100 books like The Last Empire

By Serhii Plokhy,

Here are 100 books that The Last Empire fans have personally recommended if you like The Last Empire. 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 Nikolai Gogol: Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism

Fabian Baumann Author Of Dynasty Divided: A Family History of Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism

From my list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was through learning Russian in my Swiss high school that I first got interested in the history of Eastern Europe. When I became fascinated by the theory of nationalism during my university studies, my geographical focus shifted to Ukraine, a society whose aspiration to nationhood has been repeatedly been contested by the neighboring great powers. For my first book, I researched the history of a fascinating nationally bifurcated family whose members have left archival traces from Moscow to Liubljana and from Kyiv to Stanford. I hold a BA degree from the University of Geneva, an MPhil from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from the University of Basel.

Fabian's book list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Fabian Baumann Why did Fabian love this book?

Nikolai Gogol – or, in Ukrainian, Mykola Hohol – is considered a classic of Russian literature.

At the same time, he was born Ukrainian, wrote about Ukraine, and is considered their own by many Ukrainian literature lovers. Literary scholar Edyta Bojanowska has written a fascinating study about how Gogol knew to draw upon both Ukrainian and Russian cultural repertoires to appeal to readers and how he intentionally played with his intimate knowledge of both cultures.

This was one of the studies that inspired me as I tried to understand the complex cultural entanglements between nineteenth-century Russia and Ukraine, as I found them personified in my books’ protagonists.

By Edyta M. Bojanowska,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

No other writer captured the fraught relations between Ukrainian and Russian nationalisms with as much complexity and lasting relevance as Nikolai Gogol. This pathbreaking book illuminates the deep cultural stakes of today's geopolitical conflict.

The nineteenth-century author Nikolai Gogol occupies a key place in the Russian cultural pantheon as an ardent champion of Russian nationalism. Indeed, he created the nation's most famous literary icon: Russia as a rushing carriage, full of elemental energy and limitless potential.

In a pathbreaking book, Edyta M. Bojanowska topples the foundations of this russocentric myth of the Ukrainian-born writer, a myth that has also dominated…


Book cover of Children of Rus': Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation

Fabian Baumann Author Of Dynasty Divided: A Family History of Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism

From my list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was through learning Russian in my Swiss high school that I first got interested in the history of Eastern Europe. When I became fascinated by the theory of nationalism during my university studies, my geographical focus shifted to Ukraine, a society whose aspiration to nationhood has been repeatedly been contested by the neighboring great powers. For my first book, I researched the history of a fascinating nationally bifurcated family whose members have left archival traces from Moscow to Liubljana and from Kyiv to Stanford. I hold a BA degree from the University of Geneva, an MPhil from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from the University of Basel.

Fabian's book list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Fabian Baumann Why did Fabian love this book?

This was one of the first books that got me interested in the history of nineteenth-century Kyiv. Freshly published when I began my graduate studies, Faith Hillis’s book is detailed micro-history of local politics in the Ukrainian capital from the early nineteenth century to the revolution of 1905.

In particular, Hillis recounts the rise of a local Russian nationalist movement and does a great job at explaining why the city – and all of Ukraine – came to occupy such a central place in the political imagination of Russian imperialists and nationalists. And several members of the Shul’gin family – the protagonists of my own book – also make an appearance!

By Faith Hillis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Children of Rus', Faith Hillis recovers an all but forgotten chapter in the history of the tsarist empire and its southwestern borderlands. The right bank, or west side, of the Dnieper River-which today is located at the heart of the independent state of Ukraine-was one of the Russian empire's last territorial acquisitions, annexed only in the late eighteenth century. Yet over the course of the long nineteenth century, this newly acquired region nearly a thousand miles from Moscow and St. Petersburg generated a powerful Russian nationalist movement. Claiming to restore the ancient customs of the East Slavs, the southwest's…


Book cover of The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939

Fabian Baumann Author Of Dynasty Divided: A Family History of Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism

From my list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was through learning Russian in my Swiss high school that I first got interested in the history of Eastern Europe. When I became fascinated by the theory of nationalism during my university studies, my geographical focus shifted to Ukraine, a society whose aspiration to nationhood has been repeatedly been contested by the neighboring great powers. For my first book, I researched the history of a fascinating nationally bifurcated family whose members have left archival traces from Moscow to Liubljana and from Kyiv to Stanford. I hold a BA degree from the University of Geneva, an MPhil from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from the University of Basel.

