The best books about the Bolsheviks

Many authors have picked their favorite books about the Bolsheviks and why they recommend each book.

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A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

This is a prime example of a book with a great story that made me smile. This historical novel transports the reader back to Moscow in the turbulent early 1900’s, when Count Rostov is placed under house arrest inside the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Though his situation could be considered dire, his surprisingly upbeat attitude, observations, and wit provide lightness to this inspiring story about making the best of circumstances. The author’s descriptions and use of language make it a joy to read.  


Who am I?

There are many reasons to read, one of them is to escape from day-to-day life. As an avid reader and author of five novels, I think the ideal books for a mental getaway contain not only a good story and engaging characters, but also touches of humor. These bright spots can make you smile or even laugh out loud, heightening your reading pleasure. When I write, I try to give my readers a chuckle or two, like the books I’m recommending here. I hope you will enjoy them! 😊


I wrote...

Andromache's Story: What Really Happened in Troy

By Nancy MacCreery,

Book cover of Andromache's Story: What Really Happened in Troy

What is my book about?

In Andromache’s Story, I wanted to give the ancient tale a new perspective and touch of humor. Andromache, Hector’s spirited wife, has waited thousands of years to tell her story—an entertaining saga of love, loss, friendship, and misplaced trust. Told from her wry perspective, the characters of ancient Troy come alive: Paris, the lighthearted lover of beauty, dependable Hector, trainer of horses, and Cassandra, whose prophesies are correct but never heeded.

Then Paris brings back Helen, and Andromache must help the aloof beauty assimilate. Through the long years of war, the two women develop hidden strengths that enable them to take charge of their fates. The engaging narrative builds toward an ending that puts a new spin on this classic story.

Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!

By John Riddell (editor),

Book cover of Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!: Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920

For over three decades, John Riddell has gradually made available the records of the key meetings of the early years of the Comintern. Focusing on the period when Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin was still alive, Riddell’s edited collections have set the standard. Of his multiple volumes, those on the Second Congress, which took place July-August 1920, are the most important. Here, the Comintern developed its conditions for communist party membership and outlined key platforms on politics, anti-imperialism, trade unionism, and centralization. As the Bolsheviks won the Russian Civil War by this point, leftists, radicals, and colonial leaders alike believed the Bolsheviks genuinely offered an alternate way forward from the existing world order. The hope in the movement, regardless of its future, was on display and this collection highlights these possibilities.


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the topic of international relations and when I started graduate studies, I focused on Russian and Soviet foreign policy between the World Wars. When I began my research, I learned of the existence of the Comintern and was fascinated both by this attempt to develop a worldwide movement and its connection to Soviet foreign policy. Since then, I have focused on trying to understand the individuals who populated the parties and the organization and unearthing a legacy that still resonates today. One cannot fully understand the history of decolonization or of human and civil rights movements without considering the influence of the Comintern. 


I edited...

Left Transnationalism: The Communist International and the National, Colonial, and Racial Questions

By Oleksa Drachewych (editor), Ian McKay (editor),

Book cover of Left Transnationalism: The Communist International and the National, Colonial, and Racial Questions

What is my book about?

In 1919, the Communist International was formed in Moscow, Russia. The Communist International’s (Comintern) purpose was to guide the world communist movement and bring about revolution. Over time, with the failure of the communist revolution in Europe, priorities changed. A new area of concern for the movement was the fight against imperialism and, later, the fight against racism. Left Transnationalism brings together scholars from all over the world to analyze how the Comintern and its goals resonated in various regions outside of Europe. Taking a transnational perspective, this collection provides new insights into the development of the communist movement, the legacy of interwar communism, and how anti-imperialism or racial equality became intertwined with the communist movement. 

The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919

By Joel R. Moore, Harry H. Mead, Lewis E. Jahns

Book cover of The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki Campaigning in North Russia 1918-1919

The best account of the futile Allied attempts to keep Russia in the war.   Largely ignored, mainly because it was politically embarrassing and.  Still worse, through no fauly of the army, it was militarily unsucessful.  But the intervention left lasting scars, and consequences were fatal for the remainder of the century. 


Who am I?

