100 books like The Elusive Empire

By Matthew P. Romaniello,

Here are 100 books that The Elusive Empire fans have personally recommended if you like The Elusive Empire. 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 A Child of Christian Blood: Murder and Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia: The Beilis Blood Libel

Stefan B. Kirmse Author Of The Lawful Empire: Legal Change and Cultural Diversity in Late Tsarist Russia

From my list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire.

Why am I passionate about this?

You can experience Russia by exploring the churches and palaces of St Petersburg and Moscow. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my approach. For me, it has always made more sense to look at the largest country on earth from its edges, the distant mountains, steppes, forests, and waters that surround it. For three decades, I have travelled across this space, studied its languages, written books and articles about it. And I have tried to look through the lens of the diverse peoples and cultures that have been part of Russian history, for better or worse. The rise and fall of the Russian Empire are unthinkable without them.    

Stefan's book list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire

Stefan B. Kirmse Why did Stefan love this book?

This early 20th-century courtroom drama, set in late imperial Kiev, is a truly satisfying read: suspenseful and riveting, yet also persuasive as a scholarly work.

I have rarely come across an academic book on the Russian Empire so difficult to put down, with virtually every chapter ending on a cliffhanger.

Telling the true story of a ritual murder charge against a Jewish factory clerk in 1911, his sufferings, and ultimate acquittal, the book is a meticulously researched and deeply captivating story of desperation and hope.

I might disagree with some of its claims about the judiciary, and yet, with its multitude of Jewish, Russian, and Ukrainian actors and ever more unexpected twists, the story told is as multilayered and diverse as the late imperial court system as a whole. 

By Edmund Levin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Child of Christian Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Jewish factory worker is falsely accused of ritually murdering a Christian boy in Russia in 1911, and his trial becomes an international cause célèbre.
 
On March 20, 1911, thirteen-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky was found stabbed to death in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev. Four months later, Russian police arrested Mendel Beilis, a thirty-seven-year-old father of five who worked as a clerk in a brick factory nearby, and charged him not only with Andrei’s murder but also with the Jewish ritual murder of a Christian child. Despite the fact that there was no evidence linking him to the crime,…


Book cover of For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia

Stefan B. Kirmse Author Of The Lawful Empire: Legal Change and Cultural Diversity in Late Tsarist Russia

From my list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire.

Why am I passionate about this?

You can experience Russia by exploring the churches and palaces of St Petersburg and Moscow. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my approach. For me, it has always made more sense to look at the largest country on earth from its edges, the distant mountains, steppes, forests, and waters that surround it. For three decades, I have travelled across this space, studied its languages, written books and articles about it. And I have tried to look through the lens of the diverse peoples and cultures that have been part of Russian history, for better or worse. The rise and fall of the Russian Empire are unthinkable without them.    

Stefan's book list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire

Stefan B. Kirmse Why did Stefan love this book?

This book was a milestone in the study of tsarist Russia as a multiethnic and multireligious empire, especially its large Muslim population.

By the 2000s, we had become used to thinking that the Russian Empire had suppressed or ignored its religious minorities who, in turn, had avoided state institutions as much as possible. Crews’ book shattered that idea.

Exploring court cases and other disputes across time and space, he boldly argued that Muslims turned to the state as protector of their faith and that Islam became a pillar of Russian imperial policy. Many scholars have attacked his argument since then, partly for good reasons.

And yet, his contribution has proven to be more important and long-lived than those of most of his critics. On top, it’s a wonderful read. 

By Robert D. Crews,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Russia occupies a unique position in the Muslim world. Unlike any other non-Islamic state, it has ruled Muslim populations for over 500 years. Though Russia today is plagued by its unrelenting war in Chechnya, Russia's approach toward Islam once yielded stability. In stark contrast to the popular 'clash of civilisations' theory that sees Islam inevitably in conflict with the West, Robert D. Crews reveals the remarkable ways in which Russia constructed an empire with broad Muslim support. In the 18th Century, Catherine the Great inaugurated a policy of religious toleration that made Islam an essential pillar of Orthodox Russia. For…


Book cover of The Volga: A History of Russia's Greatest River

Stefan B. Kirmse Author Of The Lawful Empire: Legal Change and Cultural Diversity in Late Tsarist Russia

From my list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire.

Why am I passionate about this?

You can experience Russia by exploring the churches and palaces of St Petersburg and Moscow. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my approach. For me, it has always made more sense to look at the largest country on earth from its edges, the distant mountains, steppes, forests, and waters that surround it. For three decades, I have travelled across this space, studied its languages, written books and articles about it. And I have tried to look through the lens of the diverse peoples and cultures that have been part of Russian history, for better or worse. The rise and fall of the Russian Empire are unthinkable without them.    

