100 books like Spies and Scholars

By Gregory Afinogenov,

Here are 100 books that Spies and Scholars fans have personally recommended if you like Spies and Scholars. 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 The Russian Far East: A History

Sören Urbansky Author Of Beyond the Steppe Frontier: A History of the Sino-Russian Border

From my list on Russia in Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sören Urbansky was born and raised in East Germany next to the Iron Curtain. Since embarking on an overland journey from Berlin to Beijing after high school, he became hooked by peoples’ lifeways in Northeast Asia. In college, Sören began studying history in earnest and grew intrigued by Russia and China, the world’s largest and most populous countries. He has published widely on this pivotal yet forgotten region. Sören is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington and is currently embarking on a new project that examines anti-Chinese sentiments from a global perspective.

Sören's book list on Russia in Asia

Sören Urbansky Why did Sören love this book?

When I met John J. Stephan for the first time in 2017 in Honolulu, I immediately recognized the wit, irony, and ascetic prose style that I had encountered in his monographs about the Kurile Islands, Sakhalin Island, and the Russian fascists of Manchuria. Stephan has always succeeded in bridging the ideological schisms separating Russian, Chinese, and Japanese historians as a politically uninvolved bystander and avid traveler. Since the 1960s, Stephan was a frequent visitor of the Soviet Far East. He had many friends and colleagues who shared their hopes, worries, and anecdotes. His most important work is The Russian Far East. Published in 1994, it is the result of almost three decades of research and the ultimate proof that even in a Cold War world without access to archives, historians do not have to resort to wild guessing but can produce accurate, intimate, and entertaining historiography. His comprehensive history of…

By John J. Stephan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first truly comprehensive history of the Russian Far East in any language, this magisterial work reconstructs the area's experience from paleolithic times to the present. Wedged between China, Korea, Japan, and the United States, the Russian Far East has long been a meeting ground for Eurasian and Pacific peoples and cultures. Conventionally regarded as a peripheral region, it in fact has a unique identity and dynamic. The author adopts a Eurasian perspective to chronicle the area's rich history.


Book cover of On the Edge: Life along the Russia-China Border

Sören Urbansky Author Of Beyond the Steppe Frontier: A History of the Sino-Russian Border

From my list on Russia in Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sören Urbansky was born and raised in East Germany next to the Iron Curtain. Since embarking on an overland journey from Berlin to Beijing after high school, he became hooked by peoples’ lifeways in Northeast Asia. In college, Sören began studying history in earnest and grew intrigued by Russia and China, the world’s largest and most populous countries. He has published widely on this pivotal yet forgotten region. Sören is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington and is currently embarking on a new project that examines anti-Chinese sentiments from a global perspective.

Sören's book list on Russia in Asia

Sören Urbansky Why did Sören love this book?

Franck Billé and Caroline Humphrey’s On the Edge is an excellent example that two authors can write one compelling story. Based on solid on-the-ground observation of daily life and current affairs along the Russia-China border, the two anthropologists narrate the extraordinary contrasts they encountered in one of the world’s most enigmatic borderlands. In so doing, they give voice to indigenous people, and other subaltern groups often overlooked when writing about two geopolitical superpowers.

By Franck Billé, Caroline Humphrey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A pioneering examination of history, current affairs, and daily life along the Russia-China border, one of the world's least understood and most politically charged frontiers.

The border between Russia and China winds for 2,600 miles through rivers, swamps, and vast taiga forests. It's a thin line of direct engagement, extraordinary contrasts, frequent tension, and occasional war between two of the world's political giants. Franck Bille and Caroline Humphrey have spent years traveling through and studying this important yet forgotten region. Drawing on pioneering fieldwork, they introduce readers to the lifeways, politics, and history of one of the world's most consequential…


Book cover of We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia from Peter the Great to Putin

Sören Urbansky Author Of Beyond the Steppe Frontier: A History of the Sino-Russian Border

From my list on Russia in Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sören Urbansky was born and raised in East Germany next to the Iron Curtain. Since embarking on an overland journey from Berlin to Beijing after high school, he became hooked by peoples’ lifeways in Northeast Asia. In college, Sören began studying history in earnest and grew intrigued by Russia and China, the world’s largest and most populous countries. He has published widely on this pivotal yet forgotten region. Sören is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington and is currently embarking on a new project that examines anti-Chinese sentiments from a global perspective.

