10 books like Gulag

By Anne Applebaum,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Gulag. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Life and Fate

By Vasily Grossman,

Book cover of Life and Fate

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.

Life and Fate

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…


Bloodlands

By Timothy Snyder,

Book cover of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

A profoundly humane and different kind of history, setting the most exceptional and bloody period in all of human history in the context of two opposing, mass murderous regimes. It sets a new standard for how history should be written, not as cold operations divorced from cause but as causes and issues that are at stake in war driving decisions about operations and genocides. It is also notable for writing the history of the eastern front as a single, unified tale of the clash of ideas and power, and not just disjointed stories that only meet where the armed forces touched. 

Bloodlands

By Timothy Snyder,

Why should I read it?

7 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…


Chernobyl Prayer

By Svetlana Alexievich,

Book cover of Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future

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.

Chernobyl Prayer

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,…


Grey Bees

By Andrey Kurkov, Boris Dralyuk (translator),

Book cover of Grey Bees

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. 

Grey Bees

By Andrey Kurkov, Boris Dralyuk (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 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…


The Gulag Archipelago

By Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn,

Book cover of The Gulag Archipelago

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.

The Gulag Archipelago

By Aleksandr I. 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…


Cannibal Island

By Nicolas Werth, Steven Rendall,

Book cover of Cannibal Island: Death in a Siberian Gulag

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…

Cannibal Island

By Nicolas Werth, 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…


Lenin's Tomb

By David Remnick,

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

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.

Lenin's Tomb

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…


The Great Terror

By Robert Conquest,

Book cover of The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties

No book exposed the horrors of Josef Stalin’s purges more graphically and with greater power than Robert Conquest’s epic, The Great Terror. The book chronicled how a paranoid Stalin, convinced his power was threatened by his rival Leon Trotsky and his allies, unleashed a wave of terror by his country’s NKVD—a forerunner of the KGB--  that decimated the Soviet leadership and its military with millions of Russians executed or marched to Siberian prison camps. While Stalin’s henchmen staged mock “trials” in Moscow, marked by phony confessions, extracted by torture, liberal apologists in the West sought to justify Stalin’s lunatic crackdown. I read this book in college and it has stayed with me for years-- providing an eye-opening lesson in the willingness of those of all political stripes to turn a blind eye to the evils of totalitarianism.

The Great Terror

By Robert Conquest,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robert Conquest's The Great Terror is the book that revealed the horrors of Stalin's regime to the West. This definitive fiftieth anniversary edition features a new foreword by Anne Applebaum.

One of the most important books ever written about the Soviet Union, The Great Terror revealed to the West for the first time the true extent and nature Stalin's purges in the 1930s, in which around a million people were tortured and executed or sent to labour camps on political grounds. Its publication caused a widespread reassessment of Communism itself.

This definitive fiftieth anniversary edition gathers together the wealth of…


Graphic Satire in the Soviet Union

By John Etty,

Book cover of Graphic Satire in the Soviet Union: Krokodil's Political Cartoons

Soviet satire is often overlooked or dismissed as purely propaganda. John Etty offers a refreshingly updated look at a key Soviet publication and provides the casual reader with an introduction to the colorful and humorous content in the USSR’s premier satirical journal. He explores how content was created, revealing a collaborative process that could involve everyone from the head of the party to everyday readers. While there was oversight and interference from state censors and political authorities, and self-censorship in the 1930s due to repression, Etty reveals that editors and creators had a great deal of creative freedom.

Etty also explores the Krokodil “Extended Universe”. In the 1920s, when there was a severe shortage of paper and many citizens were illiterate, Live Krokodil, a repertory company was organized in theatres, workers’ and Red Army clubs. Additionally, Krokodil published the Krokodil Library (Biblioteka Krokodila) which included cartoon compendiums and…

Graphic Satire in the Soviet Union

By John Etty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Graphic Satire in the Soviet Union as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After the death of Joseph Stalin, Soviet-era Russia experienced a flourishing artistic movement due to relaxed censorship and new economic growth. In this new atmosphere of freedom, Russia's satirical magazine Krokodil (The Crocodile) became rejuvenated. John Etty explores Soviet graphic satire through Krokodil and its political cartoons. He investigates the forms, production, consumption, and functions of Krokodil, focusing on the period from 1954 to 1964.

Krokodil remained the longest-serving and most important satirical journal in the Soviet Union, unique in producing state-sanctioned graphic satirical comment on Soviet and international affairs for over seventy years. Etty's analysis of Krokodil extends and…


A Full-Value Ruble

By Kristy Ironside,

Book cover of A Full-Value Ruble: The Promise of Prosperity in the Postwar Soviet Union

A Full-Value Ruble is economic history at its best. Using Soviet archival materials for both the Stalin and Khrushchev periods, Kristy Ironside shows how indispensable money was to an economy that, for ideological reasons, aimed at abolishing it. But a strong ruble (and not just any currency) did not mean that the underlying economy was strong. Using money as a lens, the author provides the reader with a multi-faceted view of Soviet urban and rural daily life in peace, war, and reconstruction.

A Full-Value Ruble

By Kristy Ironside,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Full-Value Ruble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new history shows that, despite Marxism's rejection of money, the ruble was critical to the Soviet Union's promise of shared prosperity for its citizens.

In spite of Karl Marx's proclamation that money would become obsolete under Communism, the ruble remained a key feature of Soviet life. In fact, although Western economists typically concluded that money ultimately played a limited role in the Soviet Union, Kristy Ironside argues that money was both more important and more powerful than most histories have recognized. After the Second World War, money was resurrected as an essential tool of Soviet governance. Certainly, its importance…


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