100 books like Imagining the Unimaginable

By Aaron J. Cohen,

Here are 100 books that Imagining the Unimaginable fans have personally recommended if you like Imagining the Unimaginable. 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 Moscow, 1937

Steven G. Marks Author Of How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism

From my list on modern Russian history.

Why am I passionate about this?

Steven G. Marks is a historian who has written extensively on Russian economic and cultural history, the global impact of Russian ideas, and the history of capitalism. He received his PhD from Harvard University and has spent more than 30 years teaching Russian and world history at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Steven's book list on modern Russian history

Steven G. Marks Why did Steven love this book?

Karl Schlögel’s masterpiece, Moscow,1937, is a gripping study of Moscow at the peak of the Stalinist Great Terror. With short chapters and a multitude of illustrations, the book leads the reader on a panoptic tour of every aspect of the city’s life in this year of mass arrests and waves of executions. Step by step, Schlögel builds a convincing case that as the Communist regime struggled to get a grip on the chaos unleashed by the regime’s own collectivization and industrialization drives, its reflexive response was to resort to political violence. The murderous frenzy that resulted changed the society beyond recognition.

By Karl Schlogel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Moscow, 1937 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moscow, 1937: the soviet metropolis at the zenith of Stalin s dictatorship. A society utterly wrecked by a hurricane of violence. In this compelling book, the renowned historian Karl Schlogel reconstructs with meticulous care the process through which, month by month, the terrorism of a state-of-emergency regime spiraled into the Great Terror during which 1 1/2 million human beings lost their lives within a single year. He revisits the sites of show trials and executions and, by also consulting numerous sources from the time, he provides a masterful panorama of these key events in Russian history. He shows how, in…


Book cover of Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

Henry Virgin Author Of Exit Rostov

From my list on psychological enquiry in alternative formats.

Why am I passionate about this?

Certain books have the ability to inspire you or help you go beyond the boundaries of your understanding, to teach you something new or to show you how to look at things differently, to alter and enhance your perception. Each of these texts have encouraged and enchanted me, with hard-won truths. I appreciate the style of writing which draws you further and further into the author's psyche, and thus into your own, like deep diving into uncharted depths. Also, as someone who tries to write poetry and prose, I find each of these writers have a refreshing and interesting technique and method of communicating their thoughts and ideas.

Henry's book list on psychological enquiry in alternative formats

Henry Virgin Why did Henry love this book?

If you would like to try and understand the Soviet and post-Soviet psyche, these first-hand, verbatim interviews from 1991-2012, by Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian Nobel Laureate, question and discuss what it means and meant to be a Soviet. With a wide selection of individual testimonies from different backgrounds of the Soviet Union, from ordinary folk to officials, prisoners, relatives of those who were murdered, the executioners, the book also investigates how they coped when the Soviet Union broke down. Written from transcribed, spoken recordings, these documentary / reportage texts get to the heart of the matter—often that there is a gaping vacancy in the place of what one had previously believed in, from one's earliest of days, even before becoming a red-scarfed Pioneer. When one's whole philosophical fabric has been torn down, how do you exist? How do you cope and make sense of the world? What really is so…

By Bela Shayevich, Svetlana Alexievich,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Secondhand Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia, from Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND PUBLISHERS WEEKLY • LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE WINNER

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Wall Street Journal • NPR • Financial Times • Kirkus Reviews

When the Swedish Academy awarded Svetlana Alexievich the…


Book cover of The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

Steven G. Marks Author Of How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism

From my list on modern Russian history.

Why am I passionate about this?

Steven G. Marks is a historian who has written extensively on Russian economic and cultural history, the global impact of Russian ideas, and the history of capitalism. He received his PhD from Harvard University and has spent more than 30 years teaching Russian and world history at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Steven's book list on modern Russian history

Steven G. Marks Why did Steven love this book?

