The most recommended books about communists

Who picked these books? Meet our 16 experts.

16 authors created a book list connected to communists, and here are their favorite communist books.
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Book cover of The Agitator: William Bailey and the First American Uprising Against Nazism

Seth Rosenfeld Author Of Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power

From my list on spies and radicals.

Who am I?

Seth Rosenfeld is an independent investigative journalist and author of the New York Times best-seller Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. As a staff reporter for The San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, he specialized in using public records and won national honors including the George Polk Award. Subversives, based on thousands of pages of FBI records released to him as a result of several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, won the PEN Center USA’s Literary Award for Research Nonfiction Prize, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award, and other honors.

Seth's book list on spies and radicals

Seth Rosenfeld Why did Seth love this book?

In this deft work of nonfiction, Duffy tells the life and times of William Bailey, a rough-hewn, big-hearted longshoreman turned Communist activist, and how on one summer day in 1935 he and several compatriots came to stage a remarkable protest by hauling down a swastika flag from the SS Bremen, the flagship of Hitler’s commercial fleet. Events unfold as the deluxe passenger liner, which was heartily patronized by many Americans and Europeans, hosted a glitzy party while docked in Manhattan harbor. It was years before the outbreak of World War II, but Hitler already had commenced his anti-Semitic and other repressive initiatives. The trial and acquittal of Bailey et al., and the diplomatic fallout, was what Duffy describes as “the first blow landed against the Third Reich by foreign adversaries, delivered without guns or bombs.”

By Peter Duffy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This story of an anti-fascist's dramatic and remarkable victory against Nazism in 1935 is an inspiration to anyone compelled to resist when signs of oppression are on the horizon

By 1935, Hitler had suppressed all internal opposition and established himself as Germany's unchallenged dictator. Yet many Americans remained largely indifferent as he turned his dangerous ambitions abroad. Not William Bailey.

Just days after violent anti-Semitic riots had broken out in Berlin, the SS Bremen, the flagship of Hitler's commercial armada, was welcomed into New York Harbor. Bailey led a small group that slipped past security and cut down the Nazi…

Book cover of The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes

Kim MacQuarrie Author Of The Last Days of the Incas

From my list on the amazing country of Peru.

Who am I?

I lived in Peru for five years, working as a writer, filmmaker, and anthropologist. For part of that time, I lived with a recently-contacted tribe in the Upper Amazon, visited Maoist Shining Path “liberated zones” and later made a number of documentaries on the Amazon as well as have written a number of books, most of which are on some aspect of Peru. Peru remains one of the most fascinating countries on Earth--a kind of dense amalgamation of ancient civilizations, archaeology, immense biodiversity, incredible beauty, and lots and lots of adventure. Although there’s no substitute for visiting Peru yourself--reading about it is a great way to begin your adventure!

Kim's book list on the amazing country of Peru

Kim MacQuarrie Why did Kim love this book?

Peru is often described as a country that is a combination of the coast, the Andes, and the Amazon, and this book on the origin of the Maoist Shining Path group in the Andes not only illuminates some of Peru’s recent political history, but also shines a light on many of the disparities that still exist between rural and urban Peru and between la costa, la sierra, and la Amazonia.

By Orin Starn, Miguel La Serna,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On 17 May 1980, on the eve of Peru's presidential election, five masked men stormed a small town in the Andean heartland. They set election ballots ablaze and vanished into the night but not before planting a red hammer-and-sickle banner in the town square. The lone man arrested the next morning later swore allegiance to a group called Shining Path. The tale of how this ferocious group of guerrilla insurgents launched a decade-long reign of terror, and how brave police investigators and journalists brought it to justice, may be the most compelling chapter in modern Latin American history but the…

Book cover of Little Comrades

Amanda West Lewis Author Of These Are Not the Words

From my list on prose-poetry about childhood in a messy world.

Who am I?

I’m a writer, theatre artist and calligrapher who has spent a lifetime dedicated to the look, sound, texture and meaning of words. Writing in verse and prose poetry gives me a powerful tool to explore hard themes. Poetry is economical. It makes difficult subjects personal. Through poetry, I can explore painful choices intimately and emerge on a different path at a new phase of the journey. While my semi-autobiographical novel These Are Not the Words “is about” mental health and drug addiction, I’ve shown this through layers of images, sounds, textures, tastes—through shards of memories long submerged, recovered through writing, then structured and fictionalized through poetry.

