100 books like Putin's Kleptocracy

By Karen Dawisha,

Here are 100 books that Putin's Kleptocracy fans have personally recommended if you like Putin's Kleptocracy. 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 Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

Mickey Mayhew Author Of Rasputin and his Russian Queen: The True Story of Grigory and Alexandra

From my list on Rasputin and his Russian queen.

Why am I passionate about this?

I can’t explain the fascination with Rasputin, but one hears the name so frequently via the Boney M pop song, so I took that as the inspiration - and the title - of my book. I saw a book about him in Waterstones one day and had to pick it up, even though it was so big it might’ve doubled as a doorstop. But from then I was hooked; I read everything I could, watched more, and researched until I actually went to Russia. And then I research some more!

Mickey's book list on Rasputin and his Russian queen

Mickey Mayhew Why did Mickey love this book?

This was the book that inspired me to visit Russia, while researching Rasputin and the Romanovs, and then to write my own take on the relationship between Rasputin and Alexandra.

It’s a great book but hard-going for a novice, but I like to dive in at the deep end.

By Douglas Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On the centenary of the death of Rasputin comes a definitive biography that will dramatically change our understanding of this fascinating figure

A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra's confidant and the guardian of the sickly heir to the Russian throne. His debauchery and sinister political influence are the stuff of legend, and the downfall of the Romanov dynasty was laid at his feet.

But as the prizewinning historian Douglas Smith shows, the true…


Book cover of Mirror of the Soul: A Life of the Poet Fyodor Tyutchev

Donald Rayfield Author Of Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him

From my list on Russia and the USSR.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since adolescence, I have been fascinated by Slavonic languages, literature, cultures, and history, and by what can be retrieved from archives all over Eastern Europe. And because so much has been suppressed or distorted in everything from biographies of writers to atrocities by totalitarian governments, there has been much to expose and write about. Studying at Cambridge in the 1960s gave me an opportunity to learn everything from Lithuanian to Slovak: I have been able to write histories of Stalin and of Georgia, biographies of Russians such as Chekhov, Suvorin, and Przhevalsky, and the field is still fresh and open for future work.

Donald's book list on Russia and the USSR

Donald Rayfield Why did Donald love this book?

The most compelling aspect of Mirror of the Soul is its analysis of the great poet Tyutchev’s bi-polar temperament and compulsive philandering. He was a forgivable Don Juan, in that he deeply empathized with his victims, although his misbehaviour shortened the lives of his first wife and of his most infatuated mistress. Morbidly irresponsible, he impregnated at least two mistresses and both his wives before marriage. Joy was for Tyutchev a thin veneer of light over misery and darkness; deaths of those close to him and contrition (if not guilt) finally reconciled him, in a death-bed poem, with a “punitive God” who removes everything — “breath, willpower, sleep” — leaving just an aggrieved, loving wife as his intermediary. Mirror of the Soul is beautifully written and edited. It will be, for a long time, the standard work on Tyutchev, doubtless in Russia, too.

Book cover of Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky

Donald Rayfield Author Of Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him

From my list on Russia and the USSR.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since adolescence, I have been fascinated by Slavonic languages, literature, cultures, and history, and by what can be retrieved from archives all over Eastern Europe. And because so much has been suppressed or distorted in everything from biographies of writers to atrocities by totalitarian governments, there has been much to expose and write about. Studying at Cambridge in the 1960s gave me an opportunity to learn everything from Lithuanian to Slovak: I have been able to write histories of Stalin and of Georgia, biographies of Russians such as Chekhov, Suvorin, and Przhevalsky, and the field is still fresh and open for future work.

Donald's book list on Russia and the USSR

Donald Rayfield Why did Donald love this book?

