The best books about Central Asia 📚

Browse the best books on Central Asia as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Bukharan Crisis: A Connected History of 18th Century Central Asia

The Bukharan Crisis: A Connected History of 18th Century Central Asia

By Scott C. Levi

Why this book?

This lively historiographical essay (yes, there is such a thing) blows up the old story of a stagnant Central Asia cut off from world trade by the maritime empires of early modern Europe. Levi looks at the economic, environmental, and military causes of dynastic collapse in Bukhara to show that the region was deeply connected to global currents even as it careened from one political crisis to another. This is a must-read for anyone interested in early modern world history.

From the list:

The best books on modern Central Asia

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Book cover of The Russian Conquest of Central Asia: A Study in Imperial Expansion, 1814-1914

The Russian Conquest of Central Asia: A Study in Imperial Expansion, 1814-1914

By Alexander Morrison

Why this book?

Morrison’s book is the first in-depth account of Russia’s military campaigns in over 50 years. It is both a good read for fans of military and imperial history and an important corrective to the image of the “Great Game” between the Russian and British empires. Morrison not only gives readers extensive and telling quotes from Russian military and diplomatic documents, but from Bukharan and Khoqandi sources as well. No other historian has written such a comprehensive history of the conquest.

From the list:

The best books on modern Central Asia

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Book cover of The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin

The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin

By Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, Jan Butler

Why this book?

This beautifully-crafted memoir beginning in 1930s Soviet-ruled Kazakhstan inspired me to seek out a survivor of the famine that tore through the land and left over a million Kazakhs dead during that traumatic decade. I found a feisty nonagenarian who recounted how she walked from Kazakhstan to China at the age of six to find food. Shayakhmetov’s book charts the famine and the accompanying destruction of the nomadic lifestyle the Kazakhs had led for generations until the iron fist of Soviet rule came crashing down. He lyrically evokes his carefree childhood as the son of nomadic herders, which came to…

From the list:

The best books to summon up the spirit of Central Asia

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Book cover of The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years

The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years

By Chingiz Aitmatov

Why this book?

Socialist realism meets magic realism in this novel by Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov, which took me by surprise when I came across it just over a decade after its publication in 1980. The Soviet literature I had read was staid, but this pushed the boundaries of both literary style and censorship. In parallel plots, a railway worker marches with his camel and dog across the Kazakh steppe to bury his friend, while two cosmonauts blast into space and go visiting extra-terrestrials. The themes are way ahead of the book’s time, touching on taboos such as Stalin’s repressions and even hinting…

From the list:

The best books to summon up the spirit of Central Asia

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Book cover of Anglo-Russian Rivalry in Central Asia 1810-1895

Anglo-Russian Rivalry in Central Asia 1810-1895

By Gerald Morgan

Why this book?

This is a medium-length book by another well-established historian, who writes in a reasonably accessible manner. His is a more in-depth treatment of the Great Game, aided by Geoffrey Wheeler, an expert on Central Asia, who wrote the book’s Epilogue. It contains three maps and appendices (but no illustrations).

From the list:

The best books describing the Great Game

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Book cover of Kim (1901) by: Rudyard Kipling

Kim (1901) by: Rudyard Kipling

By Rudyard Kipling

Why this book?

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, Kipling immortalized the phrase ‘the Great Game’ in what was a masterpiece of writing and surely one of the best-loved English language novels of all time. His fictional portrayal of the Great Game forever touched it with a flavor of imperial romance.

From the list:

The best books describing the Great Game

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