jewish emigration to New York in 1979. On the bottom of the suitcase, a picture of Karl Marx; on the inside lid, a photograph of Joseph Brodsky—and in between the debris of a life lived between the dual myths of revolution and poetry. Each story in the collection takes off from a different item in the suitcase—three pairs of Finnish stockings, a pair of driving gloves, a prison guard’s belt… Dovlatov is one of those authors who is hard to imagine writing in any other period—his style, mentality, humor, and turn of phrase are so perfectly attuned to time and place. Whimsical, dark, and often funny.

The Suitcase

By Sergei Dovlatov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Several years after emigrating from the USSR, the author discovers the battered suitcase he had brought with him gathering dust at the back of a wardrobe. As he opens the suitcase, the items he finds inside take on a riotously funny life of their own as Dovlatov inventories the circumstances under which he acquired them. A poplin shirt evokes a story of courtship and marriage, a pair of boots calls up the hilarious conclusion to an official banquet, two pea-green crepe socks bring back memories of his attempt to become a black-market racketeer, while a double-breasted suit reminds him of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, astronauts, and Russia?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet Union, astronauts, and Russia.

The Soviet Union Explore 268 books about the Soviet Union
Astronauts Explore 51 books about astronauts
Russia Explore 288 books about Russia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Barracoon, Reading the Holocaust, and Purity and Danger if you like this list.