Patenaude focuses just on the Mexican period, from January 1937 to August 1940, of Trotsky’s exile, although the previous stages of his exile — Kazakhstan in 1928, then Turkey for four years, France for another three, followed by interment in Norway — are dealt with in a series of flashbacks. In fact, the whole book is written as if Trotsky in Coyoacán were recalling his past, from his prosperous farmer’s boyhood to his underground militancy, his Civil War military brilliance, and his blundering incompetence as a Bolshevik power-broker. The danger that Patenaude flirts with is to let Trotsky’s charisma and undoubted genius charm him into overlooking his subject’s monstrous indifference to the suffering and deaths of others, sometimes even of those close to him, as well as his overweening conceit.

By dealing with the last phase of the tragedy, nemesis, Trotsky is seen to pay in fear, resignation, failure, and…

By Bertrand M. Patenaude,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Leon Trotsky was the charismatic intellectual of the Russian Revolution, a brilliant writer and orator who was also an authoritarian organizer. He might have succeeded Lenin and become the ruler of the Soviet Union. But by the time the Second World War broke out he was in exile, living in Mexico in a villa borrowed from the great artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, guarded only by several naive young Americans in awe of the great theoretician. The household was awash with emotional turmoil - tensions grew between Trotsky and Rivera, as questions arose over his relations with Frida Kahlo.…


Book cover of Kvachi

Donald Rayfield Author Of Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him

From my list on Russia and the USSR.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since adolescence, I have been fascinated by Slavonic languages, literature, cultures, and history, and by what can be retrieved from archives all over Eastern Europe. And because so much has been suppressed or distorted in everything from biographies of writers to atrocities by totalitarian governments, there has been much to expose and write about. Studying at Cambridge in the 1960s gave me an opportunity to learn everything from Lithuanian to Slovak: I have been able to write histories of Stalin and of Georgia, biographies of Russians such as Chekhov, Suvorin, and Przhevalsky, and the field is still fresh and open for future work.

Donald's book list on Russia and the USSR

Donald Rayfield Why did Donald love this book?

Like Felix Krull, or Jonathan Wild, this is the story of a con-man, murderer, traitor, somehow redeemed by his charm and incidents of bravery The novel is at its best when Javakhishvili starts to describe Kvachi’s experiences with the Russians during the Revolution, the civil war and the early years of the Soviet state; it becomes clear that what has seemed a send-up of morality and a celebration of the picaresque is in fact equally valid as a cold assessment of revolutionary realpolitik. This is a wonderful novel, subtle and extravagant at the same time, seeming to fly by the seat of its pants but in fact consistently aware of exactly how to tread the line between structure and improvisation. It is extremely generous, bursting out of what appear to be its narrow confines to give us far more than we initially expected.

By Mikheil Javakhishvili, Donald Rayfield,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is, in brief, the story of a swindler, a Georgian Felix Krull, or perhaps a cynical Don Quixote, named Kvachi Kvachantiradze: womanizer, cheat, perpetrator of insurance fraud, bank-robber, associate of Rasputin, filmmaker, revolutionary, and pimp. Though originally denounced as pornographic, Kvachi's tale is one of the great classics of twentieth-century Georgian literature--and a hilarious romp to boot.


Book cover of Putin Mystique Inside Russia's Power Cult

Mark Galeotti Author Of We Need to Talk about Putin: Why the West Gets Him Wrong, and How to Get Him Right

From my list on understand today’s Russia.

Why am I passionate about this?

It’s all about the stories. Although I have been a professor, a think-tanker, and a secondee to the Foreign Office, by training I am a historian, so I love compelling, vivid, extraordinary stories, and for me, the best ones come from Russia. Having been traveling there since Soviet times, done my Ph.D. on it, drunk there with spooks and gangsters, talked late in the night in the kitchens of artists and journalists, I am as hooked as I ever was, and privileged to be able to write, teach, lecture and think about this splendidly bizarre place.

Mark's book list on understand today’s Russia

Mark Galeotti Why did Mark love this book?

Most studies of modern Russia, under the shadow of Vladimir Putin, start from the top down. This elegantly quirky study, by a journalist working in Russia, looks bottom up: why has Russia so often been ruled by autocrats, and why did the Russian people – at first, at least – accept this rather grey ex-KGB officer as their new tsar so enthusiastically? It’s a biography of modern Russia more than anything else, framed around a range of characters Arutunyan encountered in her travels around this fascinating country.