Sören's book list on Russia in Asia

Sören Urbansky Why did Sören love this book?

Chris Miller has written a well-argued account of Russia’s various attempts to gain great power status in the Asia-Pacific over the five centuries – and its repeated setbacks. Russia’s imperial expansion to Alaska, Hawaii, and California reminds us that Russia’s expansionist dreams often amounted to little. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is another example that Putin’s ambitions in the East are restrained by the country’s firm rooting in Europe.

By Chris Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Shall Be Masters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An illuminating account of Russia's attempts-and failures-to achieve great power status in Asia.

Since Peter the Great, Russian leaders have been lured by opportunity to the East. Under the tsars, Russians colonized Alaska, California, and Hawaii. The Trans-Siberian Railway linked Moscow to Vladivostok. And Stalin looked to Asia as a sphere of influence, hospitable to the spread of Soviet Communism. In Asia and the Pacific lay territory, markets, security, and glory.

But all these expansionist dreams amounted to little. In We Shall Be Masters, Chris Miller explores why, arguing that Russia's ambitions have repeatedly outstripped its capacity. With the core…


Book cover of To the Harbin Station: The Liberal Alternative in Russian Manchuria, 1898-1914

Sören Urbansky Author Of Beyond the Steppe Frontier: A History of the Sino-Russian Border

From my list on Russia in Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sören Urbansky was born and raised in East Germany next to the Iron Curtain. Since embarking on an overland journey from Berlin to Beijing after high school, he became hooked by peoples’ lifeways in Northeast Asia. In college, Sören began studying history in earnest and grew intrigued by Russia and China, the world’s largest and most populous countries. He has published widely on this pivotal yet forgotten region. Sören is a research fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington and is currently embarking on a new project that examines anti-Chinese sentiments from a global perspective.

Sören's book list on Russia in Asia

Sören Urbansky Why did Sören love this book?

Published in 1999, David Wolff’s To the Harbin Station was a pioneering work that paved the path for many historical studies that followed, and which remains an unparalleled analysis of Russia’s only colony and its imperial expansion into China in the two decades leading up to the 1917 revolution. The monograph is more than an urban history of Harbin. It is the history of a region, a railroad, and the nature of late tsarist imperialism.

By David Wolff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1898, near the projected intersection of the Chinese Eastern Railroad (the last leg of the Trans-Siberian) and China's Sungari River, Russian engineers founded the city of Harbin. Between the survey of the site and the profound dislocations of the 1917 revolution, Harbin grew into a bustling multiethnic urban center with over 100,000 inhabitants. In this area of great natural wealth, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and American ambitions competed and converged, and sometimes precipitated vicious hostilities.

Drawing on the archives, both central and local, of seven countries, this history of Harbin presents multiple perspectives on Imperial Russia's only colony. The…


Book cover of China and Russia: The New Rapprochement

Andrew Monaghan Author Of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

From my list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures. I started to learn Russian in 1998, and intrigued by the language, I began to study Russia more—delving into history and politics and then doing a PhD in Russian foreign policy. Ever since, trying to learn about and understand Russia has been my professional focus. Alongside books in Russian, these books are all to hand on my reference shelf, well-thumbed and marked up, as I try to write my own work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! 

Andrew's book list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing

Andrew Monaghan Why did Andrew love this book?

Too often, Russia is seen through Euro-Atlantic eyes and in European terms. But the Russian leadership has long spoken of a shift in global power, the emergence of a “post-West” worldand of the 21st Century being a “Pacific Century.” China has long been at the heart of this view, and an important priority in Russian foreign policyand this book by a prominent Russian expert traces a Russian view of the emergent Sino-Russian rapprochement. Not everyone will agree with his analysis, but I like thinking about things from different angles, and the intellectual challenge he poses becomes ever more important as sanctions take hold of the Russian economy and as the Sino-Russian partnership becomes one of the central questions of international affairs today.

By Alexander Lukin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With many predicting the end of US hegemony, Russia and China's growing cooperation in a number of key strategic areas looks set to have a major impact on global power dynamics. But what lies behind this Sino-Russian rapprochement? Is it simply the result of deteriorated Russo-US and Sino-US relations or does it date back to a more fundamental alignment of interests after the Cold War?

