100 books like Gulag

By Anne Applebaum,

Here are 100 books that Gulag fans have personally recommended if you like Gulag. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Life and Fate

Paul Clark Author Of The Price of Dreams

From my list on life in the Soviet Union.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

Grossman consciously attempted to write the War and Peace of the Second World War, and in this panoramic masterpiece, he pulled it off. Like War and Peace, the book focuses both on the travails of a single family and the broader sweep of history, as we witness events from the perspective of persecuted Jewish scientists, soldiers (both Soviet and German), partisans, peasants, and generals.

This is an intensely personal work – Grossman covered the battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press and knew his subject matter firsthand. Writing it was also an extremely courageous act. The KGB confiscated the manuscript and Grossman never lived to see the book published.

By Vasily Grossman,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Life and Fate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based around the pivotal WWII battle of Stalingrad (1942-3), where the German advance into Russia was eventually halted by the Red Army, and around an extended family, the Shaposhnikovs, and their many friends and acquaintances, Life and Fate recounts the experience of characters caught up in an immense struggle between opposing armies and ideologies. Nazism and Communism are appallingly similar, 'two poles of one magnet', as a German camp commander tells a shocked old Bolshevik prisoner. At the height of the battle Russian soldiers and citizens alike are at last able to speak out as they choose, and without reprisal…


Book cover of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Ursula Wong Author Of Amber Wolf

From my list on WWII and Eastern Europe (that you may not know about).

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Lithuanian-American with a Chinese name, thanks to my husband. Thirty years ago, I found papers among my uncle’s possessions telling a WWII story about our ancestral Lithuania. I had heard about it in broad terms, but I could hardly believe what I was reading. I spent years validating the material. The result was Amber Wolf, a historical novel about a war within the war: the fight against the Russian occupation of Eastern Europe. While many countries were involved in separate struggles, I focused on Lithuania and their David and Goliath fight against the Russian army. After all this time, the story still moves me.

Ursula's book list on WWII and Eastern Europe (that you may not know about)

Ursula Wong Why did Ursula love this book?

Bloodlands is a story about the dead. Using archives made available after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Mr. Snyder sheds light on both Stalin’s and Hitler’s brutality.

In a confined area that includes just eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic countries, 14 million civilians died from the 1930s to the end of the war. Most were either starved or shot. Even more startling were the plans to kill millions more.

Stalin said, “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” Mr. Snyder reminds us of the tragedy.

By Timothy Snyder,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Bloodlands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Americans call the Second World War "the Good War." But before it even began, America's ally Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens-and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war's end, German and Soviet killing sites fell behind the Iron Curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.
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Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of…


Book cover of Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future

Jane Rogoyska Author Of Surviving Katyn: Stalin's Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth

From my list on the recent history of Russia and Ukraine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent the past few years writing about the 1940 Katyń Massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war by Stalin’s NKVD and the decades-long cover-up of their crime. My research has taken me far and wide across the recent history of eastern Europe but until the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 I was convinced the events I was studying belonged firmly in the past. Now, more than ever, we need to make an effort to understand the ways in which history informs the present. I most admire writers who combine a forensic attention to detail with a deep compassion for the individuals at the heart of every story.

Jane's book list on the recent history of Russia and Ukraine

Jane Rogoyska Why did Jane love this book?

One of the most beautiful and devastating books I’ve ever read, Chernobyl Prayer relates the story of the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine from the point of view of those most closely involved. Nobel laureate Alexievich’s unique method of using verbatim witness accounts, which she edits into something closely resembling poetry, elevates this to the level of great literature. The Soviet government’s attempts to cover up the scale of the disaster are widely considered to have contributed to the final collapse of the Soviet Union.

By Svetlana Alexievich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

'Absolutely essential and heartbreaking reading. There's a reason Ms. Alexievich won a Nobel Prize' - Craig Mazin, creator of the HBO / Sky TV series Chernobyl

- A new translation of Voices from Chernobyl based on the revised text -

In April 1986 a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Alexievich spent years collecting testimonies from survivors - clean-up workers, residents, firefighters,…


Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

Book cover of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

John Kenneth White Author Of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Reading was a childhood passion of mine. My mother was a librarian and got me interested in reading early in life. When John F. Kennedy was running for president and after his assassination, I became intensely interested in politics. In addition to reading history and political biographies, I consumed newspapers and television news. It is this background that I have drawn upon over the decades that has added value to my research.