Currently a full professor at Loyola University, he entered college at 16, studying chemistry, economics, and literature. He did graduate work in German, Russian, and Philosophy, held a double fellowship in music and literature, and wrote his dissertation on the relationship between historiography and epic poetry. In 2001, his 10th book, The Myth of the Great War was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history.


I wrote...

The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I

By John Mosier, Ltd Literary Agency East,

Book cover of The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I

What is my book about?

Based on previously unused French and German sources, this challenging and controversial new analysis of the war on the Western front from 1914 to 1918 reveals how and why the Germans won the major battles with one-half to one-third fewer casualties than the Allies, and how American troops in 1918 saved the Allies from defeat and a negotiated peace with the Germans.

Women, the State and Revolution

By Wendy Z. Goldman,

Book cover of Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917 1936

This deeply researched book explores the massive upheavals that followed the Bolshevik Revolution in the young Soviet Union. By mining a rich body of archival research, Goldman reveals just how radical Soviet policies to emancipate women really were in their historical context. More importantly, she uncovers the heated debates that characterized this early period of Soviet history before the rigidity and paranoia of Stalinism takes over and he reverses many of the early gains.


Who am I?

As an ethnographer, I have been studying the lives of ordinary women in socialist and post-socialist countries in Eastern Europe for over twenty-five years. I have always been fascinated by the differences in women’s life options in the presence or absence of robust social safety nets. As a scholar, I’ve spent decades working in archives and interviewing people across the region, and I have written eight books about the various gendered experiences of everyday life in Eastern Europe. As a professor, I have taught a course called “Sex and Socialism,” almost every year for eighteen years and I am always reading widely in this field to look for new material for my syllabi.


I wrote...

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

By Kristen R. Ghodsee,

Book cover of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

What is my book about?

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism explores the expansive empirical research showing that women living in socialist countries experienced certain forms of gender emancipation well before women living in the West. By examining women’s roles as mothers, workers, leaders, citizens, and yes, even lovers, this book synthesizes decades worth of studies to show that “lean in” or #girlboss feminism has not been enough to undermine the persistence of sexism embedded in competitive labor markets.

Instead of blaming themselves for not being able to “have it all,” women need to take a long hard look at our economic system and understand how the unpaid labor of caregivers in the home subsidizes the profits of the business leaders who rely on families to bear and raise the next generation of consumers and taxpayers for free. The problem is with capitalism, not with us.

Forty Years of Diplomacy; Volume 2

By Roman Romanovich Rosen,

Book cover of Forty Years of Diplomacy; Volume 2

Rosen, who turned 70 just weeks before the revolution, was a veteran diplomat who for many years had been Russian ambassador to the United States. Deeply conservative and deeply insightful, he had been thrust aside by Nicholas’ court. He thought that Russia’s declaration of war in 1914 was lunacy and that its conduct and diplomacy during the war was staggeringly self-defeating. The memoir covers decades, but the section on February 1917 is by far the most trenchant. His self-effacing account of dealing with a group of revolutionary soldiers who came to his club one dark night gives a vivid look at the passions and confusion that were sweeping revolutionary Russia. Rosen fled after the Bolshevik takeover in November, 1917, and spent the rest of his life in New York.


Who am I?

I’m a longtime Moscow correspondent, having worked there for The Baltimore Sun in the 1990s and for The Washington Post in the 2010s. It was an exciting time to be in Russia, and I couldn’t help noticing parallels between the Russian revolutions of 1917 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. I think American policymakers, in particular, profoundly misunderstood both events. In my newspaper career, I am a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Award, an Oversea Press Club award, and other honors. In the fall of 2018, I taught for a semester at Princeton University.


I wrote...

March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution

By Will Englund,

Book cover of March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution

What is my book about?

It’s hard to fathom now but one of the forces pushing the United States into World War I in 1917 was a widespread conviction that the February revolution in Russia had turned that country into a democracy overnight. Many Americans, including President Woodrow Wilson, argued that the hour had come for us to join the war in a noble effort to preserve democracy in Russia and extend it to Germany. At the same time, there were plenty of counter-currents: People in the Western states tended to see the war as something brought on by Wall Street; woman suffrage advocates were deeply split over support for the war even as the first woman elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin, prepared to take her seat; the labor movement was divided, as was the civil rights movement. In Russia, the new Provisional Government and the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviet warily jockeyed for power, neither wanting to be held responsible for the unpopular, undemocratic moves that the moment of crisis would require.