In this book Alexander Lukin answers these questions, offering a deeply informed and nuanced assessment of Russia and China's ever-closer ties. Tracing the evolution of this partnership from the 1990s to the present day, he…


Book cover of Sino-Russian Relations

S.C.M. Paine Author Of The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy

From my list on the origin of the Asian balance of power.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up during the Cold War, I wondered how the United States and the Soviet Union became locked into an existential struggle that threatened to vaporize the planet. So, I studied Russian, Chinese, and Japanese (along with French, Spanish, and German) to learn more. At issue was the global order and the outcome of this struggle depended on the balance of power—not only military power that consumed Soviet attention but also economic power and standards of living that Western voters emphasized. Yet it was Japan that had the workable development model as proven by the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) during the 1960s to 1990s.

S.C.M.'s book list on the origin of the Asian balance of power

S.C.M. Paine Why did S.C.M. love this book?

Western commentators still try to analyze East Asian politics without reference to Russia as if countries ignore bordering great powers. For this obvious reason, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian leaders pay careful attention to each other because they share crucial borders. There are hardly any books on Russia’s pivotal role in Asia and most authors who try read none of the relevant languages. Rosemary Quested packed a lot into her concise book highlighting Russia’s role in the evolution of the Asian balance of power.

By Rosemary Ouested,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sino-Russian Relations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book provides a systematic history of Sino-Russian relations, a history which is invaluable in forming an understanding of relations between the two nations today. Becoming neighbours in the seventeenth century, their changing relations in peace and war, in isolation, cooperation and confrontation have steadily assumed a greater importance in world politics and become increasingly important to the stability of international relations.


Book cover of U.S. Naval Power in the 21st Century: A New Strategy for Facing the Chinese and Russian Threat

James Borton Author Of Dispatches from the South China Sea: Navigating to Common Ground

From my list on dive deeply into the South China Sea territorial disputes.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a writer and waterman, I have traversed the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, setting crab pots and communing with fellow watermen who share a deep love for the estuary. I honor their livelihoods by responsibly harvesting blue crabs and oysters. My field notes have taken me beyond the Chesapeake, onto Hilton Head shrimping boats, onto the oyster beds in Bull's Bay in South Carolina, and into the contested South China Sea aboard Vietnamese fishing trawlers.

James' book list on dive deeply into the South China Sea territorial disputes

James Borton Why did James love this book?

I like this book because the author’s writing is cogent and clear. It has helped inform my own views about maritime strategy. More importantly, I admire the way the author blends military, economic, and technical insights in addressing the challenges America faces in the South China Sea.

The author, Droste Sadler, successfully tells me that the U.S. is most ill-prepared for the competition we are facing from China. He effectively sounds the alarm that we are at an inflection point, and we need to become more competitive now before it is too late.

By Brent Droste Sadler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked U.S. Naval Power in the 21st Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This nation's Cold War and Global War on Terror defense structures need an update. U.S. Naval Power in the 21st Century provides such a framework for the changed world we live in, offering a detailed roadmap that shows how the United States can field a war-winning fleet that can also compete aggressively in peacetime against dangerous competitors unlike any the nation has faced before.

Brent Sadler presents a compelling new strategy and organizing approach that he calls naval statecraft, which acknowledges the centrality and importance of the maritime domain. While similar in scale and scope to Cold War containment strategies…


Book cover of Journey Into Cyprus

Nicholas Murray Author Of A Corkscrew Is Most Useful

From my list on the spirit of a country for the traveller.

Why am I passionate about this?

Perhaps it was being born in a large seaport – Liverpool – where I would watch from our front window the great liners steaming out on the tide that made me love travel and seeing the world. My book about the great age of British travel, A Corkscrew is Most Useful was the product of this obsession with how people travel, what they see, how they interpret their journeys. I have also written about Bruce Chatwin, one of the most original of modern travellers, and in my 2016 book Crossings I have explored the idea of borders, real and metaphorical, which figure so largely in the life of anyone moving from country to country and define our sense of belonging and identity.

Nicholas' book list on the spirit of a country for the traveller

Nicholas Murray Why did Nicholas love this book?

Colin Thubron is our best living British travel writer whose books about China, India, Russia, the Middle East, and many other places are essential for anyone thinking of visiting those places. In the spirit of the great British Victorian travellers he travels alone, with the minimum of baggage except for his formidably well-informed mind which makes each book an education as well as a pleasure to read because of his wit and lightness of touch. He conveys so well the feel of a journey – which makes the title of this book so appropriate – and knows how to talk to the people he meets on his 600-mile tramp on foot around the island of Cyprus shortly before the conflict erupted there. It made my own journey to Cyprus so much more fruitful and enjoyable.

