The best books on world communism

Who am I?

When in the summer of 1991, I stood with the crowds at Moscow’s White House during the attempted coup against Gorbachev, I had the sense that I was living through and in a small, but not unimportant way, making history. I left Moscow fascinated by the questions of how big historical events shape individuals’ lives and how personal circumstances influence public action and commitments. My books explore how children experienced and made sense of the Russian Revolution; how survivors of the World War II blockade of Leningrad interacted with official state commemorations of the war; and how international communists explained and remembered their participation in the Spanish Civil War.


I wrote...

Book cover of International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

What is my book about?

The Spanish Civil War was a critical event in the history of international communism and in the lives of international communists. Many communists affirmed, then and later, that in Spain they lived their ideals more intensely, passionately, and fully than they had anywhere else.

My book tracks international communists from the Lenin School in Moscow to the battlefields of Spain. I follow their postwar paths into the early Cold War, when Spanish Civil War veterans figured prominently among the victims of the spy mania that gripped both sides of the iron curtain. My research draws together state and communist party archives and a wealth of intimate letters and autobiographies to capture the personal dimensions of political commitments. Even for those communists who eventually left the party, the Spanish Civil War often remained a defining moment of their own life stories and personal relationships.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Communist Manifesto

Lisa Kirschenbaum Why did I love this book?

Written in 1848, The Communist Manifesto is still fresh and relevant. If you’ve never read it, or read it a long time ago, this is the place to start for understanding not only what communism is but why it has inspired so many around the world. In powerful and often poetic prose, Marx and Engels explain the workings of capitalism and urge the oppressed to come together to take action against inequality and oppression. As a bonus, many recent editions include provocative forewords (including one by my next pick, Eric Hobsbawm) that explore how the Manifesto can help us understand capitalism today.

By Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Communist Manifesto as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.'

Marx and Engels's revolutionary summons to the working classes - one of the most important and influential political theories ever formulated.

Introducing Little Black Classics: 80 books for Penguin's 80th birthday. Little Black Classics celebrate the huge range and diversity of Penguin Classics, with books from around the world and across many centuries. They take us from a balloon ride over Victorian London to a garden of blossom in Japan, from Tierra del Fuego to 16th-century California and the Russian steppe. Here are stories lyrical and savage; poems epic and intimate;…


Book cover of Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life

Lisa Kirschenbaum Why did I love this book?

Hobsbawm was both one of the most influential professional historians of the twentieth century and a lifelong communist. As a historian, Hobsbawm had no illusions about the failures of twentieth-century communist regimes. His life story illustrates how a commitment to communism entailed far more than an endorsement of Stalin or the Soviet Union. A schoolboy in Berlin when the Nazis came to power, Hobsbawm, associated communism with antifascism. In his autobiography, he offers not a confession or a justification for his membership in the communist party, but an effort to explain what he calls the “wars of secular religion” that devastated so much of the twentieth century.

By Eric Hobsbawm,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Eric Hobsbawm has been widely acclaimed as one of the greatest living historians. Called "a lyrical, pungent, and provocative memoir" by Publishers Weekly, Interesting Times offers a personal tour through what Hobsbawm terms "the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history." The book takes us from his birth in Alexandria, Egypt, and early schooling in Weimar Berlin to his student days as a Cambridge Red and Apostle at King's College. Hobsbawm took E.M. Forster to hear Lenny Bruce, demonstrated with Bertrand Russell against nuclear arms, translated for Che Guevara in Havana, and inaugurated the modern history of banditry. With…


Book cover of Spider Eaters: A Memoir

Lisa Kirschenbaum Why did I love this book?

Rae Yang offers a moving and sometimes harrowing account of how a privileged child of Chinese Communist Party elites became during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s a member of the Red Guards, and, in the aftermath of the revolution, a pig tender on a farm in the remote northern wilderness. Ultimately, she emigrated to the United States and became a professor of East Asian studies. In this beautifully written memoir, Yang recovers her youthful idealism and offers an unsparing assessment of the consequences for China, her family, and herself of the desire for revolutionary heroism. 

