The best books on world communism

Lisa Kirschenbaum Author Of International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion
By Lisa Kirschenbaum

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...

International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

By Lisa Kirschenbaum,

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.

The books I picked & why

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The Communist Manifesto

By Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels,

Book cover of The Communist Manifesto

Why 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.

Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life

By Eric Hobsbawm,

Book cover of Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life

Why 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.


Spider Eaters: A Memoir

By Spider Eaters,

Book cover of Spider Eaters: A Memoir

Why 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. 


To Change the World: My Years in Cuba

By Margaret Randall,

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

Why 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.


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

By Glennys Young,

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

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in communism, the Soviet Union, and Cuba?

5,215 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 49 books about communism
The Soviet Union Explore 207 books about the Soviet Union
Cuba Explore 36 books about Cuba

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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