By Colin Thubron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Cyprus, spring 1972. Tensions are rising between the Greek South and the Turkish North. Within two years, the country will become divided.

It is at this distinctive time in history British travel writer Colin Thubron embarks on a 600 mile trek across the country. Moving from Greek villages to Turkish towns, the author of Shadow of the Silk Road and Night of Fire provides a profound look into the people of Cyprus - from Orthodox monks to wedding parties to peasant families - against the landscape of a beautiful Mediterranean island on the eve of chaos and tragedy. A remarkable…


Book cover of Backpacks and Bra Straps

Janna Graber Author Of A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel

From my list on travel for women.

Why am I passionate about this?

Travel teaches and molds us. It certainly changed my own life. At age 19, I picked up my backpack and schoolbooks and moved from America to Austria. That experience opened my eyes to the world, and I’ve never looked back. Today, I’m a travel journalist, author, and editor at Go World Travel Magazine. I’m always on the lookout for fascinating tales of travel, but I especially appreciate learning from other female adventurers. They continue to inspire me. I hope these books will inspire you, too.

Janna's book list on travel for women

Janna Graber Why did Janna love this book?

Continuing the saga that began in her first book, I Grew My Boobs in China, Savannah Grace moves into new territory with Backpacks and Bra Straps, which takes the reader to Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, through Western China, and into Tibet. Grace gracefully weaves in interpersonal dynamics of traveling with family and the backpacking community while coming-of-age during travel in Asia.

By Savannah Grace,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Savannah Grace’s best selling, award winning saga of her family’s four-year-long backpacking adventure continues. "Backpacks and Bra Straps" picks up where "I Grew My Boobs in China" leaves off, offering insights into how family dynamics are affected by such intensive togetherness as well as a candid, intriguing look at world-wide travel and the camaraderie of the backpacking community, told from a perceptive young woman’s viewpoint. This second instalment of her Sihpromatum series takes us to Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, through Western China and Tibet, and finally, to watch the sun rise over Mount Everest in Nepal. Savannah’s initial reluctance to travel…


Book cover of Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet

Stephen Haddelsey Author Of Shackleton's Dream: Fuchs, Hillary and the Crossing of Antarctica

From my list on forgotten expeditions and extraordinary journeys.

Why am I passionate about this?

Although I’m fascinated by the history of exploration, I’m most attracted to the stories that have been lost, neglected, or forgotten. Why, for instance, is Sir Vivian Fuchs – arguably the most successful British Antarctic explorer of the twentieth century – not as well-known as Scott or Shackleton? Why do we know so little of Operation Tabarin – the only wartime Antarctic expedition to be launched by a combatant nation? These are the kind of questions that I want to answer, and these are the expeditions that I have wanted to examine. I’ve been fortunate to meet and interview some truly extraordinary men – and telling their stories has been a joy and a privilege.  

Stephen's book list on forgotten expeditions and extraordinary journeys

Stephen Haddelsey Why did Stephen love this book?

This book doesn’t tell the story of one expedition, it recounts many, launched by men of nine different nationalities, all intent on breaking into the closed world of Tibet. I am not alone in considering Hopkirk to be one of the great masters of what might be described as ‘historical travel’ books, and this is surely one of his best. Populated by a wonderful cast of characters, all determined to be the first westerner to reach the sacred, and forbidden, city of Lhasa. I can’t recommend it highly enough – and, enjoy one of Hopkirk’s books, and you’ll enjoy them all.  

By Peter Hopkirk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Trespassers on the Roof of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For nineteenth-century adventures, Tibet was the prize destination, and Lhasa, its capital situated nearly three miles above sea level, was the grandest trophy of all. The lure of this mysterious land, and its strategic importance, made it inevitable that despite the Tibetans' reluctance to end their isolation, determined travelers from Victorian Britain, Czarist Russia, America, and a half dozen other countries world try to breach the country's high walls.

In this riveting narrative, Peter Hopkirk turns his storytelling skills on the fortune hunters, mystics, mountaineers, and missionaries who tried storming the roof of the world. He also examines how China…


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