29 books like City-pick St Petersburg

By Heather Reyes, James Rann, Marina Samsonova

Here are 29 books that City-pick St Petersburg fans have personally recommended if you like City-pick St Petersburg. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Akhmatova Journals: Volume 1, 1938-1941

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From my list on modern St Petersburg.

Who am I?

I particularly enjoyed writing this book about a city that I love and have visited many times (starting in the late 1970s, when I was a student), and whose history I know well too. Most books, by foreigners anyway, talk about the city from a distance; I wanted to write something visceral, about sounds and smells as well as sights, and above all, how locals themselves think about their city, the way in which its intense and in some respects oppressive past shapes St Petersburg’s life today – yet all the same, never gets taken too seriously. Readers seem to agree: as well as an appreciative letter from Jan Morris, whose travel writing I’ve always admired, I treasure an email message from someone who followed my advice and tramped far and wide – before ending up in the room for prisoners’ relatives to drop off parcels at Kresty (the main city prison) when he wrongly assumed he was using an entrance to the (in fact non-existent) museum.

Catriona's book list on modern St Petersburg

Catriona Kelly Why did Catriona love this book?

Akhmatova was one of the most important poets in the city’s history, and here she is brought to life by an exceptionally talented diarist: elusive, but at times extremely frank, hesitant, vulnerable, while at the same time demanding. It is a riveting portrait. Chukovskaya also draws a fraught picture of Leningrad during the Stalinist Great Terror, as evoked in Akhmatova’s famous cycle of memorial poems, Requiem. Look out also for Chukovskaya’s novel about the Terror, Sofia Petrovna.

By Milena Michalski, Lydia Chukovskaya, Sylva Rubashova

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Even in her own day Anna Akhmatova was ranked as one of the great Russian poets of the century. Yet she suffered scathing attacks from the Soviet establishment, was famously denounced as ""half-nun, half-whore"", and was finally expelled from the Writers' Union. Lydia Chukovskaya, an admirer who became the poet's close friend, kept intimate diaries that reveal the day-to-day life of a passionate artist forced to endure sorrow and oppression, yet still able to create poetry and friendship. This volume contains the journals kept between the years 1938 and 1941.


Book cover of Notes from the Blockade

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From my list on modern St Petersburg.

Who am I?

I particularly enjoyed writing this book about a city that I love and have visited many times (starting in the late 1970s, when I was a student), and whose history I know well too. Most books, by foreigners anyway, talk about the city from a distance; I wanted to write something visceral, about sounds and smells as well as sights, and above all, how locals themselves think about their city, the way in which its intense and in some respects oppressive past shapes St Petersburg’s life today – yet all the same, never gets taken too seriously. Readers seem to agree: as well as an appreciative letter from Jan Morris, whose travel writing I’ve always admired, I treasure an email message from someone who followed my advice and tramped far and wide – before ending up in the room for prisoners’ relatives to drop off parcels at Kresty (the main city prison) when he wrongly assumed he was using an entrance to the (in fact non-existent) museum.

Catriona's book list on modern St Petersburg

Catriona Kelly Why did Catriona love this book?

You can’t understand modern St Petersburg without an awareness of its wartime history, and among many searing accounts of the Siege of Leningrad, this has the greatest philosophical depth. The translation by Alan Myers is excellent, and there are helpful notes by Emily van Buskirk.

By Lydia Ginzburg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Notes from the Blockade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 900-day siege of Leningrad (1941-44) was one of the turning points of the Second World War. It slowed down the German advance into Russia and became a national symbol of survival and resistance. An estimated one million civilians died, most of them from cold and starvation. Lydia Ginzburg, a respected literary scholar (who meanwhile wrote prose 'for the desk drawer' through seven decades of Soviet rule), survived. Using her own using notes and sketches she wrote during the siege, along with conversations and impressions collected over the years, she distilled the collective experience of life under siege. Through painful…


Book cover of Leningradsky Photo Underground

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From my list on modern St Petersburg.

Who am I?