Untimely Thoughts

By Maxim Gorky, Herman Ermolaev (translator),

Book cover of Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture, and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918

Gorky, the author of The Lower Depths, was appalled by czarism and by Russia’s conduct in the First World War, yet this series of essays communicates a profound disillusionment with revolution. Russia, he wrote, was “splitting all along its seams and falling apart like an old barge in a flood.” He lamented “our stupidity, our cruelty, and all that chaos of dark, anarchistic feelings, that chaos which has been cultivated in our souls by the monarchy’s shameless oppression, by its cynical cruelty.” The old regime, he wrote, had successfully suppressed the human spirit in its subjects, and now that it was gone Russia would have to live with the consequences.


Who am I?

I’m a longtime Moscow correspondent, having worked there for The Baltimore Sun in the 1990s and for The Washington Post in the 2010s. It was an exciting time to be in Russia, and I couldn’t help noticing parallels between the Russian revolutions of 1917 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. I think American policymakers, in particular, profoundly misunderstood both events. In my newspaper career, I am a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Award, an Oversea Press Club award, and other honors. In the fall of 2018, I taught for a semester at Princeton University.


I wrote...

March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution

By Will Englund,

Book cover of March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution

What is my book about?

It’s hard to fathom now but one of the forces pushing the United States into World War I in 1917 was a widespread conviction that the February revolution in Russia had turned that country into a democracy overnight. Many Americans, including President Woodrow Wilson, argued that the hour had come for us to join the war in a noble effort to preserve democracy in Russia and extend it to Germany. At the same time, there were plenty of counter-currents: People in the Western states tended to see the war as something brought on by Wall Street; woman suffrage advocates were deeply split over support for the war even as the first woman elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin, prepared to take her seat; the labor movement was divided, as was the civil rights movement. In Russia, the new Provisional Government and the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviet warily jockeyed for power, neither wanting to be held responsible for the unpopular, undemocratic moves that the moment of crisis would require.

Red Winter

By Kyra Kaptzan Robinov,

Book cover of Red Winter: One Woman's Struggle to Survive the Russian Revolution

I love books that include unusual locations and little-known events. Red Winter takes place in the 1920s in Siberia when the pogroms came and disrupted the peaceful existence of a small town in the frozen north. Like my book, which is about the creation of a Scottish colony in Central America, Red Winter offers the reader an opportunity to learn about a largely unknown history.  


Who am I?

My first love in reading and writing is historical fiction. But I’m pretty particular about how the stories are created. To me, historical novels should be as accurate as possible; the facts, rather than the fiction, should guide the story. With my writing, I follow the wise words of the author, Anya Seton: It has…been my anxious endeavor to use nothing but historical fact when these facts are known…. Since I have based my story on history, I have tried never to distort time, or place, or character to suit my convenience. I’m particularly pleased when readers tell me that my research is exemplary and they have learned something new. 


I wrote...

Caledonia

By Sherry V. Ostroff,

Book cover of Caledonia

What is my book about?

Two women living 300 years apart are bound by mysterious circumstances. 21st century Hanna keeps uncovering evidence linking her to 17th century Anna. Both women experience adventure, romance, and tragedy as the reader witnesses them become more and more connected.

Caledonia tells the story of The Darien Scheme, the creation of a 17th-century Scottish trading colony in Central America. Its epic failure and the tragic death of more than half of the colonists would forever change the course of history.

Former People

By Douglas Smith,

Book cover of Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

Beautifully written, the book follows the lives of Russia’s two great aristocratic families in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. Their fate was typical of the entire Russian aristocracy. It is a story of the Bolsheviks' cruelty and a painful survival of their many victims.


Who am I?

History has always been my passion. Since I was 16, I tried to understand the world around me and the forces that shaped it. I thought that history as a discipline provided the best answers. In the 1970s, because of the official anti-Semitism, it was impossible to get into the history department programs at the Soviet universities. Nonetheless, I resolved to study history after my emigration to the US in 1979 and joined a graduate program at the University of Chicago. For four decades I have been writing about Russian history, although I also read, teach, and write on global history.


I wrote...

Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories

By Michael Khodarkovsky,

Book cover of Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories

What is my book about?

Michael Khodarkovsky's innovative exploration of Russia's 20th century, through 100 carefully selected vignettes that span the century, offers a fascinating prism through which to view Russian history. Each chosen microhistory focuses on one particular event or individual that allows you to understand Russia not in abstract terms but in real events in the lives of ordinary people. Russia's 20th Century covers a broad range of topics, including the economy, culture, politics, ideology, law, and society. This introduction provides a vital background and engaging analysis of Russia's path through a turbuturbulent 20th century.

History of the Russian Revolution

By Leon Trotsky, Max Eastman (translator),

Book cover of History of the Russian Revolution

Of the hundreds of books on revolutions I have read in a decades-long career, this remains the most powerful and enthralling of them all.  Unfolding like a grand Russian epic in the manner of War and Peace, Trotsky tells the story of the Russian Revolution and the triumph of the Bolshevik Marxists over every challenge and tribulation.  No other book gives you the feeling of being a revolutionary like this one, as Trotsky takes you from the meetings of workers in the factories of St. Petersburg to the halls of the Winter Palace, all the while debating whether the events he is witnessing, indeed the history he knows he is making, conform to the Marxist vision of history that inspires him. No other account of revolutions offers such a combination of theoretical brilliance and detailed, almost cinema-like descriptions of feelings and events. 


Who am I?

I have studied revolutions for over forty years, trying to understand how people fought for liberty and democracy--but also to understand how things so often went wrong!  I have worked at universities in the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Hong Kong, gaining a global view of how societies change. I have learned that everywhere people have to struggle for their rights.  Whether in ancient Greece or in modern Cambodia, the resulting revolutionary drama unfolds sometimes with wonderful results, but sometimes with tragedy.  No events better display the very best and worst that we can accomplish.  I’ve chosen the books on this list to convey the power of revolutions, their grand successes and tragic failures.


I wrote...

Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction

By Jack A. Goldstone,

Book cover of Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

This short book introduces readers to the full range of revolutions across history, from ancient times to the Arab Uprisings of this century. Goldstone presents theories of why revolutions occur, examines violent and non-violent revolutions, and still manages to give special attention to constitutional revolutions, communist revolutions, and more recent color revolutions. To understand how and why revolutions have changed history, and the men and women who led them, this slim volume is the best place to start.

After the Romanovs

By Helen Rappaport,

Book cover of After the Romanovs: Russian Exiles in Paris from the Belle Époque Through Revolution and War

The fascination of this book is its portrayal of the human cost involved in the fall of a civilisation. After the Bolshevik Revolution the cream of Russian society, including most of the aristocrats, the professional classes, the officer class, the middle class, fled Russia with little but the clothes on their backs. Being Francophone, most of them sought refuge in Paris only to find there destitution. Grand Dukes who formerly had palaces, country estates and scores of servants, now drove taxis, waited at table, washed dishes; Grand Duchesses embroidered for fashion houses (the lucky ones), all yearning for their homeland and being, as time passed, regarded with less and less tolerance by the French.  

The book is a reminder that catastrophe waits only for opportunity.


Who am I?

I live in Dublin, Ireland and am the author of eleven novels, many of them Irish bestsellers, all of them translated into foreign languages, most of them also published in the US by St Martin’s Press. A lawyer by profession, I gave up my law practice to concentrate on writing fiction, beginning with an historical novel Whispers in the Wind which was a No. 1 Irish bestseller. History is my passion.


I wrote...

Under the Wild Sky: A Saga of Love and War in Revolutionary Ireland

By Mary Ryan,

Book cover of Under the Wild Sky: A Saga of Love and War in Revolutionary Ireland

What is my book about?

I wrote Under the Wild Sky to coincide with the centenary of the 1916 Rising in Dublin which culminated in the revolution that won Independence. The title was inspired by a verse from Francis Ledwidge’s poem "Lament for Thomas MacDonagh" (a leading revolutionary who was executed by firing squad).

Essentially a love story, it traces events leading up to the Rising and the War of Independence through the eyes of Ellen and Guy, two young people in the cross hairs of history who come from opposite sides of the political and religious divide. The sequel to Under the Wild Sky will be out in November 2022. It is called The Dreamless Land.

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