100 books like The Russian Far East

By John J. Stephan,

Here are 100 books that The Russian Far East fans have personally recommended if you like The Russian Far East. 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 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 Spies and Scholars: Chinese Secrets and Imperial Russia’s Quest for World Power

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?

In recent years, we have seen a surge in books on contemporary Russia-China relations. Gregory Afinogenov’s Spies and Scholars takes us back to their humble beginnings in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. This pioneering study sheds new light on how the emergence of the Russian Empire as a global power was shaped through intelligence gathering in imperial China. A must-read not only for historians. 

By Gregory Afinogenov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Financial Times Best Book of the Year

The untold story of how Russian espionage in imperial China shaped the emergence of the Russian Empire as a global power.

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire made concerted efforts to collect information about China. It bribed Chinese porcelain-makers to give up trade secrets, sent Buddhist monks to Mongolia on intelligence-gathering missions, and trained students at its Orthodox mission in Beijing to spy on their hosts. From diplomatic offices to guard posts on the Chinese frontier, Russians were producing knowledge everywhere, not only at elite institutions like the…


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 Sakhalin Island

Sara Wheeler Author Of Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age

From my list on to read when visiting Russia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sara Wheeler is a prize-winning non-fiction author. Sara is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Contributing Editor of The Literary Review, a Trustee of The London Library, and former chair of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award. She contributes to a wide range of publications in the UK and US and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio. Her five-part series, ‘To Strive, To Seek’,  went out on Radio 4, and her book Cherry was made into a television film. 

Sara's book list on to read when visiting Russia

Sara Wheeler Why did Sara love this book?

The writer’s account of a journey across Siberia and into the Russian Far East to investigate prison conditions on an island in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan. A book of investigative journalism and a finely worked travel narrative conjuring spongy mud, ‘smoky, dreamy mountains’ and ‘lithe’ rivers while the author dreams of turbot, asparagus and kasha.

By Anton Chekhov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1890, the thirty-year-old Chekhov, already knowing that he was ill with tuberculosis, undertook an arduous eleven-week journey from Moscow across Siberia to the penal colony on the island of Sakhalin. Now collected here in one volume are the fully annotated translations of his impressions of his trip through Siberia and the account of his three-month sojourn on Sakhalin Island, together with his notes and extracts from his letters to relatives and associates. Highly valuable both as a detailed depiction of the Tsarist system of penal servitude and as an insight into Chekhov's motivations and objectives for visiting the colony…


Book cover of The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Phillip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History

Jim Popkin Author Of Code Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America's Most Dangerous Female Spy--And the Sister She Betrayed

From my list on nonfiction spy books to read in one day.

Why am I passionate about this?

I covered the FBI and CIA for years, first as a print reporter in Washington and then as the head of the NBC News investigative unit. So I have covered my fair share of spy scandals, and with my colleague Pete Williams helped NBC break the story of Robert Hanssen’s arrest. I was immediately drawn to the Ana Montes Cuba spy story when it broke and then learned that Montes had bought her condo from my close friend and college roommate, John. That meant I had spent hours inside Ana’s DC apartment, and that odd connection rooted me in her story in a deeper way.  

Jim's book list on nonfiction spy books to read in one day

Jim Popkin Why did Jim love this book?

If you’re like me, you can’t consume enough news about Robert Hanssen, the FBI Special Agent who sold out his country to Russia.

Elaine Shannon, the longtime Time Magazine correspondent, and Ann Blackman relied on more than 150 interviews in telling Hanssen’s story of deceit and depravity. They reveal the dramatic story of an ex-KGB officer stealing Hanssen’s KGB file, Hanssen’s obsession with kinky sex, and his (ironic) affiliation with the ultra-conservative and moralistic Catholic society, Opus Dei.

Still a great read, all these years later.

By Elaine Shannon, Ann Blackman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Two veteran Time reporters present a riveting glimpse into the life of Robert Hanssen, a seemingly quintessential surburban father and a trusted and loyal FBI agent who, after fifteen years of extremely damaging espionage, betrayed his family, his church, and his country - and got away with it, destroying the confidence of the FBI. 125,000 first printing.


Book cover of Russia And The Russians

Keir Giles Author Of Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West

From my list on why Russia is the way it is.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional explainer of Russia. For over 20 years I’ve been studying the country and trying to understand what makes it (and its leaders and people) so intent on attacking those around it and perceived adversaries further afield. That’s never been more important to understand than today when Ukraine and its soldiers are the only thing preventing Russia from once again rampaging across Europe. These books are ones that have helped me understand one part or several parts of the Russia problem, and I think they’ll be helpful for anybody else who wants to, too.

Keir's book list on why Russia is the way it is

Keir Giles Why did Keir love this book?

I found it hard to choose between several of Edward Crankshaw’s books explaining Russia. Each, in its own way, uncovers a particular aspect of history or society that makes the country what it is. In the end, I settled on this, his first: published in 1947, not long after Crankshaw had been posted to Moscow during WWII, and while he was still reeling from the vast gulf between what he experienced there and the image of the USSR that was being sold abroad. 