Amanda's book list on prose-poetry about childhood in a messy world

Amanda West Lewis Why did Amanda love this book?

Little Comrades is a memoir written in prose poetry. It is about growing up in a dedicated Communist home in the 1930’s in Canada. It is a home where The Party is more important than the family. Young Laurie and her brother Andy try to understand the world that they are growing up in while their abusive, alcoholic father uses his commitment to the cause to justify brutality and abandonment. In the end, it is a story of triumph but the journey to that “happy” ending is colored by the reaction of The Party, and eventually, the horrors of McCarthyism. Full disclosure—Laurie Lewis is my mother. It was not until she was 80 that she was able to tell the tale, just showing that a story cannot be told until it is ready.

By Laurie Lewis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Little Comrades tells the story of a girl growing up in a dysfunctional left-wing family in the Canadian West during the Depression, then moving, alone with her mother, to New York City during America's fervently anti-Communist postwar years. With wit and honesty, Laurie Lewis describes an unusual childhood and an adventurous adolescence.

Book cover of The Sympathizer

Zeese Papanikolas Author Of An American Cakewalk: Ten Syncopators of the Modern World

From Zeese's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Grew up in Salt Lake City Left Salt Lake City Reader Writer

Zeese's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Zeese Papanikolas Why did Zeese love this book?

Like many of my generation of Americans I demonstrated against the Vietnam War which I saw unfolding at a distance through the newspapers and the television screen. 

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel has a remarkable sense of being inside the skin of his title character, a young Vietnamese sympathizer of the North Vietnamese as they attempt to free the South. This is a book of great complexity.

Through the eyes of the protagonist, a double agent working for the South Vietnamese, we see the fall of Saigon, the escape of those who have connections on the final flights out and, in the United States, the escaped officers and former South Vietnamese movers-and-shakers who now own hole-in-the-wall restaurants in San Jose and work in menial jobs while plotting the overthrow of the communist regime.  

But we also see the revolution hardening, the re-education camps, the human sympathy drained out of the victors.…

By Viet Thanh Nguyen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain:…

Book cover of Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy

Barron H. Lerner Author Of The Good Doctor: A Father, a Son, and the Evolution of Medical Ethics

From my list on the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case.

Who am I?

The executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg seem so distant that it is jarring for me to contemplate that I was born in 1960, only seven years after their deaths. Growing up Jewish, I often heard the Rosenberg case invoked as an example of anti-Semitism. But it was not until I was an undergraduate history major that I read the scholarly literature about the Rosenbergs and subscribed to the newsletter of the Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case. My ongoing interest in the case helps me remind students about two crucial points: ongoing historical scholarship gets us closer to the “truth” but we may never know what “actually” happened. Which is OK.

Barron's book list on the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case

Barron H. Lerner Why did Barron love this book?

This 2021 book, the latest in the Rosenberg oeuvre, not only recounts the history of what happened to the Rosenbergs but chronicles past historical accounts. One of the most important legacies of this literature is to remind us how all events are historically grounded. The Schneirs wrote that the Rosenberg trial “was a product of its times, displaying in microcosm many of the prevalent sociopolitical assumptions and preoccupations of the day.” The same could be said of the books by the Schneirs, the Meeropols, and Doctorow, which viewed the Rosenbergs through the sympathetic prism of American progressivism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Sebba also explores the enduring mystery of the “single-minded” Ethel Rosenberg, a “tragic figure” who herself committed no espionage but orphaned her sons rather than naming names or implicating her husband.

By Anne Sebba,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A heart-piercingly brilliant book about a woman whose personal life put her in the cross-hairs of history' HADLEY FREEMAN
'Totally riveting. I couldn't put it down' VICTORIA HISLOP
'Ethel sings out for all women who have been misunderstood and wronged, and refuse to bow down' NICHOLAS SHAKESPEARE
'A shocking tale of betrayal, naivety, misogyny and judicial failure' SONIA PURNELL
'A historic miscarriage of justice laid bare for our times' PHILIPPE SANDS

Ethel Rosenberg was a supportive wife, loving mother to two small children and courageous idealist who grew up during the Depression with aspirations to become an opera singer.