John's book list on who we are, how we’ve changed, and what gives us hope

What is my book about?

It didn’t begin with Donald Trump. When the Republican Party lost five straight presidential elections during the 1930s and 1940s, three things happened: (1) Republicans came to believe that presidential elections are rigged; (2) Conspiracy theories arose and were believed; and (3) The presidency was elevated to cult-like status.

Long before Trump, each of these phenomena grew in importance. The John Birch Society and McCarthyism became powerful forces; Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first “personal president” to rise above the party; and the development of what Harry Truman called “the big lie,” where outrageous falsehoods came to be believed. Trump…

Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

What is this book about?

It didn't begin with Donald Trump. The unraveling of the Grand Old Party has been decades in the making. Since the time of FDR, the Republican Party has been home to conspiracy thinking, including a belief that lost elections were rigged. And when Republicans later won the White House, the party elevated their presidents to heroic status-a predisposition that eventually posed a threat to democracy. Building on his esteemed 2016 book, What Happened to the Republican Party?, John Kenneth White proposes to explain why this happened-not just the election of Trump but the authoritarian shift in the party as a…


Book cover of Grey Bees

Jane Rogoyska Author Of Surviving Katyn: Stalin's Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth

From my list on the recent history of Russia and Ukraine.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent the past few years writing about the 1940 Katyń Massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war by Stalin’s NKVD and the decades-long cover-up of their crime. My research has taken me far and wide across the recent history of eastern Europe but until the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 I was convinced the events I was studying belonged firmly in the past. Now, more than ever, we need to make an effort to understand the ways in which history informs the present. I most admire writers who combine a forensic attention to detail with a deep compassion for the individuals at the heart of every story.

Jane's book list on the recent history of Russia and Ukraine

Jane Rogoyska Why did Jane love this book?

Kurkov’s novel is about a middle-aged beekeeper who embarks on a Kafka-esque road trip across the conflict-ridden regions of eastern Ukraine to find pollen for his bees. This book provides a unique insight into the absurdity and tragedy of a conflict that pre-dates the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by 8 years, but has been largely ignored by the outside world. 

By Andrey Kurkov, Boris Dralyuk (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Grey Bees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a warm yet political humor, Ukraine’s most famous novelist presents a balanced and illuminating portrait of modern conflict.



Little Starhorodivka, a village of three streets, lies in Ukraine's Grey Zone, the no-man's-land between loyalist and separatist forces. Thanks to the lukewarm war of sporadic violence and constant propaganda that has been dragging on for years, only two residents remain: retired safety inspector turned beekeeper Sergey Sergeyich and Pashka, a rival from his schooldays. With little food and no electricity, under constant threat of bombardment, Sergeyich's one remaining pleasure is his bees. As spring approaches, he knows he must take…


Book cover of The Gulag Archipelago

Lynne Viola Author Of Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine

From my list on Stalin’s Great Terror.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lynne Viola is a University Professor of Russian history at the University of Toronto. Educated at Barnard and Princeton, she has carried out research in Russian and Ukrainian archives for over 30 years. Among her books, are two dealing with Stalinist repression: Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine and The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements. Both are based on work in previously classified archives, including the archives of the political police.

Lynne's book list on Stalin’s Great Terror

Lynne Viola Why did Lynne love this book?

This is the classic account of the Great Terror and the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn roots Stalinist repression firmly in the Russian Revolution, blaming Marxist ideology for the camps. The literary value of this work is incontestable.

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The official, one-volume edition, authorized by Solzhenitsyn

“BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE 20TH CENTURY” —Time

The Nobel Prize winner’s towering masterpiece of world literature, the searing record of four decades of terror and oppression, in one abridged volume (authorized by the author). Features a new foreword by Anne Applebaum.