I particularly enjoyed writing this book about a city that I love and have visited many times (starting in the late 1970s, when I was a student), and whose history I know well too. Most books, by foreigners anyway, talk about the city from a distance; I wanted to write something visceral, about sounds and smells as well as sights, and above all, how locals themselves think about their city, the way in which its intense and in some respects oppressive past shapes St Petersburg’s life today – yet all the same, never gets taken too seriously. Readers seem to agree: as well as an appreciative letter from Jan Morris, whose travel writing I’ve always admired, I treasure an email message from someone who followed my advice and tramped far and wide – before ending up in the room for prisoners’ relatives to drop off parcels at Kresty (the main city prison) when he wrongly assumed he was using an entrance to the (in fact non-existent) museum.

Catriona's book list on modern St Petersburg

Catriona Kelly Why did Catriona love this book?

It’s hard these days to get a sense of what Leningrad looked like back in the 1960s and 1970s, and these photographs are also a tribute to the alternative art of that era: grainy black-and-white-images of stray dogs on rubbish tips, drunks in backyards, dilapidated façades stretching along the eerie silver of canals. The photographers included (such as Boris Smelov, Lev Zviagin, Slava Mikhailov, Boris Kudryakov and Olga Korsunova) aren’t nearly as well-known as they should be, and are as interesting in their way as the ubiquitous Boris Mikhailov. For a comparable figure who isn’t included in Val’ran’s book because her work was only discovered recently, see this site with Masha Ivashintsova’s work, curated by her daughter.

Book cover of One Hot Summer in St. Petersburg

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From my list on modern St Petersburg.

Who am I?

I particularly enjoyed writing this book about a city that I love and have visited many times (starting in the late 1970s, when I was a student), and whose history I know well too. Most books, by foreigners anyway, talk about the city from a distance; I wanted to write something visceral, about sounds and smells as well as sights, and above all, how locals themselves think about their city, the way in which its intense and in some respects oppressive past shapes St Petersburg’s life today – yet all the same, never gets taken too seriously. Readers seem to agree: as well as an appreciative letter from Jan Morris, whose travel writing I’ve always admired, I treasure an email message from someone who followed my advice and tramped far and wide – before ending up in the room for prisoners’ relatives to drop off parcels at Kresty (the main city prison) when he wrongly assumed he was using an entrance to the (in fact non-existent) museum.

Catriona's book list on modern St Petersburg

Catriona Kelly Why did Catriona love this book?

An extraordinary, high-pitched, Munchausenesque account of a visit to only-just-post-Soviet Leningrad during an especially overheated period of recent history. Not at all like the genteel memories of champagne receptions at the Mariinsky Theatre followed by strolls down the Moika during the White Nights that one gets in other travelogues.

By Duncan Fallowell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Hot Summer in St. Petersburg as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An account of Fallowell's time spent in St Petersburg during the summer of 1992. He was there to write a novel, but was seduced away from his work by the world of clubs, bars and restaurants, and the extraordinary architecture. He also fell in love with Dima, a 17-year-old naval cadet.


Book cover of Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Christine Kohler Author Of No Surrender Soldier

From my list on going beyond bombs and how war affects families.

Who am I?

As a lover of history, when I lived in Hawaii, Japan, and Guam, I visited World War II sites. I had a fascinating career as a political reporter. I reported on a “Christmas Drop,” a tradition since WWII. On Johnston Atoll, I did photojournalism on the incineration of chemical weapons from East Germany. I interviewed a Kuwaiti sheik and human shields during Desert Storm. I covered negotiations when the Philippines didn’t renew US military base leases. While at the San Antonio Express News, I researched the WWII Japanese soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, who hid on Guam for nearly 28 years. That was the seed for my novel No Surrender Soldier

Christine's book list on going beyond bombs and how war affects families

Christine Kohler Why did Christine love this book?

Symphony for the City of the Dead is a riveting nonfiction story, written in novel style, about the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony. The story gives a glimpse of life for people trapped inside the Russian city for nearly three years, from 1941, when Nazis surrounded Leningrad. One million people died from bombings or starvation. After reading the moving account in MT Anderson’s book, I listened to Symphony for the City of the Dead. It will move you to tears. I love MT Anderson’s writing and depth, but this book is one of my all-time favorites due to the fact that it is nonfiction. It’s difficult to fathom how people could survive such horrific conditions. Yet, Shostakovich created such powerful haunting music from the tragedy.