Crankshaw was sometimes accused of being too sympathetic to Russia, but while he does his best to explain why the country behaves as it does, he doesn’t seek to excuse it. For that reason I find this one of the most clear-headed appraisals of Russia. And given the continuities that run through all of Russian history, his rationalising of how Russia works and what it does is…

By Edward Crankshaw,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the "public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank…


Book cover of Journey into Russia

Sara Wheeler Author Of Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age

From my list on to read when visiting Russia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sara Wheeler is a prize-winning non-fiction author. Sara is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Contributing Editor of The Literary Review, a Trustee of The London Library, and former chair of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award. She contributes to a wide range of publications in the UK and US and broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio. Her five-part series, ‘To Strive, To Seek’,  went out on Radio 4, and her book Cherry was made into a television film. 

Sara's book list on to read when visiting Russia

Sara Wheeler Why did Sara love this book?

The author was an old fraud but this is a delightful period piece which reveals a good deal, sometimes inadvertently, about the lives of Russians in the benighted Soviet sixties.

Book cover of Spy: The inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America

Jim Popkin Author Of Code Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America's Most Dangerous Female Spy--And the Sister She Betrayed

From my list on nonfiction spy books to read in one day.

Why am I passionate about this?

I covered the FBI and CIA for years, first as a print reporter in Washington and then as the head of the NBC News investigative unit. So I have covered my fair share of spy scandals, and with my colleague Pete Williams helped NBC break the story of Robert Hanssen’s arrest. I was immediately drawn to the Ana Montes Cuba spy story when it broke and then learned that Montes had bought her condo from my close friend and college roommate, John. That meant I had spent hours inside Ana’s DC apartment, and that odd connection rooted me in her story in a deeper way.  

Jim's book list on nonfiction spy books to read in one day

Jim Popkin Why did Jim love this book?

This book is a fascinating and comprehensive account of one of the worst intelligence disasters in U.S. history. It is about Robert Hanssen, the late FBI Agent and Russian turncoat who was corrupt, sullen, imperious, and endlessly fascinating.

We know about a lot of his misdeeds and personality disorders because of this groundbreaking book by David Wise. David is a brilliant and accomplished espionage writer who died in 2018. He explains how the FBI spent $7 million to steal Hanssen’s personnel files from the KGB. Those secret Russian files led directly to Hanssen’s 2001 arrest.

Wise also conducted exclusive interviews with the psychiatrist who met Hanssen in his jail cell more than 30 times. Finally, Wise chronicles Hanssen’s bizarre sex life, including the hidden video camera he used to record his wife, so he could share the videos with his best friend. 

By David Wise,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Spy tells, for the first time, the full, authoritative story of how FBI agent Robert Hanssen, code name grayday, spied for Russia for twenty-two years in what has been called the “worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history”–and how he was finally caught in an incredible gambit by U.S. intelligence.

David Wise, the nation’s leading espionage writer, has called on his unique knowledge and unrivaled intelligence sources to write the definitive, inside story of how Robert Hanssen betrayed his country, and why.

Spy at last reveals the mind and motives of a man who was a walking paradox: FBI counterspy, KGB…


Book cover of Fathers and Sons

Roland Merullo Author Of Dessert with Buddha

From my list on thoughtful works of fiction and non-fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

My twenty novels tend to focus on characters who face great challenges, and I have a particular appreciation for beautiful prose. I don’t read for distraction or entertainment, but to be enlightened, moved, and made more compassionate about different kinds of people in different environments.

Roland's book list on thoughtful works of fiction and non-fiction

Roland Merullo Why did Roland love this book?

I speak Russian and spent several years working in the former USSR on cultural exchange exhibitions. I majored in Russian Language and Literature at Brown and have a Master’s in those subjects, also from Brown, and I love Turgenev even more than I love his great contemporaries, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

In this short novel, Turgenev speaks to political differences across generations, something pertinent to the American political scene now and to the tension between activism and domestic life. 

As a novelist, I’m also blown away by his ability to put so much into a very short piece of fiction. It’s helpful, but not essential, to have a bit of knowledge about pre-Revolutionary Russia, but like his masterful Sportsman’s Sketches, he is a genius at bringing characters, both real and imagined, to life.

By Ivan Turgenev, Peter Carson (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons explores the ageless conflict between generations through a period in Russian history when a new generation of revolutionary intellectuals threatened the state. This Penguin Classics edition is translated from the Russian by Peter Carson, with an introduction by Rosamund Bartlett and an afterword by Tatyana Tolstaya.

Returning home after years away at university, Arkady is proud to introduce his clever friend Bazarov to his father and uncle. But their guest soon stirs up unrest on the quiet country estate - his outspoken nihilist views and his scathing criticisms of the older men expose the growing…


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