10 books like Twenty Letters to a Friend

By Svetlana Alliluyeva,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Twenty Letters to a Friend. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

John Le Carré is one of the reasons I became a spy thriller writer. Like Joseph Conrad who wrote great novels that happened to be set at sea, Le Carré writes literary novels set in the world of spies. Spare, authentic, intensely realistic, this book plunges you deep into the duplicitous world of spy tradecraft, reeling you in with a brilliant plot, spot-on characterizations and line after line of dialogue you’ll want to quote. The story depicts Alex Leamas, a burnt-out British agent who defects in a scheme to eliminate a powerful East German spymaster, but what it's really about are the choices we make—and the costs. This book made me realize that genre could be a tool and not a walled-in garden.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John Le Carré,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Our Kind of Traitor; and The Night Manager, now a television series starring Tom Hiddleston.

The 50th-anniversary edition of the bestselling novel that launched John le Carre's career worldwide

In the shadow of the newly erected Berlin Wall, Alec Leamas watches as his last agent is shot dead by East German sentries. For Leamas, the head of Berlin Station, the Cold War is over. As he faces the prospect of retirement or worse-a desk job-Control offers him a unique opportunity for revenge. Assuming the guise of an embittered…


The Untouchable

By John Banville,

Book cover of The Untouchable

John Banville is one of the finest writers in English alive today. It’s as simple as that. He is also one of the most versatile. Anyone who has read his impressionistic Booker Prizewinning novel The Sea will be startled to read The Untouchable, in which the author contrives to worm his way inside the minds of those famous traitors of the Cold War, the Cambridge spies. In the real world they included such figures as the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Sir (later stripped of his title) Anthony Blunt and the drunken diplomat Guy Burgess. Here they live again under the cover names of Viktor Maskell and ‘Boy’ Bannister. It is all related by Maskell himself. Prepare to be astonished at how convincing this act of impersonation is!

The Untouchable

By John Banville,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The Untouchable is an engrossing, exquisitely written and almost bewilderingly smart book . . . It's the fullest book I've read in a very long time, utterly accomplished, thoroughly readable, written by a novelist of vast talent' Richard Ford

Victor Maskell has been betrayed. After the announcement in the Commons and the hasty revelation of his double life of wartime espionage, his disgrace is public, his knighthood revoked, his position as curator of the Queen's pictures terminated. There are questions to be answered. For whom has he been sacrificed? To what has he sacrificed his life?

The Untouchable is beautifully…


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

By Milan Kundera,

Book cover of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Most people would probably not think of The Unbearable Lightness of Being as being a coming-of-age novel. Coming-of-age novels often center around younger characters dealing with first crushes, forming an identity, finding a self, separate from family—The Unbearable Lightness of Being is none of that. Instead, I think of it as about a second “coming of age.” This “coming of age” deals with recreating an identity after you do not recognize what your life has become. I find it’s one of those books with something for everyone, though I find myself recommending it the most to college students or those feeling a little lost post-college. Love, the struggle with modernity, the meaning of life—you name it, chances are, Kundera has covered it. For this reason, this is probably my all-time most recommended book.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

By Milan Kundera,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Unbearable Lightness of Being as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A cult figure.' Guardian
'A dark and brilliant achievement.' Ian McEwan
'Shamelessly clever ... Exhilaratingly subversive and funny.' Independent
'A modern classic ... As relevant now as when it was first published. ' John Banville

A young woman is in love with a successful surgeon; a man torn between his love for her and his womanising. His mistress, a free-spirited artist, lives her life as a series of betrayals; while her other lover stands to lose everything because of his noble qualities. In a world where lives are shaped by choices and events, and everything occurs but once, existence seems…


The Miracle Game

By Josef Skvorecky,

Book cover of The Miracle Game

Is there a Czech theme going on here? Well, the Czech lands have always produced artists, musicians and writers of the highest calibre and although he may not be widely known, Škvorecký is one of them. From exile in Canada following the Russian invasion of 1968, he wrote this extraordinary and fantastic novel about a miracle (a holy statue is seen to bow its head) in a Czech village in the first year of communist rule. Of course such irrational things couldn’t be allowed and the priest is condemned as a hoaxer. But now we’re in 1968 and everything is up for discussion including this forgotten event. Seen through the eyes of the author’s picaresque character, Danny Smiřický (who was present at the original miracle but unfortunately had dozed off at the vital moment so never actually saw St Joseph move), the whole story is relived and discussed. Part farce,…

The Miracle Game

By Josef Skvorecky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This energetic and hilarious novel is made even more important by the current final thawing of the long, Communist winter in Czechoslovakia. Moving between 1948, when our hero Danny Smiricky falls asleep in church while a miraculous event occurs, and 1968, when he observes the miracle of Prague Spring, The Miracle Game is a sharp look at the strange, sad, and silly things people do to survive.


The Russian Economy

By Richard Connolly,

Book cover of The Russian Economy: A Very Short Introduction

The strength and resilienceor notof the Russian economy is one of the most important questions in international affairs since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022: policymakers and observers alike are asking what effects the wide-ranging sanctions are having, and whether the Russian economy will implode, thwarting Moscow’s aggression. I’m not an economist so I need help understanding this, and I found this book to be the best introduction to this complex and difficult subject. Connolly also wrote a fine book on the impact of sanctions on Russia since 2014, but I think this one gives a concise and accessible assessment of the Russian economy as a whole, the role of the state, and Moscow’s attempted diversification of economic partners and integration into the global economy.