There are many excellent histories of the Russian Revolution that chronicle the main events, but none convey the complexity of experiences in Tsarist Russia during its final years and the Soviet regime in its initial phase as Mark Steinberg’s short but powerful and original work. This book gives us the bird’s-eye view of developments as they unfold, but also places them under the microscope to give us personal stories and experiences from different wakes of life. Using contemporary journalism and diaries, Steinberg recovers the voices of a range of ethnic groups in various regions of the empire—Jews, Ukrainians, and Central Asians--as well as workers, peasants, women, and members of the intelligentsia. As we witness their lives being thrown into upheaval by rapid political and economic transformation in the first years of the 20th century, followed by World War I, the two revolutions of 1917, and civil war, we gain…

By Mark D. Steinberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921 is a new history of Russia's revolutionary era as a story of experience-of people making sense of history as it unfolded in their own lives and as they took part in making history themselves. The major events, trends, and explanations, reaching from Bloody Sunday in 1905 to the final shots of the civil war in 1921, are viewed through the doubled perspective of the professional historian looking backward and the contemporary
journalist reporting and interpreting history as it happened. The volume then turns toward particular places and people: city streets, peasant villages, the margins of empire…


Book cover of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

Mark Lawrence Schrad Author Of Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

From my list on understanding Putinism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve lived, learned, and loved Russian politics since before the collapse of communism. My Vodka Politics book takes a deep dive into Russian history but is ultimately focussed on better understanding contemporary social, economic, and political developments in Russia, where Putin and Putinism are at the core. Having taught graduate and undergraduate courses on Russian and post-Soviet politics for the past fifteen years, I find it essential to keep up-to-date on the latest scholarship. There are many great works out there by gifted journalists, writers, and scholars, many of which illuminate perhaps only part of Russia’s personalized autocracy. The ones I’ve listed here I feel present the most well-rounded picture, from a wide variety of perspectives.

Mark's book list on understanding Putinism

Mark Lawrence Schrad Why did Mark love this book?

You may recognize Fiona Hill from her damning testimony in the first impeachment of President Donald Trump in the Ukraine scandal, at which time she was senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council. Prior to that, she—along with co-author Cliff Gaddy—were two of the top minds on Russian politics at the Brookings Institute.

Together their book, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin goes beyond the standard biographies of Vladimir Putin’s rise from the streets of Leningrad to the KGB to the Kremlin. More importantly, it highlights the variety of roles that Putin plays in the role he currently occupies: the embodiment of the state, the interpreter of Russian history, the survivalist, the outsider, the free marketeer, and the case officer. Understanding how Putin switches from one role to another atop the Russian political system is crucial to understand that system.

By Clifford G. Gaddy, Fiona Hill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fiona Hill and other U.S. public servants have been recognized as Guardians of the Year in TIME's 2019 Person of the Year issue.

From the KGB to the Kremlin: a multidimensional portrait of the man at war with the West.

Where do Vladimir Putin's ideas come from? How does he look at the outside world? What does he want, and how far is he willing to go?

The great lesson of the outbreak of World War I in 1914 was the danger of misreading the statements, actions, and intentions of the adversary. Today, Vladimir Putin has become the greatest challenge…


Book cover of Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia

Coryne Hall Author Of Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna

From my list on Imperial Russia and the Romanovs.

Why am I passionate about this?

I developed a fascination for Imperial Russia in childhood when I learned that my great-grandmother was born in St Petersburg, an almost exact contemporary of Nicholas II. I have studied the Romanovs and Imperial Russia for over 40 years and lectured in England (including the Victoria & Albert Museum), America, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Russia. My many books include To Free the Romanovs and Queen Victoria and the Romanovs.

Coryne's book list on Imperial Russia and the Romanovs

Coryne Hall Why did Coryne love this book?

To understand Imperial Russia, you have to understand its culture. From the early days of conversion to Christianity in 987, through to Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, Suzanne Massie takes us on a wonderful journey through the customs and culture of this enigmatic land. We see the colourful markets and fairs, the carnival season and the traditions of Easter and Christmas, as well as the great artists, composers, writers, and dancers that Russia has produced. This is one of the most beautiful (and useful) books I have ever bought.