Stefan's book list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire

Stefan B. Kirmse Why did Stefan love this book?

The Volga is key to understanding Russian history.

The river helped the empire to spread and rule, it carried dangers and diseases, protected and divided people. As a frequent site of battle, it also helped to shape collective memory. Janet Hartley’s history of the Volga captures these dimensions beautifully.

Containing a wealth of detail and written in elegant and accessible language, her book delivers new insights on a broad range of topics, from religious policy and piracy to the Volga in poetry and painting.

It is a great introduction to Russian empire-building, while, at the same time, offers even historians of Russia new insights in almost every chapter.

Take a long river cruise – down the Danube or Mississippi – and enjoy.

By Janet M. Hartley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A rich and fascinating exploration of the Volga River and its vital place in Russian history-named a Best Book of 2021 by the Financial Times

"A memorable journey into the heart of Russian social, political, and cultural history."-Jennifer Eremeeva, Moscow Times

"'Without the Volga, there would be no Russia.' The final words of Janet Hartley's book sound sweeping. But its 400 pages make the case powerfully."-The Economist

The longest river in Europe, the Volga stretches more than three and a half thousand km from the heart of Russia to the Caspian Sea, separating west from east. The river has played…


Book cover of Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, Volume One: From Peter the Great to the Death of Nicholas I

Stefan B. Kirmse Author Of The Lawful Empire: Legal Change and Cultural Diversity in Late Tsarist Russia

From my list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire.

Why am I passionate about this?

You can experience Russia by exploring the churches and palaces of St Petersburg and Moscow. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my approach. For me, it has always made more sense to look at the largest country on earth from its edges, the distant mountains, steppes, forests, and waters that surround it. For three decades, I have travelled across this space, studied its languages, written books and articles about it. And I have tried to look through the lens of the diverse peoples and cultures that have been part of Russian history, for better or worse. The rise and fall of the Russian Empire are unthinkable without them.    

Stefan's book list on how cultural diversity sustained the Russian Empire

Stefan B. Kirmse Why did Stefan love this book?

Recommending a two-volume tome may seem odd at first sight.

But this is a truly majestic work (no pun intended). Ingeniously, Richard Wortman attributes a distinctive “scenario of power” to every Russian emperor from the 1700s to the downfall of the Romanovs in 1917, with some rulers promoting a national myth and others framing their reign as a bond of love with their subjects.

The account is deeply captivating and honest, showing every emperor and empress with all their quirks and human weaknesses, but also helping us understand their enigmatic appeal.

While the other books I recommend explore the Russian Empire “from below”, through the eyes of the people, this one is top down, focusing on how the empire and its rulers saw themselves.

The read is worth every page.        

By Richard S. Wortman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Russian imperial court, with its extravagant ceremonies and celebrations, was perhaps the most impressive theater in the world. The show, however, was no mere diversion, as Richard Wortman demonstrates in this first scholarly study of the principal myths, symbols, and rituals of Russian monarchy. Focusing on the period from the reign of Peter the Great to the death of Nicholas I, Wortman shows how the presentations and representations of the Russian ruler played a central role in the exercise of monarchical power. These presentations--from ceremonies and staged events to architectural and literary monuments--sustained an image of a supreme and…


Book cover of Russian Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century and the Shadow of the Past

Andrei P. Tsygankov Author Of Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity

From my list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Russian academic living in the West and a contributor to both Western and Russian academia. I move between the two and try to build bridges by explaining the two sides’ differences and areas of potential cooperation. I do it in my teaching and research on international politics, which I understand through the lens of culture and politics. Most of my books analyze Russian and Western patterns of thinking formed through history and interaction with each other. I love reading good books about these topics and hope you enjoy my selected list!

Andrei's book list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War

Andrei P. Tsygankov Why did Andrei love this book?

Russia’s foreign policy has followed different historical trajectories and relations with the outside world. This excellent collection of works by historians and social scientists focuses on the long “shadows of the past” as a lens through which to assess the country’s international behavior and moments of transformation. The explored themes include the impact of Russian foreign policy on domestic political structures, imperial identity, geographic settings, position within the global economy, and others. 

