The best books to understand the history of communism

Jasper Becker Author Of Made in China: Wuhan, Covid and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy
By Jasper Becker

Who am I?

Jasper Becker is a foreign correspondent who spent decades reporting on China and the Far East. His the author of numerous books including Hungry Ghosts – Mao’s Secret Famine, Rogue Regime – Kim Jong Il and the looming threat of North Korea, City of Heavenly Tranquillity, and most recently Made in China – Wuhan, COVID and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy.


I wrote...

Made in China: Wuhan, Covid and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy

By Jasper Becker,

Book cover of Made in China: Wuhan, Covid and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy

What is my book about?

What might COVID-19 mean for, and reveal about, China's place in the world? The coronavirus pandemic started in Wuhan, home to the leading lab studying the SARS virus and bats. Was that pure coincidence? This book explores what we know, and still don't know, about the origins of COVID-19, and how it was handled in China.

We may never get all the answers, but much is already clear: China's record as the origin of earlier pandemics, and its struggle to bring contagious diseases under control; its history as both a victim of biological warfare and a developer of deadly bioweapons. When Covid broke out, Wuhan was building science parks to realise Beijing's ambitions in biotech research. Whoever achieves global leadership of the gene-editing industry stands to harvest great power and wealth.

The books I picked & why

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The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine

By Robert Conquest,

Book cover of The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine

Why this book?

The British historian of the Soviet Union wrote a number of extra-ordinary books about the horrors of the Soviet Union but this was the best one. It pulls together the story of the second great man-made famine in the Soviet Union when Stalin pushed through the second collectivisation campaign. It was the first book to bring together why and how Stalin’s policies deliberately killed so many people.

He also describes how many people in the West chose to ignore the evidence and the eye-witness accounts of the suffering. Reading it inspired me to research the Great Leap Forward famine. The parallels are astonishing. Did Mao know what happened under Stalin, or did he know but not care when he followed the same path?

The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine

By Robert Conquest,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Harvest of Sorrow is the first full history of one of the most horrendous human tragedies of the 20th century. Between 1929 and 1932 the Soviet Communist Party struck a double blow at the Russian peasantry: dekulakization, the dispossession and deportation of millions of peasant families, and collectivization, the abolition of private ownership of land and the concentration of the remaining peasants in party-controlled "collective" farms. This was
followed in 1932-33 by a "terror-famine," inflicted by the State on the collectivized peasants of the Ukraine and certain other areas by setting impossibly high grain quotas, removing every other source…


The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

By Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin

Book cover of The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

Why this book?

This was the first real effort to bring together a picture of the whole story of the global Communist movement and the many famines it created. It covers the whole-scale of the misery in regimes in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Russia, India, China, and southeast Asia. It’s a lot of ground to cover but the narrative does not flag. Although the opening of the archives had produced more information, this is still a very impressive book however sobering it might be.

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

By Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Already famous throughout Europe, this international bestseller plumbs recently opened archives in the former Soviet bloc to reveal the actual, practical accomplishments of Communism around the world: terror, torture, famine, mass deportations, and massacres. Astonishing in the sheer detail it amasses, the book is the first comprehensive attempt to catalogue and analyze the crimes of Communism over seventy years.

"Revolutions, like trees, must be judged by their fruit," Ignazio Silone wrote, and this is the standard the authors apply to the Communist experience-in the China of "the Great Helmsman," Kim Il Sung's Korea, Vietnam under "Uncle Ho" and Cuba under…


A Poisoned Arrow. The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama

By Bskal-bzaṅ-tshe-brtan,

Book cover of A Poisoned Arrow. The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama

Why this book?

I once saw the 10th Panchen Lama give a very rare press conference in Beijing. This remarkable Tibetan endured years of imprisonment for writing a report describing mass arrests, political executions, and man-made starvation in Tibet in the early 1960s. The report makes it clear that the famine and the eradication of religion was a deliberate policy. It was quite likely that more than any other group the Tibetans suffered more than any other group in China. Although he was at times criticised as a collaborator, compared to the Dalai Lama, who escaped to India, the report reveals that there was no escape from this genocide for any Tibetan.

A Poisoned Arrow. The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama

By Bskal-bzaṅ-tshe-brtan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Poisoned Arrow. The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English, Chinese


Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao's Great Famine

By Yang Jisheng,

Book cover of Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao's Great Famine

Why this book?

Yang Jisheng is a Chinese journalist who worked for the state news agency, Xinhua reporter, but diligently spent many years researching the archives to pull together a detailed story of the Great Leap Forward famine, on a province-by-province basis. It is extremely rare for anyone in China who works for the state to paint such an unflinching look at the Chinese Communist Party’s actions. It gives the account unassailable credibility. However, Yang struggles to place the story in the context of the full global history of communism, and attributes the folly to China’s culture and Mao’s shortcomings.

Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao's Great Famine

By Yang Jisheng,

Why should I read it?

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


Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig Von Mises

By Ludwig von Mises,

Book cover of Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig Von Mises

Why this book?

This book written in 1922 by the Austrian economist at the University of Vienna is one of the few truly foundational works in political economy. Mises takes apart the theory of the Marxist moneyless planned economy which Lenin and then Stalin tried to apply to the Soviet Union. Mises lucidly explains why not only that it could never work but would lead to catastrophic and unending shortages, dictatorship, repression, and arbitrary rule enforced by a militarized one-party state. Although Mises had no knowledge of China, it is the best book to read in order to understand what happened in China in the 20th century.

Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig Von Mises

By Ludwig von Mises,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig Von Mises as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in German in 1933 and in English in 1960, Epistemological Problems of Economics presents Ludwig von Mises’s views on the logical and epistemological features of social interpretation as well as his argument that the Austrian theory of value is the core element of a general theory of human behavior that transcends traditional limitations of economic science.

This volume is unique among Mises’s works in that it contains a collection of essays in which he contested the theories of intellectuals he respected such as Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, and Max Weber. Mises describes how value theory applies to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in communism, the Soviet Union, and methodology?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about communism, the Soviet Union, and methodology.

Communism Explore 69 books about communism
The Soviet Union Explore 251 books about the Soviet Union
Methodology Explore 28 books about methodology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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