By Spider Eaters,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Spider Eaters" is at once a moving personal story, a fascinating family history, and a unique chronicle of political upheaval told by a Chinese woman who came of age during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution. With stunning honesty and a lively, sly humor, Rae Yang records her life from her early years as the daughter of Chinese diplomats in Switzerland, to her girlhood at an elite middle school in Beijing, to her adolescent experience as a Red Guard and later as a laborer on a pig farm in the remote northern wilderness. She tells of her eventual disillusionment…


Book cover of To Change the World: My Years in Cuba

Lisa Kirschenbaum Why did I love this book?

In 1968, Margaret Randall, an American radical fleeing political repression in Mexico, moved to Cuba with her children. She remained there until 1980. Her memoir of her years in Cuba provides insight into the lived experience of revolutionary change. She charts her everyday life and struggles and offers a compelling picture of the broader political and economic context. A pioneering feminist, oral historian, and photographer, Randall, with the permission of the Cuban government, interviewed women throughout the country about how the revolution shaped their lives. Acknowledging the revolution’s failures, blind spots, and shortcomings, she remains committed to changing the world.

By Margaret Randall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In To Change the World, the legendary writer and poet Margaret Randall chronicles her decade in Cuba from 1969 to 1980. Both a highly personal memoir and an examination of the revolution's great achievements and painful mistakes, the book paints a portrait of the island during a difficult, dramatic, and exciting time.

Randall gives readers an inside look at her children's education, the process through which new law was enacted, the ins and outs of healthcare, employment, internationalism, culture, and ordinary people's lives. She explores issues of censorship and repression, describing how Cuban writers and artists faced them. She recounts…


Book cover of The Communist Experience in the Twentieth Century: A Global History Through Sources

Lisa Kirschenbaum Why did I love this book?

The Communist Experience is a vast and kaleidoscopic collection of primary sources that range from a fragment of the memoir of a Russian worker who became a Bolshevik before the 1917 revolution to letters from Spanish children evacuated to the USSR during the Spanish Civil War to the manifesto of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Cuba. Young organizes the collection around themes that cross-national and temporal borders, such as “children of the revolution” “state violence and repression,” and “leisure, entertainment sports, and travel.” The book can be read from cover to cover, but also rewards readers who dip into sections or personal stories according to their interests.

By Glennys Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Communist Experience in the Twentieth Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Using a source-based approach, The Communist Experience in the Twentieth Century is the first text designed to help students, general readers, and scholars understand how people constructed Communist ways of life around the world. Taking a global approach, it extends beyond Russia and Eastern Europe to examine the lives of people in China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, Peru, Cuba, and elsewhere. The book provides an inside look at the
Communist experience, where people were-sometimes simultaneously so-enthusiasts, reshapers, resisters, and victims of an ideological project that was (and, for some, still is) both humanity's darkest nightmare and brightest hope. Since…


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Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

Book cover of Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

Martha Marks Author Of Rubies of the Viper

New book alert!

Who am I?

I made my first visit to Pompeii at age seven. That day, I told my parents that I had been there before. It was all very familiar. And that sense of déjà vu has never left me. I feel it whenever I go back to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Roman Forum. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but... As an adult, I’ve returned many times to those places and visited others featured in my books: the Etruscan necropolis at Caere, which was already 1,000 years old at the time of my novels; Athens; and the ancient ports of Piraeus in Greece and Itanos in Crete. I earned a Ph.D. at Northwestern University, taught for many years, and enjoyed a million marvelous experiences, but my lifelong love of ancient Rome is the direct result of that long-ago visit to Pompeii with my parents.

Martha's book list on the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD

What is my book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. But, as gamblers in love, they rolled the dice. And then they worked hard, took risks, caught lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the lottery of life. Over four decades, Lady Luck smiled on them, until one day, she didn’t. Out of the blue, Fortune spun her wheel and taught them that no one is immune to tragedy and heartbreak.

Betting on Bernie is Martha Marks’s memoir of their improbable courtship, happy and prosperous marriage, and not-so-golden “golden years.” It will make you think, wonder, laugh, and cry.

Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

What is this book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. No real reason for it, just a series of fluky coincidences. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. “It’ll never last,” people whispered after they got engaged. “Poor probability of success” was the general consensus when they married. But Bernie and Martha ignored the naysayers. Gamblers in love, they rolled the dice.

And then they worked hard, took even more risks, caught a few lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in communism, the Soviet Union, and Cuba?

10,000+ 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 Cuba.

Communism Explore 81 books about communism
The Soviet Union Explore 314 books about the Soviet Union
Cuba Explore 83 books about Cuba