Fabian's book list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Fabian Baumann Why did Fabian love this book?

Soviet rule completely changed the relationship between Russia as the imperial metropole and Ukraine as a peripheral territory in the empire.

It was through Terry Martin’s classic that I first understood the enormous political implications of the Soviets’ intricate nationality policy that invested the state’s various ethnic groups with their own national educational and administrative institutions, all the while depriving them of the right to political self-determination.

Martin’s analysis is as sharp as his prose is crisp and his detailed understanding of the Bolsheviks’ political reasoning remains impressive over twenty years after the study’s publication.

By Terry Martin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Terry Martin looks at the nationalities policy of the early Soviet period and offers an insightful, detailed analysis of a problem that Soviet leaders grappled with throughout the twentieth century. As he points out, it was a problem that eventually helped to usher in the end of the USSR."
- Amanda Wood Aucoin, New Zealand Slavonic Journal

The Soviet Union was the first of Europe's multiethnic states to confront the rising tide of nationalism by systematically promoting the national consciousness of its ethnic minorities and establishing for them many of the institutional forms characteristic of the modern nation-state. In the…


Book cover of The Torture Camp on Paradise Street

Fabian Baumann Author Of Dynasty Divided: A Family History of Russian and Ukrainian Nationalism

From my list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Why am I passionate about this?

It was through learning Russian in my Swiss high school that I first got interested in the history of Eastern Europe. When I became fascinated by the theory of nationalism during my university studies, my geographical focus shifted to Ukraine, a society whose aspiration to nationhood has been repeatedly been contested by the neighboring great powers. For my first book, I researched the history of a fascinating nationally bifurcated family whose members have left archival traces from Moscow to Liubljana and from Kyiv to Stanford. I hold a BA degree from the University of Geneva, an MPhil from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from the University of Basel.

Fabian's book list on the long prehistory of Russia’s war against Ukraine

Fabian Baumann Why did Fabian love this book?

This is by no means an easy read. Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev experienced horrible things while he spent three years imprisoned in a torture camp of the Russian-supported so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.”

While Aseyev refrains from including graphic details about his experiences, his account is harrowing. In his memoir, he not only takes up the best intellectual traditions of twentieth-century “camp literature” but also powerfully explains what is at stake as Ukrainians fight for their freedom against Putin’s authoritarian regime.

I met Aseyev last year and was simultaneously shocked and impressed to get to know someone who is about my age and has been forced to survive such horrors.

By Stanislav Aseyev, Zenia Tompkins (translator), Nina Murray (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Torture Camp on Paradise Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Torture Camp on Paradise Street, Ukrainian journalist and writer Stanislav Aseyev details his experience as a prisoner from 2015 to 2017 in a modern-day concentration camp overseen by the Federal Security Bureau of the Russian Federation (FSB) in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk. This memoir recounts an endless ordeal of psychological and physical abuse, including torture and rape, inflicted upon the author and his fellow inmates over the course of nearly three years of illegal incarceration spent largely in the prison called Izoliatsiia (Isolation). Aseyev also reflects on how a human can survive such atrocities and reenter the…


Book cover of Unwanted Visionaries: The Soviet Failure in Asia at the End of the Cold War

Sarah B. Snyder Author Of Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

From my list on the end of the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by Russian history and American-Soviet relations since high school. Now at American University’s School of International Service, I teach courses on the history of U.S. foreign relations, the Cold War, as well as human rights and U.S. foreign policy. I have written two books on the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, including Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network and From Selma to Moscow: How U.S. Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy. When I’m not working, I love a good Cold War TV series (Deutschland 83 or The Americans).

Sarah's book list on the end of the Cold War

Sarah B. Snyder Why did Sarah love this book?

In Unwanted Visionaries Radchenko reveals the very different ways the Cold War ended in Asia, not with the jubilant breaching of the Berlin Wall and largely peaceful transitions of power, but with the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Vietnamese departure from Cambodia. 

