100 books like Twenty Letters to a Friend

By Svetlana Alliluyeva,

Here are 100 books that Twenty Letters to a Friend fans have personally recommended if you like Twenty Letters to a Friend. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

David L. Robbins Author Of War of the Rats

From my list on love and war and describing both battlefields.

Who am I?

I’ve penned (so far) seventeen novels, most set during some historical conflict or other, all of them revolving around intense personal relationships (loyalty, love, betrayal, those sorts of profound truths). I tend to read the sorts of books I wish to write. I also teach creative writing at a university (VCU); I tell my students that if they want to really know what a character is made of, shoot at them or have them fall in love. In my own work, I do both.

David's book list on love and war and describing both battlefields

David L. Robbins Why did David love this book?

The Cold War is the war I was born into. No writer has chronicled the competition between superpowers better than LeCarre.

When Alec Leamas falls for Liz, he’s not aware of the depth of his feelings until she’s murdered as a pawn in the great game between Russia and the West. The revenge he seeks and the resolution he acquires are among LeCarre’s best efforts.

I was riveted to every scene. 

By John le Carré,

Why should I read it?

13 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…


Book cover of The Untouchable

Lee Polevoi Author Of The Confessions of Gabriel Ash

From my list on the Cold War told in the first person.

Who am I?

I read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the first time many years ago, while traveling aboard a Canadian National Railway train from Montreal to British Columbia. Something about the contrast between the majestic Canadian Rockies and the dark alleys of John Le Carré’s Berlin brought the Cold War fully to life and set me on the path to writing a novel of my own set during that time. (Living through some of those tense years of superpower stand-offs didn’t hurt.) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is told in third-person, but many Cold War novels written in the first person do a masterful job of evoking that troubled era. 

Lee's book list on the Cold War told in the first person

Lee Polevoi Why did Lee love this book?

John Banville is a famously prolific author, but his 1997 novel, The Untouchable, is unique in that it’s based on a real-life figure.

Anthony Blunt—who would later be exposed as one of the notorious Cambridge spies—rose to become an art expert to the Queen, even as he funneled purloined secrets to the highest reaches of the Kremlin. 

In The Untouchable, we follow Blunt’s fictional counterpart, Victor Maskell, from his poor Irish upbringing and conversion to Marxism at Cambridge, to his efforts on behalf of the Soviet Union well into the Cold War.

Victor’s first-person account—a miracle of authorly ventriloquism for a character bordering on the sociopathic—is rendered in Banville’s silky prose, a pure delight to read. For me, The Untouchable is a novel for the ages.

By John Banville,

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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…


Book cover of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Ling Ling Huang Author Of Natural Beauty

From my list on the power of music.

Who am I?

For most of my life, I've been a professional classical violinist. I had my first performance on stage at the age of 4, went to a music conservatory at the age of 15, and have gone on to play on some of the best concert stages in the world, from the Elbphilharmonie to Carnegie Hall. My violin playing and writing inform each other, and I think of myself as a translator between the two. I love to do both, and I’m certain I couldn’t do one without the other. It's always a pleasure to see music in the books I read. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!

Ling's book list on the power of music

Ling Ling Huang Why did Ling love this book?

This was one of the first books I ever loved as a teenager and it has always stayed with me.

A professor recommended it to me, and I didn’t know that it would heavily reference Beethoven’s last string quartet, which I was working on at the time.

I love the way Kundera can weave so many disparate things together, including Beethoven’s fate motif and the fate of the character’s relationships. It’s something I find very inspiring and try to do in my own works.

By Milan Kundera,

Why should I read it?

7 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…


Book cover of The Miracle Game

Simon Mawer Author Of Prague Spring

From my list on or around the Cold War from a child of the Cold War.

Who am I?

I’m a child of the Cold War. Until the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 this strange standoff between the Soviet Union and the Western allies informed everyone’s life, but my own case was particular because my father served in the Royal Air Force. For three years he was even in command of three squadrons of nuclear bombers. With a background like that, how could I not be interested in the larger picture? Since then I have gone on to write novels with all kinds of settings but the other side of the now defunct Iron Curtain has always held a fascination... and has directly led to at least three of my own books.