By Suzanne Massie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Details the history of Russia from the religious revolution of 987 to the political revolution of 1917, graphically describing Russia's political and cultural environments under Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great


Book cover of The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914

Michael Ruse Author Of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

From my list on why such nice people as we are so nasty.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was raised a Quaker in England in the years after the Second World War. Quakers don’t have creeds, but they have strong beliefs about such things as the immorality of war. In the 1950s there was also huge prejudice, particularly against homosexuality which was then illegal. Issues like these gnawed at me throughout my 55-year career as a philosophy professor. Now 82 and finally retired, I'm turning against the problems of war and prejudice, applying much that I've learnt in my career as a philosopher interested in evolutionary theory, most particularly Charles Darwin. For this reason, intentionally, Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict is aimed at the general reader.  

Michael's book list on why such nice people as we are so nasty

Michael Ruse Why did Michael love this book?

If we are not killer apes, if war is not inevitable, how does it happen? Obviously because people were not up to the challenges of maintaining peace. Margaret MacMillan’s riveting account of the events leading up to the Great War, the First World War, shows in all-too-clear detail how not to go about avoiding war. The German Kaiser, Wilhelm, was petty and boastful and altogether too proud and confident of his totally inadequate abilities. The Tsar of Russia, Nicholas, was cut from the same cloth. But whereas Wilhelm made up his mind quickly and then was unmovable, Nicholas could never make up his mind. Between them, helped by other inadequates in places of high status and power, millions of young men lay dead on the fields of Flanders, in Northern France.

By Margaret MacMillan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The War That Ended Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER of the International Affairs Book of the Year at the Political Book Awards 2014Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2013
The First World War followed a period of sustained peace in Europe during which people talked with confidence of prosperity, progress and hope. But in 1914, Europe walked into a catastrophic conflict which killed millions of its men, bled its economies dry, shook empires and societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe's dominance of the world. It was a war which could have been avoided up to the last moment-so why did it happen?
Beginning in the early nineteenth…


Book cover of The Fortress: The Siege of Przemysl and the Making of Europe's Bloodlands

Adam Zamoyski Author Of Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe

From my list on to truly understand the First World War.

Why am I passionate about this?

Adam Zamoyski is a British historian of Polish origin. He is the author of over a dozen award winning books. His family originates in Poland. His parents left the country when it was invaded by Germany and Russia in 1939, and were stranded in exile when the Soviets took it over at the end of World War II. Drawn to it as much by the historical processes at work there as by family ties, Zamoyski began to visit Poland in the late 1960s. His interest in the subject is combined with a feel for its connections to the history and culture of other nations, and a deep understanding of the pan-European context.

Adam's book list on to truly understand the First World War

Adam Zamoyski Why did Adam love this book?

This book not only tells the fascinating story of the great siege in 1914-15 of the supposedly impregnable fortress of Przemyśl. It is a highly readable and often darkly humorous account, based on an extraordinary array of sources in several languages, paints a vivid picture of the political and military shambles into which the Austro-Hungarian Empire had fallen. With chilling precision, it also identifies the presence of many of the germs which would flourish into the horrors which visited the same area in the following decades.

By Alexander Watson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


A prizewinning historian tells the dramatic story of the siege that changed the course of the First World War

In September 1914, just a month into World War I, the Russian army laid siege to the fortress city of Przemysl, the Hapsburg Empire's most important bulwark against invasion. For six months, against storm and starvation, the ragtag garrison bitterly resisted, denying the Russians a quick victory. Only in March 1915 did the city fall, bringing occupation, persecution, and brutal ethnic cleansing.

In The Fortress, historian Alexander Watson tells the story of the battle for Przemysl, showing how it marked the…


Book cover of The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919

John Mosier Author Of The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I

From my list on the other fronts in WW1.

Why am I passionate about this?

Currently a full professor at Loyola University, he entered college at 16, studying chemistry, economics, and literature. He did graduate work in German, Russian, and Philosophy, held a double fellowship in music and literature, and wrote his dissertation on the relationship between historiography and epic poetry. In 2001, his 10th book, The Myth of the Great War was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history.

John's book list on the other fronts in WW1

John Mosier Why did John love this book?

The best account of the futile Allied attempts to keep Russia in the war.   Largely ignored, mainly because it was politically embarrassing and.  Still worse, through no fauly of the army, it was militarily unsucessful.  But the intervention left lasting scars, and consequences were fatal for the remainder of the century. 