By Anna Arutunyan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Putin Mystique Inside Russia's Power Cult as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

GETTING TO GRIPS WITH RUSSIA’S 21ST CENTURY TSAR Vladimir V. Putin has confounded world leaders and defied their assumptions as they tried to figure him out, only to misjudge him time and again. The Putin Mystique takes the reader on a journey through the Russia of Vladimir Putin, named by Forbes magazine in 2013 as the most powerful man in the world. It is a neo-feudal world where iPads, WTO membership, and Brioni business suits conceal a power structure straight out of the Middle Ages, where the Sovereign is perceived as both divine and demonic, where a man’s riches are…


Book cover of All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin

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?

Of course, it takes more than one man to run a country, and in All the Kremlin’s Men, opposition journalist Mikhail Zygar expands that scope to examine various important figures within Putin’s inner circle. From good friends to politicians, important bureaucrats, and oligarchs—and in many cases, the lines between those categories are very much blurred. Zygar builds on a decade’s worth of interviews and investigative journalism to give a rare, behind-the-scenes look at Russia’s elites, how they relate to one another, and to Putin. The book presents an immensely readable history of post-Soviet Russian politics, moving the chronology forward from 1980s reformism to the tumultuous 1990s, and into the era of High Putinism, with each chapter highlighting the role of this leader or that. The Russian-language original, Vsya kremlevskaya rat’, quickly became a bestseller in Russian nonfiction, which also resulted in ever greater political pressure by the Kremlin…

By Mikhail Zygar,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All the Kremlin's Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All the Kremlin's Men is a gripping narrative of an accidental king and a court out of control. Based on an unprecedented series of interviews with Vladimir Putin's inner circle, this book presents a radically different view of power and politics in Russia. The image of Putin as a strongman is dissolved. In its place is a weary figurehead buffeted--if not controlled--by the men who at once advise and deceive him.

The regional governors and bureaucratic leaders are immovable objects, far more powerful in their fiefdoms than the president himself. So are the gatekeepers-those officials who guard the pathways to…


Book cover of Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia

Mark Galeotti Author Of We Need to Talk about Putin: Why the West Gets Him Wrong, and How to Get Him Right

From my list on understand today’s Russia.

Why am I passionate about this?

It’s all about the stories. Although I have been a professor, a think-tanker, and a secondee to the Foreign Office, by training I am a historian, so I love compelling, vivid, extraordinary stories, and for me, the best ones come from Russia. Having been traveling there since Soviet times, done my Ph.D. on it, drunk there with spooks and gangsters, talked late in the night in the kitchens of artists and journalists, I am as hooked as I ever was, and privileged to be able to write, teach, lecture and think about this splendidly bizarre place.

Mark's book list on understand today’s Russia

Mark Galeotti Why did Mark love this book?

Russians are not intrinsically good, bad, or ugly, they’re just like the rest of us. But living in Putin’s era often forces all kinds of compromises on people, especially if they want to live well and make a difference to the world around them. New Yorker’s Yaffa digs deep into the experiences of eight such ambitious Russians, some of whom deformed themselves to thrive, others of whom were all but broken by the experience. It’s not always the easiest book to read, but it’s an excellent exploration of what living in today’s Russia can mean.

By Joshua Yaffa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between Two Fires as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL WRITING

In this penetrating exploration of contemporary Russia, Joshua Yaffa meets a variety of Russians - from politicians and entrepreneurs to artists and historians - who have built their careers and constructed their identities in the shadow of the Putin system. Torn between their own ambitions and the omnipresent demands of the state, each has found that compromise is essential for survival and success. Between Two Fires is an intimate and probing portrait of a nation much discussed but little understood, and an urgent lesson about the nature of modern authoritarianism.