By Sergey Radchenko,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The European and American dimensions of Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign policy captured the imagination of contemporary observers and, later, historians. The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall were the grand events that marked the European finale of the Cold War. The Cold War ended differently in Asia, where there was no easy closure, no great fanfare, and little credit awarded for changing the world. Yet Gorbachev was fascinated
by Asia and in his early years in power, he addressed the subject of Asia's rise and the importance of Soviet engagement with the region. He…


Book cover of The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

Sarah B. Snyder Author Of Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

From my list on the end of the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by Russian history and American-Soviet relations since high school. Now at American University’s School of International Service, I teach courses on the history of U.S. foreign relations, the Cold War, as well as human rights and U.S. foreign policy. I have written two books on the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, including Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network and From Selma to Moscow: How U.S. Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy. When I’m not working, I love a good Cold War TV series (Deutschland 83 or The Americans).

Sarah's book list on the end of the Cold War

Sarah B. Snyder Why did Sarah love this book?

In The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy, Chris Miller compares the political and economic reforms undertaken in the Soviet Union and China in the 1980s. His account portrays Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as weak and unable to make difficult choices, and Miller reveals the dire consequences of Gorbachev's policies for the cohesion of his country. Miller argues effectively that Gorbachev did not have the option to follow the “authoritarian path” of China’s Deng Xiaoping.

By Chris Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For half a century the Soviet economy was 'inefficient' but stable. In the late 1980s, to the surprise of nearly everyone, it suddenly collapsed. Why did this happen? And what role did Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's economic reforms play in the country's dissolution? In this groundbreaking study, Chris Miller shows that Gorbachev and his allies tried to learn from the great success story of transitions from socialism to capitalism, Deng Xiaoping's China. Why, then, were efforts to revitalize Soviet socialism so much less successful than in China?

Making use of never-before-studied documents from the Soviet politburo and other archives, Miller…


Book cover of The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine

Douglas Kellner Author Of American Horror Show: Election 2016 and the Ascent of Donald Trump

From my list on Russia invasion of Ukraine and threats to democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

My work since the 1970s has focused on the major political struggles of the day as they impact U.S. democracy and provide challenges for understanding and action. As a professional philosopher, I focused on ways that history, philosophy, and theory provide key tools for the interpretation and critique of salient issues. I've written books on U.S. politics and the media, the Gulf War and Iraq War, 9/11 and the War on Terror, and am particularly interested in the interaction between Russia, the U.S., and Europe; hence, the rise of Putin in Russia, the New Cold War, and the 2020s conflict in Ukraine and the response of Western democracies.

Douglas' book list on Russia invasion of Ukraine and threats to democracy

Douglas Kellner Why did Douglas love this book?

Plokhy’s engaging and well-documented study provides an excellent overview of the entire history of Ukraine and the repeated story of invasion, war, and occupation by its neighbors Poland and especially Russia. In particular, it provides sharp analyses of the complex relations between Ukraine and Russia from the time of its Czars through Stalin, the post-Stalinist Kremlin leadership, and Putin, providing contemporary readers penetrating insights into the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The book depicts in dramatic detail and narrative the century-long struggles of Ukraine for sovereignty, its century-long oppression by its neighbors, the terrible mass starvation and murder it suffered from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in World War II, and its eventual independence—threatened by Russia in the 21st century through the present. In the contemporary context, Plotky’s text provides an illuminating understanding of Ukraine and its conflicted and often tragic history.

By Serhii Plokhy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense fight with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence. But today's conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine's territory and its existence as a sovereign nation. As the award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe , we must examine Ukraine's past in order to understand its present and future.Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine was shaped by the empires that used it as a strategic gateway between East and West,from the Roman and Ottoman empires to the Third…


Book cover of Ukraine: Movement without Change, Change without Movement

Susan Viets Author Of Picnic at the Iron Curtain: A Memoir: From the Fall of the Berlin Wall to Ukraine's Orange Revolution

From my list on Ukraine from a journalist who was based there.

Why am I passionate about this?

I moved to Kyiv to report for The Independent in 1990 and fell in love with Ukraine. The beauty of Kyiv and its golden-domed cathedrals amazed me as did the vibrant culture of civic engagement that emerged. It’s not often that you witness a declaration of independence and see a new country appear on the world map. I admire the bravery of Ukrainians who have fought for both and value the warm friendships that I made. I was Ukraine’s first accredited foreign correspondent. Before that I reported for The Guardian (Budapest) and later, for the BBC (London and Kyiv). I live in Toronto and still closely follow developments in Ukraine.  

Susan's book list on Ukraine from a journalist who was based there

Susan Viets Why did Susan love this book?