Book cover of Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution

Michael Roberts Author Of The Long Depression: Marxism and the Global Crisis of Capitalism

From my list on love and capitalism.

Who am I?

Marxian Economics and its relevance to a better world and socialism has been my passion since I became an adult. My expertise in this subject, such as it is, has been sharpened by the study of Marx and Engels’ great works, but also by the efforts of so many others since; some of whom are included in my five best books. But above all, it is the knowledge that in this world of nearly 8 billion people, most do not have a happy and fulfilling life but face daily toil and struggle to live (and die). Humanity has the power and technology to do better; we just need to organise our social and governmental structures to achieve it.

Michael's book list on love and capitalism

Michael Roberts Why did Michael love this book?

It’s a page-turner, taking us through the lives and tribulations of Karl Marx’s wife, Jenny, and her daughters, in living and working with the world’s most well-known revolutionary. It’s a rare glimpse into the human side of the formidable critic of capitalism showing him as a devoted father and husband. And above all, the book opens us up to the important but forgotten role of Jenny in the romance of revolutionary change in the mid-19th century.

By Mary Gabriel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Brilliantly researched and wonderfully written, LOVE AND CAPITAL is a heartbreaking and dramatic saga of the family side of the man whose works would redefine the world after his death.

Drawing upon years of research, acclaimed biographer Mary Gabriel brings to light the story of Karl and Jenny Marx's marriage. We follow them as they roam Europe, on the run from hostile governments amidst a secret network of would-be revolutionaries, and see Karl not only as an intellectual, but as a protective father and loving husband, a visionary, a jokester, a man of tremendous passions, both political and personal.


Book cover of Miguel Marmol

James Dunkerley Author Of Power in the Isthmus

From my list on Central American history and politics.

Who am I?

My passion for Central American politics and history derived quite directly from the conflicts in the region from the late 1970s onwards. Previously I had worked in Bolivia, where I had studied as a doctoral student, and although many people still view Latin American countries as pretty homogenous, I quickly discovered that they are very far from being so. I had to unlearn quite a bit and acquire new skills, although luckily, indigenous languages are really only dominant in Guatemala. Now we can be rather less partisan although many injustices remain.

James' book list on Central American history and politics

James Dunkerley Why did James love this book?

Dalton was a wonderful poet and radical activist tragically executed by his Salvadorean comrades in 1975 when they erroneously believed him to be working for the CIA. The Salvadorean left has a poor record in devouring its own in bouts of paranoia that attended the civil war of the 1980s. Marmol, who survived deep into old age, was a ringleader of an uprising in 1932 that briefly promised a peasant overthrow of a state controlled by an oligarchy of a dozen families. The uprising was repressed with such force that the military was able to retain political power for the next four decades. This book is beautifully written and translated wonderfully well by Richard Schaaf and Kathleen Ross.

By Roque Dalton, Richard Schaaf (translator), Kathleen Ross (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Miguel Mármol is the testimony of a revolutionary, as recorded by Salvadoran writer, Roque Dalton, which documents the historical and political events of El Salvador through the first decades of the 20th century. This Latin American classic describes the growth and development of the workers' movement and the communist party in El Salvador and Guatemala, and contains Mármol's impressions of post-revolutionary Russia in the twenties, describing in vivid detail the brutality and repression of the Martínez dictatorship and the reemergence of the workers' movement after Martínez was ousted. It also gives a broad and clear picture of the lives of…

Book cover of A Very Principled Boy: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior

Nicholas Reynolds Author Of Need to Know: World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence

From my list on citizen spies building American intelligence in WWII.

Who am I?

The defining event in my parents’ lives, World War II has always been in my blood. When I was growing up, it would surface now and again when old comrades came to visit or when we came across souvenirs from the war. My favorite was a carefully etched German map showing sea lanes in the Caribbean, exotic and somehow menacing at the same time. My curiosity piqued, I knew I wanted to be in the thick of history—which meant reading and writing about the war, getting my PhD in history, and becoming a Marine and an intelligence officer.  

Nicholas' book list on citizen spies building American intelligence in WWII

Nicholas Reynolds Why did Nicholas love this book?

