100 books like The Great Terror

By Robert Conquest,

Here are 100 books that The Great Terror fans have personally recommended if you like The Great Terror. 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 A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Merle Nygate Author Of The Righteous Spy

From my list on spy books that spies read and sometimes wrote themselves.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve written and script edited in a lot of different genres, from factual drama to sitcom, children’s TV to fantasy. I’ve always loved spy stories, and I’ve always wanted to write one. Recently, at the University of East Anglia I studied for an MA in Crime Fiction, and that’s where I finally got the chance to study espionage and write a spy novel myself. I hope you enjoy my selection of books if you haven’t already read them. Or even if you have. They’re all so good that I feel like re-reading them right now. 

Merle's book list on spy books that spies read and sometimes wrote themselves

Merle Nygate Why did Merle love this book?

This is a non-fiction book but it reads like a novel and explores one of the great mysteries of the spy world: how on earth did Kim Philby manage to betray not only his country but also his friends over so many years? 

A former spy I had the privilege of interviewing described Philby as a shit, so maybe there’s the answer. I think this is a terrific read, and although Macintyre probably isn’t a spy, like Deighton, he knows them. 

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked A Spy Among Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kim Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history. Agent, double agent, traitor and enigma, he betrayed every secret of Allied operations to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War.

Philby's two closest friends in the intelligence world, Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Jesus Angleton, the CIA intelligence chief, thought they knew Philby better than anyone, and then discovered they had not known him at all. This is a story of intimate duplicity; of loyalty, trust and treachery, class and conscience; of an ideological battle waged by men with cut-glass accents and…


Book cover of Darkness at Noon

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann Author Of In Defense of Universal Human Rights

From my list on readable stories on human rights.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of international human rights and comparative genocide studies. My father was a refugee from the Holocaust. So I was always interested in genocide, but I did not want to be another Holocaust scholar. Instead, I introduced one of the first university courses in Canada on comparative genocide studies. From a very young age, I was also very interested in social justice: I was seven when Emmett Till was murdered in the US. So when I became a professor, I decided to specialize in international human rights. I read a lot of “world literature” fiction that helps me to empathize with people in places I’ve never been.

Rhoda's book list on readable stories on human rights

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann Why did Rhoda love this book?

I studied under the distinguished sociologist, Immanuel Wallerstein. One day in class he said, if you read only one book, it should be this one. So I read it. 

Koestler was a Hungarian Jew who joined the German Communist Party. He became disillusioned with communism, in part because of the Stalin trials of the 1930s, in which many of Stalin’s own former allies were tortured and executed. 

The protagonist of the novel is Rubashov, a dedicated Communist who is accused of treason, tortured, and eventually executed despite confessing to his supposed crimes. The novel is a great way to learn not only about the Stalinist Soviet Union, but about any society that brain-washes its victims. 

By Arthur Koestler,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Darkness at Noon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The newly discovered lost text of Arthur Koestler’s modern masterpiece, Darkness at Noon—the haunting portrait of a revolutionary, imprisoned and tortured under totalitarian rule—is now restored and in a completely new translation.

Editor Michael Scammell and translator Philip Boehm bring us a brilliant novel, a remarkable discovery, and a new translation of an international classic.

In print continually since 1940, Darkness at Noon has been translated into over 30 languages and is both a stirring novel and a classic anti-fascist text. What makes its popularity and tenacity even more remarkable is that all existing versions of Darkness at Noon are…


Book cover of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case

Michael Isikoff Author Of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

From my list on Russian espionage.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child of the Cold War, I was fascinated from an early age by Russia—and the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. I still remember devouring everything I could about many of the events of the 1960’s—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the coup that replaced Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. These and much else from this period inspired me to become a journalist. And while I have had a wide-ranging and occasionally globe-trotting career, returning to the subject of U.S.-Russia relations in Russian Roulette  and the feeling that we made a genuine contribution to contemporary history—was unusually satisfying.

Michael's book list on Russian espionage

Michael Isikoff Why did Michael love this book?

For a generation of liberals and progressives, it was an article of faith that Alger Hiss, a Harvard-educated New Dealer who accompanied Franklin Roosevelt to Yalta, was railroaded by the McCarthyite tactics of the anti-Communist right when was accused – and convicted—about his past as a Communist spy. But Weinstein, who started out his book as a Hiss sympathizer, conducted a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of one of the Cold War’s most celebrated trials and concluded, on the basis of a mountain of evidence, that Hiss was in fact guilty as charged. I devoured this book when it first came out because it stands as a case study of the need to confront hard facts even when they are politically inconvenient. 

