100 books like Weak Strongman

By Timothy Frye,

Here are 100 books that Weak Strongman fans have personally recommended if you like Weak Strongman. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

Stephan Lewandowsky Author Of The Debunking Handbook 2020

From my list on the perils facing democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have had a lifelong interest in history and in particular the history of democracy. When I became a cognitive scientist, I initially studied basic memory processes using a mix of computer simulations and experimentation. I became interested in misinformation during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the purported “Weapons of Mass Destruction” never materialized but large segments of the American public continued to believe in their existence. Some 20 years later, misinformation has taken center stage in public life and has metastasized into a danger to democracy in many countries around the world. The books on this list should present a warning and inspiration to all of us.

Stephan's book list on the perils facing democracy

Stephan Lewandowsky Why did Stephan love this book?

This is a page-turner that I read in one go from front to finish. It reads like a thriller and keeps you hooked, although it is also a very serious analysis of contemporary Russia by one of the UK’s most skilled journalists and authors. It is as thrilling as it is frightening because there are so many signs that western countries are heading in a similar direction—a country that “is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away”, as Peter put it in one of his memorable phrases.

By Peter Pomerantsev,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the new Russia, even dictatorship is a reality show. Professional killers with the souls of artists, would-be theater directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, suicidal supermodels, Hell's Angels who hallucinate themselves as holy warriors, and oligarch revolutionaries: welcome to the glittering, surreal heart of twenty-first-century Russia. It is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, home to a form of dictatorship--far subtler than twentieth-century strains--that is rapidly rising to challenge the West. When British producer Peter Pomerantsev plunges into the booming Russian TV industry, he gains access to every nook…


Book cover of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

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

From my list on understanding Putinism.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

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.

By Clifford G. Gaddy, Fiona Hill,

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…


Book cover of The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin's Russia

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

From my list on understanding Putinism.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

How is it that political strongmen—from Putin in Russia to Hungary, Venezuela, Peru, and beyond—are able to impose their authoritarian control without the mass bloodshed of dictatorships past? UCLA Political Science Professor Daniel Treisman—along with Russian economist Sergei Guriev (Sciences Po)—have developed a New Autocracy model suggesting that individuals are less concerned with democracy per se, and more with competent government. Leaders, accordingly, use mechanisms of media manipulation and selective suppression to build the image of government competence. In this edited volume, Treisman and his co-authors demonstrate convincingly that this framework better explains political outcomes—including the annexation of Crimea—than alternative explanations, from Russia as the reincarnation of the Soviet Union, a mafia kleptocracy, a KGB state, or other formulations of “illiberal democracy”.

By Daniel Treisman (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Corruption, fake news, and the "informational autocracy" sustaining Putin in power

After fading into the background for many years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia suddenly has emerged as a new threat-at least in the minds of many Westerners. But Western assumptions about Russia, and in particular about political decision-making in Russia, tend to be out of date or just plain wrong.

Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin since 2000, Russia is neither a somewhat reduced version of the Soviet Union nor a classic police state. Corruption is prevalent at all levels of government and business, but Russia's…


Book cover of War with Russia?: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate

John Philipp Baesler Author Of Clearer Than Truth: The Polygraph and the American Cold War

From my list on Russia in Western eyes.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in West Germany, surrounded by American soldiers and with a father who had escaped communist East Germany, the Cold War always fascinated me. What was it about? Would it ever end? When it did, it took everybody by surprise. This lesson, that nothing is certain and that history can always make a turn when you least expect it, stayed with me as I pursued my degrees in history, first in Heidelberg and then at Indiana University Bloomington. As an immigrant to the United States, I study the United States from the outside and the inside. How Americans see themselves, and how they see others, is my main interest that I keep exploring from different angles.

John's book list on Russia in Western eyes

John Philipp Baesler Why did John love this book?

For readers following coverage of Russia in the American press, this treatment of recent US-Russian relations will be a revelation. Historian Stephen Cohen, while never downplaying the serious shortcomings of Russia under Vladimir Putin, provides a much-needed correction of the widespread idea that the dangerous decline of US-Russian relations is simply the fault of one man. Cohen meticulously chronicles the many American missteps since the end of the Cold War that any Russian leader would have had to consider acts of U.S. aggression. I love this book because it holds a mirror to American views of innocence and benevolence and paints a much more realistic picture of great power conflict than is presented in the news.

By Stephen F. Cohen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Prescient and even more relevant than when originally released in 2019, this Memorial Edition of War With Russia ? provides keen perspective to help readers understand the current Ukraine crisis. Are we in a new Cold War with Russia? Does Vladimir Putin really want to destabilize the West? War With Russia? answers these questions and more.

America is in a new Cold War with Russia even more dangerous than the one the world barely survived in the twentieth century. The Soviet Union is gone, but the two nuclear superpowers are again locked in political and military confrontations, now from Ukraine…


Book cover of Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev

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?

Andrey Kurkov is one of Ukraine’s most popular and best-known writers, acclaimed for the satirical Penquin Diaries and many other amusing and penetrating satires of Russia and Ukraine. His Diaries, written during 2014-2015 provide an illuminating first-hand account of the beginning of Russia’s plans to take-over Ukraine, beginning with the seizure of Crimea and Russia’s encouraging and arming of separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine that is hotly contested militarily as I write in summer 2022. Kurkov combines insightful political analysis and documentation of the ongoing crisis in his country with poignant pictures of everyday life and his relations with his wife, children, and friends, ranging from personal crises to social celebrations. Kurkov also provides accounts of his literary activities and cultural activities in Ukraine and Europe, providing vibrant accounts of Ukraine culture, while also expressing his pro-democratic and often satirical and caustic accounts of Ukraine’s politics and…

By Andrey Kurkov, Sam Taylor (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Acclaimed author Andrey Kurkov gives powerful insight into life in Kyiv following the 2013 protests and before the 2022 Russian invasion.