By M.T. Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Symphony for the City of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

“This ambitious and gripping work is narrative nonfiction at its best. . . . The book has all the intrigue of a spy thriller. . . . A must-have title with broad crossover appeal.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, writing a symphony to rouse, rally, eulogize, and commemorate his fellow citizens: the Leningrad Symphony.…


Book cover of Crime and Punishment

Stephen Jackley Author Of Just Time: A Journey Through Britain's Fractured Justice System

From my list on the power of redemption.

Who am I?

Having spent a total of 7 years in 12 UK prisons (and 6 in the USA), I encountered so many people from all walks of life who found themselves in custody. What they all generally had in common was a desire to seek betterment – redemption – for even the repeat offenders never hoped to see the inside of another jail again. It can be a soul-destroying, depressing place, often ruthless, but also serves as a forge to draw out the perseverance and will to keep going. After leaving prison, I went on to set up a social enterprise, received a commendation from then Prince Charles, and support the daily operations of a charity (Arkbound). 

Stephen's book list on the power of redemption

Stephen Jackley Why did Stephen love this book?

A true classic with themes as equally relevant today as they were over 150 years ago.

I first read it when in HMP Dorchester, a Victorian-era prison that is now closed. Told from the perspective of a student who unintentionally becomes a murderer, it compels the reader to think deeply about how the routes into crime can be many and varied, along with the nature of power.

Whilst very little of the book covers time spent in custody, before the end it shows the main criminal protagonist, Raskalnikov, as achieving a level of redemption. The book also discusses elements of criminology theory, which are still pored over by real university students.

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Crime and Punishment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed by Washington Post Book World as “the best [translation] currently available" when it was first published, this second edition has been updated in honor of the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth.

With the same suppleness, energy, and range of voices that won their translation of The Brothers Karamazov the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky offer a brilliant translation of Dostoevsky's astounding pyschological thriller, newly revised for his bicentenniel. 

When Raskolnikov, an impoverished student living in the St. Petersburg of the tsars, commits an act of murder and theft, he sets into motion a story that is…


Book cover of Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia

Prit Buttar Author Of The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South, 1944

From my list on changed my view of history.

Who am I?

"History can become a dull and uninteresting subject, but the stories of the past are far more interesting and inspiring than the very best fiction. These stories tell us about how our world came to be, and the paths that our predecessors travelled; and they show us that, despite the decades and centuries that separate us, they were driven and inspired by the same factors that drive and inspire us today." Prit Buttar was a doctor, first in the British Army and then a GP, until retiring in 2019. Less than a year later, he volunteered to go back to work during the current pandemic.

Prit's book list on changed my view of history

Prit Buttar Why did Prit love this book?

This is an unusual book, in that it is effectively a biography of a city – known through the years first as St Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, and now once more St Petersburg. As he tells the story of the city that Peter the Great built in a desolate swamp, Lincoln brings together many of the different strands of Russian history and the strong-willed people who tried, with varying degrees of success, to direct that history in directions of their choosing. For anyone intending to visit St Petersburg, reading this book beforehand is an absolute must – it will make the experience of being there so much more valuable. If there is a flaw, it is that Lincoln sadly died when St Petersburg was perhaps at its lowest ebb following the end of the Soviet Union; it would be fascinating to know how he would have assessed the city…

By W. Bruce Lincoln,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For Russians, St.Petersburg has embodied power, heroism and fortitude. It has encompassed all the things that the Russians are and that they hope to become. Opulence and artistic brilliance blend with images of suffering on a monumental scale to make up the historic persona the late W. Bruce Lincoln's lavish biography of this mysterious, complex city. Climate and comfort were not what Tsar Peter the Great had in mind when he decided to build a new capital in the muddy marshes of the Neva River delta. Located 500 miles below the Arctic Circle, this area, with its foul weather, bad…


Book cover of Winter Garden

Kelli Estes Author Of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

From my list on dual timelines.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved history, but there’s something extra-special about a novel that shows history and how that history is still relevant today. Dual timeline novels tell an historical event through the eyes of a character living it and through the story of a present-day character connected to that history. I'm the author of two published dual timeline novels. One of my greatest passions is to learn about the history of a place I'm visiting so that I can practically see the history all around me. I currently live near Seattle with my husband and two sons and, when I’m not writing, can be found outside walking or boating the Salish Sea.