“It is impossible to name a book that had a greater effect on the political and moral consciousness of the late twentieth century.” —David Remnick, The New Yorker

Drawing on his own experiences before, during and after his eleven years of incarceration and exile, on evidence provided by more than 200…


Book cover of The Gulag Archipelago Volume 1

Jasna Koteska Author Of Communist Intimacy

From my list on understanding trauma and how to heal it.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was 14 years old when my dad was imprisoned by the communist police of ex-Yugoslavia. My dad spent his childhood working as a shepherd in a small Macedonian village with 11 inhabitants. Later, he became a poet, and he belonged to the last group of political prisoners in the former Yugoslavia. When my dad was sent to prison, my family and I dealt with great trauma. 

Jasna's book list on understanding trauma and how to heal it

Jasna Koteska Why did Jasna love this book?

I consider this one of the most important books about the 20th century. A document of the suffering of millions of people, with a clear message that people are capable of the most horrible evils, was conducted with the most precise bureaucratic consistency.

In the sense in which Hannah Arendt described evil as already a banal evil. However, this book has a clear catharsis regarding the trauma. The duty of humans is to preserve, nurture, and value the existence of every human, animal, plant, stone, and mineral, with the Earth as our home and the skies as our potential. 

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“BEST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE 20TH CENTURY.” —Time

Volume 1 of the gripping epic masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn's chilling report of his arrest and interrogation, which exposed to the world the vast bureaucracy of secret police that haunted Soviet society. Features a new foreword by Anne Applebaum.

“The greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever leveled in modern times.” —George F. Kennan

“It is impossible to name a book that had a greater effect on the political and moral consciousness of the late twentieth century.” —David Remnick, The New Yorker

“Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece. . . . The Gulag Archipelago…


Book cover of Cannibal Island: Death in a Siberian Gulag

Roger R. Reese Author Of The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856-1917

From my list on Stalinism from every angle.

Why am I passionate about this?

Roger Reese has studied, researched, and or taught Soviet history since 1984. He has been on the faculty of Texas A&M University since 1990. He has published five books and numerous articles and book chapters on the military history of Russia and the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr. book prize for his most recent book, The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856-1917.

Roger's book list on Stalinism from every angle

Roger R. Reese Why did Roger love this book?

I love this book because it “names names.” It is a tragic recounting of the sending of petty criminals combined with a mostly random rounding up of innocent “undesirables” off the street by the police in the USSR in 1934 who are then shipped to exile in Siberia where they were expected to work for the good of the Soviet state. In a matter of months thousands of them died from maltreatment, exposure, and starvation. The book traces the chain of events from inspiration by head of the Gulag Berman and chief of the secret police Iagoda all the way down the chain of command of the Party and police officials to the man responsible for stranding the people on a river island in Siberia. The book gives a glimpse into the nature of the repressive organs and mentality of the Soviet state in a way that humanizes the experience…

By Nicolas Werth, Steven Rendall, Steven Rendall

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During the spring of 1933, Stalin's police rounded up nearly one hundred thousand people as part of the Soviet regime's "cleansing" of Moscow and Leningrad and deported them to Siberia. Many of the victims were sent to labor camps, but ten thousand of them were dumped in a remote wasteland and left to fend for themselves. Cannibal Island reveals the shocking, grisly truth about their fate. These people were abandoned on the island of Nazino without food or shelter. Left there to starve and to die, they eventually began to eat each other. Nicolas Werth, a French historian of the…


Book cover of Leave Your Tears in Moscow

Ursula Wong Author Of Amber Wolf

From my list on WWII and Eastern Europe (that you may not know about).

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Lithuanian-American with a Chinese name, thanks to my husband. Thirty years ago, I found papers among my uncle’s possessions telling a WWII story about our ancestral Lithuania. I had heard about it in broad terms, but I could hardly believe what I was reading. I spent years validating the material. The result was Amber Wolf, a historical novel about a war within the war: the fight against the Russian occupation of Eastern Europe. While many countries were involved in separate struggles, I focused on Lithuania and their David and Goliath fight against the Russian army. After all this time, the story still moves me.

Ursula's book list on WWII and Eastern Europe (that you may not know about)

Ursula Wong Why did Ursula love this book?

This touching memoir by Barbara Armonas tells the story of her choice to stay in Lithuania during WWII for the sake of her infant son.