Biography, especially this riveting biography, is a great way to learn about intelligence in World War II. Bradley looks into dark corners to uncover the almost unbelievable truth about a Soviet spy in the front office of American spy chief William J. Donovan. Like James Grafton Rogers, Bradley tells us what it was like to live and work in Washington during World War II—but with another layer of intrigue and, yes, treachery. 75 years after the fact we tend to forget that a group of privileged Americans like Lee—a Rhodes Scholar and Wall Street lawyer distantly related to Robert E. Leen—once thought that communism might be a viable alternative to capitalism and the economic misery of the depression.

By Mark A. Bradley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Very Principled Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Duncan Chaplin Lee was a Rhodes Scholar, patriot, and descendent of one of America's most distinguished families,and possibly the best-placed mole ever to infiltrate U.S. intelligence operations. In A Very Principled Boy intelligence expert and former CIA officer Mark A. Bradley traces the tangled roots of Lee's betrayal and reveals his harrowing struggle to stay one step ahead of America's spy hunters during and after World War II.Exposed to leftist politics while studying at Oxford, Lee became a committed, albeit covert, member of the Communist Party. After following William Wild Bill" Donovan to the newly formed Office of Strategic Services,…

Book cover of My Red Blood: A Memoir of Growing Up Communist, Coming Onto the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, and Coming Out in the Feminist Movement

Bonnie Morris Author Of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

From my list on women in rock, folk, and blues.

Who am I?

My expertise as a scholar of the women’s music movement spans 40 years--ever since I attended my first concert and music festival in 1981. A lecturer at UC-Berkeley, I’m the author of 19 books on women’s history, and published the first book on women’s music festivals, Eden Built By Eves, in 1999 (now out of print.) More recently I’ve organized exhibits on the women’s music movement for the Library of Congress, co-authored The Feminist Revolution (which made Oprah’s list), and I’m now the archivist and historian for Olivia Records.

Bonnie's book list on women in rock, folk, and blues

Bonnie Morris Why did Bonnie love this book?

The child of Communist parents, Alix would grow up to be one of the most profound movers and shakers of the lesbian music movement, producing the first full-length lesbian album, Lavender Jane Loves Women, in 1973. But this memoir is a series of chapters on her early years growing up in the 1950s with progressive activists and folk club life, embarking on her own career in the folk circuit, singing against the backdrop of repressive politics, and coming into the women’s movement as a married mother about to fall in love with another woman.

By Alix Dobkin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Women’s music legend Alix Dobkin for the first time chronicles her rise to fame as the first artist to record an openly lesbian album in 1973. Her story, however, opens much earlier in postwar New York City, where, growing up in a Communist family, she watches Jackie Robinson steal home, rubs elbows with radical Left celebrities like Paul Robeson, and comes of age under the watchful eye of the FBI. Dobkin herself joins the party at the height of the McCarthy witch hunts and offers readers a firsthand glimpse of daily life as a young person living under government surveillance.…

Book cover of The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

Susanne Schattenberg Author Of Brezhnev: The Making of a Statesman

From my list on Pre-Putin’s Soviet Russia.

Who am I?

When I had to choose another elective subject at school, my grandmother advised me: "Take Russian. We will have to deal with the Russians – for better or for worse.” So I chose Russian as my third foreign language and my grandmother was right – first it came good: perestroika and glasnost, then it came bad: Putinism. So I studied Russian and history, did my doctorate and habilitation in Russian-Soviet history, and today I am a professor of contemporary history and culture of Eastern Europe and head of the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. 

Susanne's book list on Pre-Putin’s Soviet Russia

Susanne Schattenberg Why did Susanne love this book?

This book is incredible, because it tells the story of Stalinist terror through a single house. Moreover, Slezkine creates a world history around this house of victims and perpetrators, which literally begins in the primordial mud and ends on the Day of Judgment. Slezkine takes no prisoners: either you follow him and the apocalyptic horsemen, or you don't, he doesn't care. Like a man possessed, he tells the story of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th century and I found it almost impossible to escape his spell. 

By Yuri Slezkine,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The House of Government as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the epic story of an enormous apartment building where Communist true believers lived before their destruction The House of Government is unlike any other book about the Russian Revolution and the Soviet experiment. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy's War and Peace, Grossman's Life and Fate, and Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, Yuri Slezkine's gripping narrative tells the true story of the residents of an enormous Moscow apartment building where top Communist officials and their families lived before they were destroyed in Stalin's purges. A vivid account of the personal and public lives…