Book cover of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

Stephan Lewandowsky Author Of The Debunking Handbook 2020

From my list on the perils facing democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have had a lifelong interest in history and in particular the history of democracy. When I became a cognitive scientist, I initially studied basic memory processes using a mix of computer simulations and experimentation. I became interested in misinformation during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the purported “Weapons of Mass Destruction” never materialized but large segments of the American public continued to believe in their existence. Some 20 years later, misinformation has taken center stage in public life and has metastasized into a danger to democracy in many countries around the world. The books on this list should present a warning and inspiration to all of us.

Stephan's book list on the perils facing democracy

Stephan Lewandowsky Why did Stephan love this book?

This is a page-turner that I read in one go from front to finish. It reads like a thriller and keeps you hooked, although it is also a very serious analysis of contemporary Russia by one of the UK’s most skilled journalists and authors. It is as thrilling as it is frightening because there are so many signs that western countries are heading in a similar direction—a country that “is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away”, as Peter put it in one of his memorable phrases.

By Peter Pomerantsev,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the new Russia, even dictatorship is a reality show. Professional killers with the souls of artists, would-be theater directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, suicidal supermodels, Hell's Angels who hallucinate themselves as holy warriors, and oligarch revolutionaries: welcome to the glittering, surreal heart of twenty-first-century Russia. It is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, home to a form of dictatorship--far subtler than twentieth-century strains--that is rapidly rising to challenge the West. When British producer Peter Pomerantsev plunges into the booming Russian TV industry, he gains access to every nook…


Book cover of The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin's Rule

David Satter Author Of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

From my list on contemporary Russia.

Why am I passionate about this?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the U.S.S.R. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and an associate of the Henry Jackson Society in London.

David's book list on contemporary Russia

David Satter Why did David love this book?

The Russian apartment bombings of 1999 consolidated the criminal system put in place by Russian president Boris Yeltsin and created the conditions for Vladimir Putin to take power. In this book, Dunlop describes in meticulous detail the story of the bombings and shows that they were carried out by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) which means that they rank as the greatest political provocation since the burning of the Reichstag.

By John B. Dunlop,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Moscow Bombings of September 1999 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The five chapters of this volume focus on the complex and tumultuous events occurring in Russia during the five months from May through September 1999. They sparked the Russian invasion of Chechnya on 1 October and vaulted a previously unknown former KGB agent into the post of Russian prime minister and, ultimately, president. The five chapters are devoted to: * The intense political struggle taking place in Russia between May and August of 1999, culminating in an incursion by armed Islamic separatists into the Republic of Dagestan.* Two Moscow terrorist bombings of 9 and 13 September 1999, claiming the lives…


Book cover of 57 Hours: A Survivor's Account of the Moscow Hostage Drama

David Satter Author Of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

From my list on contemporary Russia.

Why am I passionate about this?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the U.S.S.R. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and an associate of the Henry Jackson Society in London.

David's book list on contemporary Russia

David Satter Why did David love this book?

Vesselin Nedkov was in Moscow on a business trip when he decided to buy a ticket to the Broadway style musical Nord-Ost, which was being shown at the Theater on Dubrovka. This book is his harrowing account of the ordeal as the theater and its thousand visitors were seized by armed terrorists and held for 57 hours before being "liberated" by the Russian special forces who attacked the theater with lethal gas. Rich in detail, his book also raises the many unanswered questions about the massive loss of innocent life. 

By Paul Wilson, Vesselin Nedkov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 57 Hours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To celebrate the last night of a business trip in Moscow, Canadian resident Vesselin Nedkov and a friend picked up two tickets to the hottest musical in town. Halfway through the show, his life was changed forever. 57 Hours is Nedkov's harrowing account of being trapped between two immovable and unpredictable forces: inside the theatre, suicidal Chechen rebels, loaded with explosives, demanded an end to the bloody civil war that was ravaging Chechnya; outside, Russian special forces prepared to storm the theatre, refusing to negotiate with the rebels. Through fifty-seven hours of fear and fatigue, Nedkov discovered courage and ingenuity…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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