It speaks to the toll Mrs. Armonas paid for that decision, including what it took to raise her son in a labor camp. It also looks at the rest of her family who had fled to the US and their efforts to bring her home. Despite the difficulties and trauma, the story ends with an uplifting message of hope and joy for the future.

At its best, this is a tale of love, persistence, perseverance, and forgiveness.

By Barbara Armonas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leave Your Tears in Moscow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Barbara Armonas' 20-year ordeal in the soviet concentration camp system-the dreaded GULAG-is a rare and straightforward story, related with candor and underlying hope that the human spirit can survive any hardship-even the clamps of a vicious totalitarian system. This 50th Anniversary Edition commemorates Barbara's unbreakable spirit, memorializes her extraordinary life-she died three days short of her 100th birthday-and harkens us to actively nurture our freedom-because there still exist forces that challenge it every day. Her account is particularly relevant today as more and more documents of the Stalinist years and the Soviet Union in general become available for public view…


Book cover of Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire

Lisa Dickey Author Of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

From my list on the Russian people.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lisa Dickey is an author and book collaborator who’s helped write 20+ nonfiction books, including 10 New York Times Best Sellers. She’s also a Russophile from way back:  her first post-college job was working as a nanny at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the last days of the Soviet Union. Lisa began her writing career in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s, writing for the Moscow Times and USA Today, and she’s the author of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia.

Lisa's book list on the Russian people

Lisa Dickey Why did Lisa love this book?

I’m recommending this because if have any interest in Russia but haven’t yet read it, you simply must. No, really, listen: You must. David Remnick writes like Muhammad Ali boxed: with grace, power, and an unfair amount of skill. This is a deeply researched, carefully crafted, incredibly absorbing account of the final days of the Soviet Union. Never mind the “tomb” title; the book is filled with colorful characters and delicious slices of life, all captured during a time of historic upheaval.

By David Remnick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lenin's Tomb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
One of the Best Books of the Year: The New York Times 

From the editor of The New Yorker: a riveting account of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which has become the standard book on the subject. Lenin’s Tomb combines the global vision of the best historical scholarship with the immediacy of eyewitness journalism. Remnick takes us through the tumultuous 75-year period of Communist rule leading up to the collapse and gives us the voices of those who lived through it, from democratic activists to Party members, from anti-Semites to Holocaust survivors, from Gorbachev…


Book cover of Red Plenty

Mark Harrison Author Of Secret Leviathan: Secrecy and State Capacity under Soviet Communism

From my list on working inside Soviet communism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I visited Moscow for the first time in 1964. The Cold War was in full swing. I was still at school, learning beginners' Russian. I returned a few years later as a graduate student. By this point I was hopelessly infected with an incurable and progressive disease: curiosity about the Soviet Union under communism. I was full of questions, many of which could not be answered for decades, until communist rule collapsed. Becoming a professional scholar, I spent the next half-century studying the history, economics, and politics of communist societies. The biggest obstacle was always secrecy, so it seems fitting that the system of secrecy is the topic of my most recent book.

Mark's book list on working inside Soviet communism

Mark Harrison Why did Mark love this book?

This is the best (to be fair, the only) English-language novel about how the Soviet economy was supposed to work and how it actually worked in the 1950s and 1960s. (The author says it is “not a novel” but a Russian fairytale.)

I was reluctant to read it, and expected to find fault with it, but I found it both moving and utterly convincing. It has all the ingredients of a war story: the various characters are trying to survive, to find love, to protect their families, to serve the nation, or to better humanity, while being ground between the wheels of great-power politics and everyday existence.

The book’s only omission (I learned later, after years of research) is that it does not account sufficiently for the role of the secret police in Soviet-era workplace surveillance and the selection of managers.

By Francis Spufford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Bizarre and quite brilliant.' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

'Thrilling.' Michael Burleigh, Sunday Telegraph

'Francis Spufford has one of the most original minds in contemporary literature.' Nick Hornby

The Soviet Union was founded on a fairytale. It was built on 20th-century magic called 'the planned economy', which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the penny-pinching lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working.

Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, concentration camps, and prison?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet Union, concentration camps, and prison.

The Soviet Union Explore 354 books about the Soviet Union
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Prison Explore 44 books about prison