The Russian Economy

By Richard Connolly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Russia today is as prominent in international affairs as it was at the height of the Cold War. Yet the role that the economy plays in supporting Russia's position as a 'great power' on the international stage is poorly understood. For many, Russia's political influence far exceeds its weight in the global economy. However, Russia is one of the largest economies in the world; it is not only one of the world's most important exporters of oil and gas, but also of other
natural resources, such as diamonds and gold. Its status as one of the largest wheat and grain…


The Russian Mind

By Ronald Hingley,

Book cover of The Russian Mind

I found this book to be full of insights into Russian thinking and culture. I never met Hingley, but would have loved tohis work has had a real influence on my own approach to studying and thinking about Russia. I find him a fluent writer who can take complex and controversial subjects and make them accessible. This is such a rich book. Hingley tries to explain problems of perspective in thinking about a different culture, before moving on to address a wide range of themes from Russian literature to history, geography, and politics. Times and attitudes change, but I find that it helps to frame some persistent questions about Russian life, and this book is such a good way to understand how things doand don’thappen in Russia. 

The Russian Mind

By Ronald Hingley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Book by Hingley, Ronald


All the Kremlin's Men

By Mikhail Zygar,

Book cover of All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin

Of course, it takes more than one man to run a country, and in All the Kremlin’s Men, opposition journalist Mikhail Zygar expands that scope to examine various important figures within Putin’s inner circle. From good friends to politicians, important bureaucrats, and oligarchs—and in many cases, the lines between those categories are very much blurred. Zygar builds on a decade’s worth of interviews and investigative journalism to give a rare, behind-the-scenes look at Russia’s elites, how they relate to one another, and to Putin. The book presents an immensely readable history of post-Soviet Russian politics, moving the chronology forward from 1980s reformism to the tumultuous 1990s, and into the era of High Putinism, with each chapter highlighting the role of this leader or that. The Russian-language original, Vsya kremlevskaya rat’, quickly became a bestseller in Russian nonfiction, which also resulted in ever greater political pressure by the Kremlin…

All the Kremlin's Men

By Mikhail Zygar,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All the Kremlin's Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All the Kremlin's Men is a gripping narrative of an accidental king and a court out of control. Based on an unprecedented series of interviews with Vladimir Putin's inner circle, this book presents a radically different view of power and politics in Russia. The image of Putin as a strongman is dissolved. In its place is a weary figurehead buffeted--if not controlled--by the men who at once advise and deceive him.

The regional governors and bureaucratic leaders are immovable objects, far more powerful in their fiefdoms than the president himself. So are the gatekeepers-those officials who guard the pathways to…


First Person

By Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,

Book cover of First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President

So much has been written about Vladimir Putin since he came to power, from long biographies to short psychological assessments to fleeting conspiracy theories, all to try to better understand Russia’s long-term leader. This book is a publication of a series of interviews he gave to three Russian journalists when he first came to power back in 1999/2000. So much has happened since, but I found this book to be full of fascinating insights into Putin himself, but also how he views Russian (political) culture, and also those around him that he has continued to rely on ever since. “Surely there are more details?” one of the interviewers asks. “Yes, there are,” comes his reply. But I think this is the place to start.

First Person

By Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who is this Vladimir Putin? Who is this man who suddenly- overnight and without warning- was handed the reigns of power to one of the most complex, formidable, and volatile countries in the world? How can we trust him if we don't know him? First Person is an intimate, candid portrait of the man who holds the future of Russia in his grip. An extraordinary compilation of over 24 hours of in-depth interviews and remarkable photographs, it delves deep into Putin's KGB past and explores his meteoric rise to power. No Russian leader has ever subjected himself to this kind…


China and Russia

By Alexander Lukin,

Book cover of China and Russia: The New Rapprochement

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

China and Russia

By Alexander Lukin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

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

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


Mr. Putin

By Fiona Hill, Clifford G. Gaddy,

Book cover of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

You may recognize Fiona Hill from her damning testimony in the first impeachment of President Donald Trump in the Ukraine scandal, at which time she was senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council. Prior to that, she—along with co-author Cliff Gaddy—were two of the top minds on Russian politics at the Brookings Institute.

Together their book, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin goes beyond the standard biographies of Vladimir Putin’s rise from the streets of Leningrad to the KGB to the Kremlin. More importantly, it highlights the variety of roles that Putin plays in the role he currently occupies: the embodiment of the state, the interpreter of Russian history, the survivalist, the outsider, the free marketeer, and the case officer. Understanding how Putin switches from one role to another atop the Russian political system is crucial to understand that system.

Mr. Putin

By Fiona Hill, Clifford G. Gaddy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fiona Hill and other U.S. public servants have been recognized as Guardians of the Year in TIME's 2019 Person of the Year issue.

From the KGB to the Kremlin: a multidimensional portrait of the man at war with the West.

Where do Vladimir Putin's ideas come from? How does he look at the outside world? What does he want, and how far is he willing to go?

The great lesson of the outbreak of World War I in 1914 was the danger of misreading the statements, actions, and intentions of the adversary. Today, Vladimir Putin has become the greatest challenge…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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