-16 DegreesC, sunlight, silence. I drove the children to school, then went to see the revolution. I walked between the tents. Talked with rev olutionaries. They were weary today. The air was thick with the smell of old campfires.

Ukraine Diaries is acclaimed writer Andrey Kurkov's first-hand account of the ongoing crisis in his country. From his flat in Kyiv, just five hundred yards from Independence Square, Kurkov can smell the burning barricades and hear the sounds of grenades…


Book cover of The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West

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?

Lucas’s book provides a geopolitical context for understanding Putin’s Russia and its relations with the West as a “New Cold War.” Lucas documents how Putin and his KGB cronies seized state power and the dominant institutions of Russian society in the early 2000s to form an autocratic state; how they merged with oligarchs controlling state economic institutions and formed a kleptocracy that used financial institutions and their resources to constitute autocratic state power. Lucas puts Putin, his KGB and military cronies, and the oligarchs in a geopolitical framework and demonstrates how their aggressive military and economic policies constitute a clear threat to the West, which Western leaders have not responded to, seeking instead to do business with Putin and Russia, misperceiving his geopolitical intentions. The conclusion indicates how the Western democratic countries need to band together to counter Putin’s threats and aggression, and need to develop a more aggressive counter-policy,…

By Edward Lucas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With a preface by Norman Davies, author of Europe: A History. Revised and updated following Russia's attack on Georgia. In the 1990s, Russia was the sick man of Europe, but the rise to power of former KGB officer Vladimir Putin in 1999 coincided with a huge hike in world oil and gas prices, and after Yeltsin's downfall Putin set about re-establishing Russian autocracy. Now with its massive gas and oil reserves Russia has not only paid off its debts but amassed huge cash reserves which it is investing in easily accessible European businesses. Putin's Russia is hostile to open debate.…


Book cover of 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe

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?

Writing about the end of the Cold War, Mary Sarotte argues the fall of the Berlin Wall was not inevitable and that the United States was not the dominant player. She focuses instead on the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s drive for German reunification and a new architecture for post-Cold War Europe. More significantly, her book was one of the first to treat 1989 not as an endpoint in international relations but as a beginning.

By Mary Elise Sarotte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1989 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1989 explores the momentous events following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the effects they have had on our world ever since. Based on documents, interviews, and television broadcasts from Washington, London, Paris, Bonn, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, and a dozen other locations, 1989 describes how Germany unified, NATO expansion began, and Russia got left on the periphery of the new Europe. This updated edition contains a new afterword with the most recent evidence on the 1990 origins of NATO's post-Cold War expansion.


Book cover of Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order

Andrei P. Tsygankov Author Of Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity

From my list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Russian academic living in the West and a contributor to both Western and Russian academia. I move between the two and try to build bridges by explaining the two sides’ differences and areas of potential cooperation. I do it in my teaching and research on international politics, which I understand through the lens of culture and politics. Most of my books analyze Russian and Western patterns of thinking formed through history and interaction with each other. I love reading good books about these topics and hope you enjoy my selected list!

Andrei's book list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War

Andrei P. Tsygankov Why did Andrei love this book?

Russia remains a formidable power in international relations. While some in the West tend to dismiss Russia’s global capabilities, this book describes the country as a “good enough” power. It has a comprehensive review of Russia’s symmetrical and asymmetric capabilities including military, economic, geographic, and others. The author demonstrates that despite some shortcomings, Russia remains capable to challenge the West and its preferred international order and institutions. 

By Kathryn E. Stoner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An assessment of Russia that suggests that we should look beyond traditional means of power to understand its strength and capacity to disrupt international politics.

Too often, we are told that Russia plays a weak hand well. But, perhaps the nations cards are better than we know. Russia ranks significantly behind the US and China by traditional measures of power: GDP, population size and health, and military might. Yet 25 years removed from its mid-1990s nadir following the collapse of the USSR, Russia has become a supremely disruptive force in world politics. Kathryn E. Stoner assesses the resurrection of Russia…


Book cover of Russian Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century and the Shadow of the Past

Andrei P. Tsygankov Author Of Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity

From my list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Russian academic living in the West and a contributor to both Western and Russian academia. I move between the two and try to build bridges by explaining the two sides’ differences and areas of potential cooperation. I do it in my teaching and research on international politics, which I understand through the lens of culture and politics. Most of my books analyze Russian and Western patterns of thinking formed through history and interaction with each other. I love reading good books about these topics and hope you enjoy my selected list!

Andrei's book list on Russia’s foreign policy after the Cold War

Andrei P. Tsygankov Why did Andrei love this book?

Russia’s foreign policy has followed different historical trajectories and relations with the outside world. This excellent collection of works by historians and social scientists focuses on the long “shadows of the past” as a lens through which to assess the country’s international behavior and moments of transformation. The explored themes include the impact of Russian foreign policy on domestic political structures, imperial identity, geographic settings, position within the global economy, and others. 

By Robert Legvold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Russian Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century and the Shadow of the Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Because the turbulent trajectory of Russia's foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union echoes previous moments of social and political transformation, history offers a special vantage point from which to judge the current course of events. In this book, a mix of leading historians and political scientists examines the foreign policy of contemporary Russia over four centuries of history. The authors explain the impact of empire and its loss, the interweaving of domestic and foreign impulses, long-standing approaches to national security, and the effect of globalization over time. Contributors focus on the underlying patterns that have marked Russian…


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