What strikes me most about this book is how prescient it is. Published in 2000, this assessment of the first few years of Ukrainian independence accurately flags that Russia never fully accepted it and explains why an independent Ukraine threatens Russia. The introduction provides an excellent, brief history of Ukraine. Later chapters focus on politics, economics, social and cultural issues, and foreign policy up to 1998. Dyczok, an academic, was an eyewitness to key historical events, reporting from Ukraine during its 1991 declaration of independence and after. I particularly recommend the chapter on Ukrainian-Russian relations. Although written long before Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent invasion of Ukraine, much in that chapter foreshadows these critical events and helps account for why what happened did.

By Marta Dyczok,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ukraine has surprised many international observers. Few anticipated its declaration of independence in 1991 or its determination to move out of Russia's shadow. Dyczok redresses the continuing dearth of information on the country. Aimed at nonspecialists and specialists alike, it presents an overview of the main government policies, and the social and cultural issues facing the new state. These are placed within their historical, regional and global framework. In contrast with the generally bleak picture that international media reports present, the book suggests that Ukraine has actually accomplished a great deal in a short time. In seven years, from 1991…


Book cover of The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine

Lyn Miller-Lachmann Author Of Torch

From my list on for tweens and teens on Russian/Soviet aggression.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m the author of multiple middle grade and YA historical novels, including Torch, which won the 2023 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature. Torch takes place in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and it is especially timely in the face of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Bear (a popular symbol of the Russian Empire) has mauled many of its neighbors in the past century, not only Czechoslovakia and Ukraine but also the Baltic countries that, like Ukraine, were incorporated into the Soviet Union and the other Eastern European countries that were part of the Soviet bloc until the fall of Communism in 1989. 

Lyn's book list on for tweens and teens on Russian/Soviet aggression

Lyn Miller-Lachmann Why did Lyn love this book?

Dual timeline narratives connect young people’s lives today with those of family members in the past.

This one contrasts the fear and isolation Matthew feels during the 2020 Covid lockdown with the terror experienced by his great grandmother living in Kiev (now Kyiv, Ukraine) during the Holodomor. The futile efforts of a relative who escaped to alert Americans to Soviet oppression and Ukrainians’ starvation raises important questions for budding journalists who seek to tell the truth in the face of pressure and propaganda.

By Katherine Marsh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lost Year as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Thirteen-year-old Matthew is miserable. His journalist dad is stuck overseas, and his mum has moved his great-grandmother in with them to ride out the pandemic, adding to his stress and isolation.

But when Matthew finds a photo in his great-grandmother's belongings, he discovers a clue to a hidden chapter of her past, one that will reveal a life-shattering family secret. Set in alternating timelines that connect the present day to the 1930s and the US to the USSR, Katherine Marsh's latest novel sheds light on the Holodomor - the horrific famine that killed millions of Ukrainians.


Book cover of The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine

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?

This is one of the first books in English on what we now call the Holodomor, the famine in Ukraine in the 1930s.

It’s now estimated that about 3.3 million people died in this famine, which Stalin imposed via a policy of “collectivization.” Under this policy, Ukrainian peasants had to turn over their entire harvests to the state, leaving nothing for themselves to eat: some even turned to cannibalism. Things were so bad that the government put up posters saying, “eating people is wrong.” 

When Conquest published this book in 1986, many people denounced him as a right-wing anti-communist, but since then many other scholars have proved him right. This was one of the first books I read when I started teaching courses on comparative genocide studies in the 1980s. 

By Robert Conquest,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Harvest of Sorrow is the first full history of one of the most horrendous human tragedies of the 20th century. Between 1929 and 1932 the Soviet Communist Party struck a double blow at the Russian peasantry: dekulakization, the dispossession and deportation of millions of peasant families, and collectivization, the abolition of private ownership of land and the concentration of the remaining peasants in party-controlled "collective" farms. This was
followed in 1932-33 by a "terror-famine," inflicted by the State on the collectivized peasants of the Ukraine and certain other areas by setting impossibly high grain quotas, removing every other source…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Soviet Union, Ukraine, and Mikhail Gorbachev?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet Union, Ukraine, and Mikhail Gorbachev.

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Ukraine Explore 86 books about Ukraine
Mikhail Gorbachev Explore 6 books about Mikhail Gorbachev