Kelli's book list on dual timelines

Kelli Estes Why did Kelli love this book?

I love a good mystery and a good story within a story. This book has both. Estranged sisters, Meredith and Nina, have never been close with their mother, Anya, until they finally have a chance to understand what made her so icy. As a deathbed promise to her husband, Anya agrees to tell their daughters her story, but it is so difficult for her that she must tell it little by little and as a fairy tale. From frozen, war-torn Leningrad to modern-day Alaska, the story changes this family forever. 

For anyone who has secrets, or has someone in their life they just can’t understand, this powerful book helps you see that there is a way through. It also reminds us that everyone has a story that can thaw the hardest of hearts.

By Kristin Hannah,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the New York Times number one bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Four Winds, comes Kristin Hannah's haunting, heartbreakingly beautiful novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between past and present.

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and travelled the world to become a famous photo journalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, these two estranged women will find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother,…


Book cover of Conquered City

Paul Clark Author Of The Price of Dreams

From my list on life in the Soviet Union.

Who am I?

At the age of 16, I briefly joined the International Socialists, a small British Trotskyist party. Though I soon became disillusioned, it was a formative experience that left me with a lifelong fascination with communism and the Soviet Union. Over the following decades, I read everything I could about the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. In the years after the fall of communism, the ideas that eventually culminated in the writing of this book began to form in my head.

Paul's book list on life in the Soviet Union

Paul Clark Why did Paul love this book?

Serge was a supporter of the Bolshevik revolution, though he never lost sight of its flaws. 

This extraordinary novel centres on Petrograd at the height of the civil war, as economic collapse, hunger, the threat from the Whites, and the depredations of the Red Terror crush the city’s spirit and ultimately destroy the revolution, even if the Bolshevik regime it spawned survives.

By Victor Serge, Richard Greeman (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Conquered City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1919–1920: St. Petersburg, city of the czars, has fallen to the Revolution. Camped out in the splendid palaces of the former regime, the city’s new masters seek to cement their control, even as the counterrevolutionary White Army regroups. Conquered City, Victor Serge’s most unrelenting narrative, is structured like a detective story, one in which the new political regime tracks down and eliminates its enemies—the spies, speculators, and traitors hidden among the mass of common people. 

Conquered City is about terror: the Red Terror and the White Terror. But mainly about the Red, the Communists who have dared to pick up…


Book cover of The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad

Steven H. Jaffe Author Of New York at War: Four Centuries of Combat, Fear, and Intrigue in Gotham

From my list on cities at war.

Who am I?

I am a historian, curator, and writer born and raised in New York City, a place whose history intrigued me from an early age. With a mother who moved from small-town New Jersey to Greenwich Village in the 1950s, and a father who had childhood memories of World War I in the Bronx, I think my interest was sort of preordained. I remain fascinated by cities as engines of change, as flashpoints for conflict, and as places that are simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. 

Steven's book list on cities at war

Steven H. Jaffe Why did Steven love this book?

Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) endured one of history’s great sieges when Hitler’s armies surrounded it in 1941. By the time the Red Army liberated it in 1944, the city’s thriving population of 2.5 million had been reduced by evacuations, bloodshed, and starvation. Salisbury brings to life the harrowing experiences of ordinary men and women who managed to survive with their dignity and devotion to civilization intact. The book casts an ironic shadow forward to the ordeal of Ukraine’s city dwellers today. And if you want to understand Vladimir Putinwhose childhood was shaped by family traumas in wartime Leningradthis is a good place to start.

By Harrison Salisbury,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The 900 Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Nazi siege of Leningrad from 1941 to 1944 was one of the most gruesome episodes of World War II. Nearly three million people endured it just under half of them died. For twenty-five years the distinguished journalist and historian Harrison Salisbury pieced together this remarkable narrative of villainy and survival, in which the city had much to fear-from both Hitler and Stalin.


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Interested in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Siege of Leningrad?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Siege of Leningrad.

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