By Joel R. Moore, Harry H. Mead, Lewis E. Jahns

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the aftermath of the First World War, the United States sent 13,000 troops into the Soviet Union in support of the Tsarist White Russian Army, in an attempt to crush the Bolshevik government that had assumed power in the Russian Revolution. Written by three American doughboys who fought in Russia, this is a firsthand account of the only time in history that American troops directly fought Red Army troops.


Book cover of Mobilizing the Russian Nation: Patriotism and Citizenship in the First World War

Joshua A. Sanborn Author Of Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire

From my list on Russia in World War I.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of history at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and I’ve been studying Russia ever since visiting the Soviet Union as a college student in 1990. I’ve been particularly interested in seeking connections between violence and other dimensions of historical experience. My first book (Drafting the Russian Nation) explored connections between political ideologies and violence, Imperial Apocalypse is in part a social history of violence, and my current project is examining the connection between literary cultures, professional communities, and the violence of the Cold War.

Joshua's book list on Russia in World War I

Joshua A. Sanborn Why did Joshua love this book?

One of the most pernicious myths surrounding the Russian population in the years of the war is that the subjects of the tsar were too provincial and ignorant to really have a sense of what was going on or why. This myth was perpetuated above all by political and military elites after the war as a way of explaining the reasons they had lost the war. Stockdale’s work makes this myth almost impossible to maintain. In chapters on the effectiveness of mass media, on the role of the church, on the heartfelt hatred of the enemy, and more, she shows how regular Russians were mobilized for the war. If some were unpatriotic, this was not the result of ignorance but of knowing too well how the regime was failing the people it was supposed to protect.

By Melissa Kirshcke Stockdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mobilizing the Russian Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The First World War had a devastating impact on the Russian state, yet relatively little is known about the ways in which ordinary Russians experienced and viewed this conflict. Melissa Kirschke Stockdale presents the first comprehensive study of the Great War's influence on Russian notions of national identity and citizenship. Drawing on a vast array of sources, the book examines the patriotic and nationalist organizations which emerged during the war, the role of the Russian Orthodox Church, the press and the intelligentsia in mobilizing Russian society, the war's impact on the rights of citizens, and the new, democratized ideas of…


Book cover of The Russian Origins of the First World War

Terence Zuber Author Of The Real German War Plan, 1904-14

From my list on new revisionist military history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been interested in military history and wanted to become a professional soldier. I benefitted especially from three years as the American liaison officer on the staff of the German 12th Panzer Division. German Army organization, planning and decision-making, troop leadership, and training are outstanding and made a deep impression on me. I received a superb education as a historian at the University of Wuerzburg, Germany, which required history to be written from original source documents, not secondary sources uncritically accepted. My standards emphasize attention to detail in military planning and operations, and archival work in English, German, and French. As do the authors that I have selected.

Terence's book list on new revisionist military history

Terence Zuber Why did Terence love this book?

Conventional histories blame Germany for starting the First World War by “turning a Balkan Quarrel into a European war.” McMeekin shows both Germany and Austria-Hungary wanted a quick, isolated Austrian-Serbian war. It was Russia that wanted a general European war in order to seize Constantinople and the Bosporus Straits and give Russia access to the Mediterranean. Therefore, the Russians wanted France and Great Britain to tie down Germany, while Russia crushed the Austrians and seized the Balkans and the Bosphorous. And the Russians knew about the Serb plot to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand in advance. McMeeken’s archival research in proving his case is impressive.

By Sean McMeekin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Russian Origins of the First World War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The catastrophe of the First World War, and the destruction, revolution, and enduring hostilities it wrought, make the issue of its origins a perennial puzzle. Since World War II, Germany has been viewed as the primary culprit. Now, in a major reinterpretation of the conflict, Sean McMeekin rejects the standard notions of the war's beginning as either a Germano-Austrian preemptive strike or a "tragedy of miscalculation." Instead, he proposes that the key to the outbreak of violence lies in St. Petersburg.

It was Russian statesmen who unleashed the war through conscious policy decisions based on imperial ambitions in the Near…


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Interested in Russia, World War 1, and art?

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