Simon's book list on or around the Cold War from a child of the Cold War

Simon Mawer Why did Simon love this book?

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,…

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.


Book cover of Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West

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

From my list on the KGB, Russia and espionage.

Who am I?

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?

This is a painstaking investigation into corruption at the highest level in Putin's Kremlin. 

The book demonstrates in vivid detail how Putin installed a group of former KGB officers in power who then carved up Russia's strategic assets for themselves.

They targeted one company after another, probing weaknesses and exploiting the chequered past of every businessman who had made a fortune in the chaos of privatisation during the 1990s.

By Catherine Belton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller | A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Named a best book of the year by The Economist | Financial Times | New Statesman | The Telegraph

"[Putin's People] will surely now become the definitive account of the rise of Putin and Putinism." —Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic

"This riveting, immaculately researched book is arguably the best single volume written about Putin, the people around him and perhaps even about contemporary Russia itself in the past three decades." —Peter Frankopan, Financial Times

Interference in American elections. The sponsorship of extremist politics in…


Book cover of The Russian Economy: A Very Short Introduction

Andrew Monaghan Author Of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

From my list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures. I started to learn Russian in 1998, and intrigued by the language, I began to study Russia more—delving into history and politics and then doing a PhD in Russian foreign policy. Ever since, trying to learn about and understand Russia has been my professional focus. Alongside books in Russian, these books are all to hand on my reference shelf, well-thumbed and marked up, as I try to write my own work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! 

Andrew's book list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing

Andrew Monaghan Why did Andrew love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of The Russian Mind

Andrew Monaghan Author Of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

From my list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures. I started to learn Russian in 1998, and intrigued by the language, I began to study Russia more—delving into history and politics and then doing a PhD in Russian foreign policy. Ever since, trying to learn about and understand Russia has been my professional focus. Alongside books in Russian, these books are all to hand on my reference shelf, well-thumbed and marked up, as I try to write my own work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! 

Andrew's book list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing

Andrew Monaghan Why did Andrew love this book?

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. 

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


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

Andrew Monaghan Author Of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

From my list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures. I started to learn Russian in 1998, and intrigued by the language, I began to study Russia more—delving into history and politics and then doing a PhD in Russian foreign policy. Ever since, trying to learn about and understand Russia has been my professional focus. Alongside books in Russian, these books are all to hand on my reference shelf, well-thumbed and marked up, as I try to write my own work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! 

Andrew's book list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing

Andrew Monaghan Why did Andrew love this book?

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.

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…


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

Mark Lawrence Schrad Author Of Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

From my list on understanding Putinism.

Who am I?

I’ve lived, learned, and loved Russian politics since before the collapse of communism. My Vodka Politics book takes a deep dive into Russian history but is ultimately focussed on better understanding contemporary social, economic, and political developments in Russia, where Putin and Putinism are at the core. Having taught graduate and undergraduate courses on Russian and post-Soviet politics for the past fifteen years, I find it essential to keep up-to-date on the latest scholarship. There are many great works out there by gifted journalists, writers, and scholars, many of which illuminate perhaps only part of Russia’s personalized autocracy. The ones I’ve listed here I feel present the most well-rounded picture, from a wide variety of perspectives.

Mark's book list on understanding Putinism

Mark Lawrence Schrad Why did Mark love this book?

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…

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…


Book cover of China and Russia: The New Rapprochement

Andrew Monaghan Author Of Russian Grand Strategy in the Era of Global Power Competition

From my list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures. I started to learn Russian in 1998, and intrigued by the language, I began to study Russia more—delving into history and politics and then doing a PhD in Russian foreign policy. Ever since, trying to learn about and understand Russia has been my professional focus. Alongside books in Russian, these books are all to hand on my reference shelf, well-thumbed and marked up, as I try to write my own work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have! 

Andrew's book list on Russia and why the Kremlin does what it's doing

Andrew Monaghan Why did Andrew love this book?

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.

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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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