By Allen Weinstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Although almost a half-century has passed since the jury at Alger Hiss's second trial pronounced him guilty of perjury, the case remains controversial and the verdict leaves questions unanswered. The case has continued to make headlines and attract considerable media attention in the years since Perjury was first published in 1978, and this new edition of the book incorporates evidence available only in the past two decades, bringing the essential public story of the episode up to the present. The author has sought and gained access to many previously undiscovered, unavailable, or ignored sources of documentary and oral evidence, both…


Book cover of Spymaster: My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West

Mark Hollingsworth Author Of Agents of Influence: How the KGB Subverted Western Democracies

From my list on the KGB, Russia and espionage.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing about Russia for the past 20 years for all the UK national newspapers, The Spectator and contributed to several TV documentaries. I am fascinated by Russia which is a unique country and has been a major influence on the world for the past 100 years. Based on new documents, my book Londongrad - From Russia with Cash revealed how Russian Oligarchs made their wealth, moved it out of Russia, hid their fortunes and then parked and spent it in London. My new book - Agents of Influence - provides an insight into how the KGB influenced the West based on new archives.

Mark's book list on the KGB, Russia and espionage

Mark Hollingsworth Why did Mark love this book?

It is rare for a KGB spy to reveal so many secrets about the Soviet Union and Russian intelligence operations in the West and so this book is a revelation. 

Kalugin was a KGB officer based in the USA in the 1970s and he describes all their dirty tricks - fake letters, disinformation, honey trapping, and even attempts to bug the US Congress.

By Oleg Kalugin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Oleg Kalugin oversaw the work of American spies, matched wits with the CIA, and became one of the youngest generals in KGB history. Even so, he grew increasingly disillusioned with the Soviet system. In 1990, he went public, exposing the intelligence agency's shadowy methods. Revised and updated in the light of the KGB's enduring presence in Russian politics, Spymaster is Kalugin's impressively illuminating memoir of the final years of the Soviet Union.


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 The Stalin-Kaganovich Correspondence, 1931-36

Mark Harrison Author Of Secret Leviathan: Secrecy and State Capacity under Soviet Communism

From my list on working inside Soviet communism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I visited Moscow for the first time in 1964. The Cold War was in full swing. I was still at school, learning beginners' Russian. I returned a few years later as a graduate student. By this point I was hopelessly infected with an incurable and progressive disease: curiosity about the Soviet Union under communism. I was full of questions, many of which could not be answered for decades, until communist rule collapsed. Becoming a professional scholar, I spent the next half-century studying the history, economics, and politics of communist societies. The biggest obstacle was always secrecy, so it seems fitting that the system of secrecy is the topic of my most recent book.

Mark's book list on working inside Soviet communism

Mark Harrison Why did Mark love this book?

This is the other book I kept by my bedside during my three years as head of an academic department.

Every year (until 1937), Stalin took a long working holiday by the Black Sea. His secret line of communication with his subordinates in Moscow relied on daily handwritten letters and couriers. The letters were preserved and are translated and edited in this book. The collection taught me how a suspicious boss micromanages his subordinates and keeps close those he trusts least.

Stalin habitually complained that they overloaded him with trivia, but then complained and corrected them if they showed the smallest initiative. I learned a lot about how Stalin saw his enemies, and I was introduced to the concept of the “unconscious” enemy. For myself, I learned that trust is essential to effective delegation.

By R. W. Davies (editor), Oleg Khlevniuk (editor), E. A. Rees (editor) , Liudmila P. Kosheleva (editor) , Larisa A. Rogovaya (editor) , Steven Shabad (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Stalin-Kaganovich Correspondence, 1931-36 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From 1931 to 1936, Stalin vacationed at his Black Sea residence for two to three months each year. While away from Moscow, he relied on correspondence with his subordinates to receive information, watch over the work of the Politburo and the government, give orders, and express his opinions. This book publishes for the first time translations of 177 handwritten letters and coded telegrams exchanged during this period between Stalin and his most highly trusted deputy, Lazar Kaganovich.

The unique and revealing collection of letters-all previously classified top secret-provides a dramatic account of the mainsprings of Soviet policy while Stalin was…


Book cover of Terror by Quota: State Security from Lenin to Stalin (an Archival Study)

Mark Harrison Author Of Secret Leviathan: Secrecy and State Capacity under Soviet Communism

From my list on working inside Soviet communism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I visited Moscow for the first time in 1964. The Cold War was in full swing. I was still at school, learning beginners' Russian. I returned a few years later as a graduate student. By this point I was hopelessly infected with an incurable and progressive disease: curiosity about the Soviet Union under communism. I was full of questions, many of which could not be answered for decades, until communist rule collapsed. Becoming a professional scholar, I spent the next half-century studying the history, economics, and politics of communist societies. The biggest obstacle was always secrecy, so it seems fitting that the system of secrecy is the topic of my most recent book.

Mark's book list on working inside Soviet communism

Mark Harrison Why did Mark love this book?

Stalin’s secret police was responsible for both foreign espionage and domestic repression. Until recently its domestic operations were a black box. This book unlocks the box.

It shows how and why quotas for executions arose, how the “productivity” (arrests and executions in a period of time) of secret police officers could rise and fall by an order of magnitude over a year or so, and why it made sense to detain or kill people in very large numbers “just in case.” The book’s patient investigations and logical deductions provide a contrast to the miserable fates of the human victims.