By Robert Legvold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Russian Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century and the Shadow of the Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Because the turbulent trajectory of Russia's foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union echoes previous moments of social and political transformation, history offers a special vantage point from which to judge the current course of events. In this book, a mix of leading historians and political scientists examines the foreign policy of contemporary Russia over four centuries of history. The authors explain the impact of empire and its loss, the interweaving of domestic and foreign impulses, long-standing approaches to national security, and the effect of globalization over time. Contributors focus on the underlying patterns that have marked Russian…


Book cover of Russia and the Idea of Europe: A Study in Identity and International Relations

Andrei P. Tsygankov Author Of Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity

From my list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Russian academic living in the West and a contributor to both Western and Russian academia. I move between the two and try to build bridges by explaining the two sides’ differences and areas of potential cooperation. I do it in my teaching and research on international politics, which I understand through the lens of culture and politics. Most of my books analyze Russian and Western patterns of thinking formed through history and interaction with each other. I love reading good books about these topics and hope you enjoy my selected list!

Andrei's book list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War

Andrei P. Tsygankov Why did Andrei love this book?

Russia has historically connected to Europe as its significant other. This book describes the nature of the country’s identity development through the love-hate relations with European nations and search for recognition by Western other. Sometimes, Russia has sought to borrow Europe’s institutions and values. Other times, it has positioned itself as a great power and a superior system of internal values relative to “corrupt” Europe. 

By Iver B. Neumann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The end of the Soviet system and the transition to the market in Russia, coupled with the inexorable rise of nationalism, brought to the fore the centuries-old debate about Russia's relationship with Europe. In this revised and updated second edition of Russia and the Idea of Europe, Iver Neumann discusses whether the tensions between self-referencing nationalist views and Europe-orientated liberal views can ever be resolved.

Drawing on a wide range of Russian sources, this book retains the broad historical focus of the previous edition and picks up from where the it off in the early 1990s, bringing the discussion fully…


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 The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

Steve Vogel Author Of Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War's Most Audacious Espionage Operation

From my list on accurate non-fiction about Cold War espionage.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an author and veteran journalist who reported for The Washington Post for more than two decades, and I write frequently about military history and intelligence. My father worked for the CIA, and I was born in Berlin when he was stationed there as a case officer. Later I was based in Germany as a foreign correspondent when the Berlin Wall came down. So it’s not too surprising that I am interested in Cold War espionage and history. As a reporter, author, and reader, I’ve always been attracted to stories off the beaten track, the ones that most people know little or nothing about. 

Steve's book list on accurate non-fiction about Cold War espionage

Steve Vogel Why did Steve love this book?

Hoffman tells the previously little-known story of Soviet military engineer Adolf Tolkachev, whose disgust with the communist regime inspired him to turn over enormously valuable secrets to the CIA station in Moscow beginning in the late 1970s. Hoffman’s careful reporting allows him to describe in meticulous and fascinating detail the remarkable techniques and great risks involved in running an agent in Moscow late in the Cold War.

By David E. Hoffman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WATERSTONES NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH AUGUST 2018 AND A SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'An astonishingly detailed picture of espionage in the 1980s, written with pacey journalistic verve and an eerily contemporary feel.' Ben Macintyre, The Times

'A gripping story of courage, professionalism, and betrayal in the secret world.' Rodric Braithwaite, British Ambassador in Moscow, 1988-1992

'One of the best spy stories to come out of the Cold War and all the more riveting for being true.' Washington Post

January, 1977. While the chief of the CIA's Moscow station fills his gas tank, a stranger drops a note into the car.…


Book cover of Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate

Andrei P. Tsygankov Author Of Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity

From my list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Russian academic living in the West and a contributor to both Western and Russian academia. I move between the two and try to build bridges by explaining the two sides’ differences and areas of potential cooperation. I do it in my teaching and research on international politics, which I understand through the lens of culture and politics. Most of my books analyze Russian and Western patterns of thinking formed through history and interaction with each other. I love reading good books about these topics and hope you enjoy my selected list!

Andrei's book list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War

Andrei P. Tsygankov Why did Andrei love this book?

The book is a great guide to understand Russia’s perspective on post-Cold War developments and the contemporary crisis of relations with the West. Written by a historian, the book reconstructs the role of NATO expansion in shaping Russia’s security interests since the 1990s. The author documents opportunities, errors, and (mis)perceptions by both sides in setting their relations in the course of growing geopolitical tensions.

By M. E. Sarotte,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Not One Inch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A leading expert on foreign policy reveals how tensions between America, NATO, and Russia transformed geopolitics in a Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2021

"Sarotte has the receipts, as it were: her authoritative tale draws on thousands of memos, letters, briefs, and other once secret documents-including many that have never been published before-which both fill in and complicate settled narratives on both sides."-Joshua Yaffa, New Yorker

"The most engaging and carefully documented account of this period in East-West diplomacy currently available."-Andrew Moravcsik, Foreign Affairs

Prize-winning historian, M.E. Sarotte pulls back the curtain on the crucial decade between the fall of…


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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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