By Paul R. Gregory,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This original analysis of the workings of Soviet state security organs under Lenin and Stalin addresses a series of questions that have long resisted satisfactory answers. Why did political repression affect so many people, most of them ordinary citizens? Why did repression come in waves or cycles? Why were economic and petty crimes regarded as political crimes? What was the reason for relying on extra-judicial tribunals? And what motivated the extreme harshness of punishments, including the widespread use of the death penalty?

Through an approach that synthesizes history and economics, Paul Gregory develops systematic explanations for the way terror was…


Book cover of In the First Circle: The First Uncensored Edition

Jonathan R. Rose Author Of After the Flames: A Burn Victim's Battle With Celebrity

From my list on showing uncomfortable truths.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always strived to speak out when surrounded by silence, whether in person through my own voice, or through the books I have written and had published. Not because I am heroic or noble, but because I am angered by suppressed truth, and I believe reality should be shown as it is, not as people believe it should be. That is why the books I chose are so important to me, because they fearlessly exposed the truths the respective authors were determined to show, risks be damned. I hope these books inspire you as much as they have inspired me.

Jonathan's book list on showing uncomfortable truths

Jonathan R. Rose Why did Jonathan love this book?

This book showed me in a way I’d never seen before what life was like for an imprisoned bureaucrat in Stalin-era Russia. The author proved to me that through undeniable detail and unflinching sincerity, you can show an unsettling reality that powerful authorities have worked tirelessly to conceal.

Found within the book’s pages are poignant anecdotes, lessons, and reflective moments that made me question the very concepts of what a person is capable of doing and enduring under extreme circumstances. I could not get the chapter “The Buddha’s Smile” out of my head, and I don’t think I ever will.

By Aleksandr I Solzhenitsyn, Harry Willets (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The thrilling Cold War masterwork by the Nobel Prize-winning author of The Gulag Archipelago, published in full for the first time.

"Solzhenitsyn's best novel. . . . A great and important book, whose qualities are finally fully available to English-speaking readers.” —Washington Post

Moscow, Christmas Eve, 1949.The Soviet secret police intercept a call made to the American embassy by a Russian diplomat who promises to deliver secrets about the nascent Soviet Atomic Bomb program. On that same day, a brilliant mathematician is locked away inside a Moscow prison that houses the country's brightest minds. He and his fellow prisoners are…


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

Samantha Lomb Author Of Stalin's Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the 1936 Draft Constitution

From my list on Soviet social history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Language Teaching Methodologies at Vyatka State University in Kirov, Russia. My book Stalin’s Constitution: Soviet Participatory Politics and the Discussion of the 1936 Draft Constitution was published in November 2017.  Most recently I have published an article-length study entitled Peasant Communal Traditions in the Expulsion of Collective Farm Members in the Vyatka–Kirov Region 1932–1939 in Europe Asia Studies in July 2012. I am currently conducting research for a future book manuscript on daily life on the collective farms and the day-to-day relationships between collective farmers and local officials.

Samantha's book list on Soviet social history

Samantha Lomb Why did Samantha love this book?

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

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

By John Etty,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

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

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


Book cover of Red Plenty

Mark Harrison Author Of Secret Leviathan: Secrecy and State Capacity under Soviet Communism

From my list on working inside Soviet communism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I visited Moscow for the first time in 1964. The Cold War was in full swing. I was still at school, learning beginners' Russian. I returned a few years later as a graduate student. By this point I was hopelessly infected with an incurable and progressive disease: curiosity about the Soviet Union under communism. I was full of questions, many of which could not be answered for decades, until communist rule collapsed. Becoming a professional scholar, I spent the next half-century studying the history, economics, and politics of communist societies. The biggest obstacle was always secrecy, so it seems fitting that the system of secrecy is the topic of my most recent book.

Mark's book list on working inside Soviet communism

Mark Harrison Why did Mark love this book?

This is the best (to be fair, the only) English-language novel about how the Soviet economy was supposed to work and how it actually worked in the 1950s and 1960s. (The author says it is “not a novel” but a Russian fairytale.)

I was reluctant to read it, and expected to find fault with it, but I found it both moving and utterly convincing. It has all the ingredients of a war story: the various characters are trying to survive, to find love, to protect their families, to serve the nation, or to better humanity, while being ground between the wheels of great-power politics and everyday existence.

The book’s only omission (I learned later, after years of research) is that it does not account sufficiently for the role of the secret police in Soviet-era workplace surveillance and the selection of managers.

By Francis Spufford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Bizarre and quite brilliant.' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

'Thrilling.' Michael Burleigh, Sunday Telegraph

'Francis Spufford has one of the most original minds in contemporary literature.' Nick Hornby

The Soviet Union was founded on a fairytale. It was built on 20th-century magic called 'the planned economy', which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the penny-pinching lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working.

Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it…


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