The best books about the dissolution of the Soviet Union

Many authors have picked their favorite books about the dissolution of the Soviet Union and why they recommend each book.

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The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy

By Chris Miller,

Book cover of The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

In The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy, Chris Miller compares the political and economic reforms undertaken in the Soviet Union and China in the 1980s. His account portrays Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as weak and unable to make difficult choices, and Miller reveals the dire consequences of Gorbachev's policies for the cohesion of his country. Miller argues effectively that Gorbachev did not have the option to follow the “authoritarian path” of China’s Deng Xiaoping.


Who am I?

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).


I wrote...

Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

By Sarah B. Snyder,

Book cover of Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

What is my book about?

Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War helps us understand how decades of international conflict ended peacefully.  My book demonstrates the significance of collective and individual human rights advocacy in ending the Cold War, offering important lessons in affecting nonviolent political change and resolving seemingly intractable international struggles. It reveals how a range of individuals and groups committed to human rights in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe fundamentally reshaped East-West diplomacy.  

My book shows how diplomats and human rights activists involved in a series of international conferences directly and indirectly influenced both Western and Eastern governments to pursue policies that facilitated the rise of organized dissent in Eastern Europe, freedom of movement for East Germans, and improved human rights practices in the Soviet Union – all factors in the end of the Cold War. 

The Good Luck Girls

By Charlotte Nicole Davis,

Book cover of The Good Luck Girls

While this story of rebellion and Black sisterhood is not first and foremost a romance, a central relationship in the book had me on the edge of my seat. I wondered if these two characters - who I’m not going to spoil for you - would ever realize how perfect they were for each other and ending up shouting out loud when all the tension finally snapped. Come for the slow burn romance and stay for the incredible commentary about power and politics.


Who am I?

As a Young Adult writer, I’m, of course, a huge YA reader as well. And one of my favorite things in YA - and in all of fiction - is falling in love with a fantastic ship. A lifelong fangirl, fanfic reader, and fanfic writer, I’ll never get sick of reading about two people falling in love. We can learn so much about a character, and ourselves, by how they approach romantic relationships and romantic tension is my favorite kind of plot tension! I hope you enjoy clutching your face and pacing the room as you wait for these characters to get together - I know I did!


I wrote...

The Infinite Noise: A Bright Sessions Novel

By Lauren Shippen,

Book cover of The Infinite Noise: A Bright Sessions Novel

What is my book about?

The Infinite Noise follows Caleb Michaels as he learns to live with a supernatural ability - he’s Atypical and has an Empath power that means he can feel the feelings of everyone around him. When he starts to feel the emotions of a classmate, Adam Hayes, particularly strongly, his therapist encourages him to explore the connection. The story bounces between the two boys’ perspectives as they grow closer and learn what it means to be true to their feelings.

Lenin's Tomb

By David Remnick,

Book cover of Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire

I’m recommending this because if have any interest in Russia but haven’t yet read it, you simply must. No, really, listen: You must. David Remnick writes like Muhammad Ali boxed: with grace, power, and an unfair amount of skill. This is a deeply researched, carefully crafted, incredibly absorbing account of the final days of the Soviet Union. Never mind the “tomb” title; the book is filled with colorful characters and delicious slices of life, all captured during a time of historic upheaval.


Who am I?

Lisa Dickey is an author and book collaborator who’s helped write 20+ nonfiction books, including 10 New York Times Best Sellers. She’s also a Russophile from way back:  her first post-college job was working as a nanny at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the last days of the Soviet Union. Lisa began her writing career in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s, writing for the Moscow Times and USA Today, and she’s the author of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia.

I wrote...

Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

By Lisa Dickey,

Book cover of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

What is my book about?

In the fall of 1995, Lisa Dickey traveled across the whole of Russia, from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg, doing deep-dive interviews with people from all walks of life. She had such a good time getting to know everyone that ten years later, in 2005, she did the whole trip again, tracking down everyone she’d talked with to see how they were doing. And in 2015, she took this “once in a lifetime trip” for the third time, once again knocking on the same people’s doors to see how their lives had changed—now 20 years after first meeting them.

Lisa wrote Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia about her experiences on the road. Madeleine Albright called the book “brilliant, real and readable,” while Kirkus dubbed it “an affecting travelogue that reveals true Russian personality.” Her curiosity about the Russian people remains unabated, so you know what that means: she’s currently planning trip #4, in 2025…

Secondhand Time

By Bela Shayevich, Svetlana Alexievich,

Book cover of Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

What better way to learn about the Russian people than through their own words? Svetlana Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for her oral histories, which the Swedish academy referred to as “a history of emotions—a history of the soul.” In Secondhand Time, she paints a gorgeous and heartrending portrait of a people in turmoil, and she shines a light into the deepest parts of the Russian psyche.


Who am I?

Lisa Dickey is an author and book collaborator who’s helped write 20+ nonfiction books, including 10 New York Times Best Sellers. She’s also a Russophile from way back:  her first post-college job was working as a nanny at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the last days of the Soviet Union. Lisa began her writing career in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s, writing for the Moscow Times and USA Today, and she’s the author of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia.

I wrote...

Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

By Lisa Dickey,

Book cover of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

What is my book about?

In the fall of 1995, Lisa Dickey traveled across the whole of Russia, from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg, doing deep-dive interviews with people from all walks of life. She had such a good time getting to know everyone that ten years later, in 2005, she did the whole trip again, tracking down everyone she’d talked with to see how they were doing. And in 2015, she took this “once in a lifetime trip” for the third time, once again knocking on the same people’s doors to see how their lives had changed—now 20 years after first meeting them.

Lisa wrote Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia about her experiences on the road. Madeleine Albright called the book “brilliant, real and readable,” while Kirkus dubbed it “an affecting travelogue that reveals true Russian personality.” Her curiosity about the Russian people remains unabated, so you know what that means: she’s currently planning trip #4, in 2025…

The Russian's Pride

By Cap Daniels,

Book cover of The Russian's Pride: Avenging Angel - Seven Deadly Sins

Cap Daniels's marvellous character Anya Burinkova takes us all around the Caribbean by both sea and air throughout the series. And like Nora Sommer, she’s full of deep thoughts and observations, but never wastes words.

The former Russian SVR Captain has defected to the US, but to earn the freedom she seeks, the federal government coerces her into using her deadly skill sets against the Russian mob.

Partnered with Special Agent Gwynn Davis, the two build a relationship that is perfectly cultivated throughout the series, and if you’re looking for guns, knives, and explosions, this series does not come up short.


Who am I?

My wife is a beautiful, intelligent, and determined woman. She took up rock climbing in her forties. She rides a motorcycle on and off-road. She scuba dives with sharks, she’s jumped out of an airplane, and she strapped crampons on her feet when I said we’re climbing a snow-covered mountain. One of my best friends in the world is from Finland. Typical of Finns, and Scandinavians in general, he has a dry wit and keen observations and thoughts which he delivers matter-of-factly in few words. Combining these two with a sprinkling of my own imagination produced Nora Sommer.


I wrote...

Deadly Sommer: Nora Sommer Caribbean Suspense - Book One

By Nicholas Harvey,

Book cover of Deadly Sommer: Nora Sommer Caribbean Suspense - Book One

What is my book about?

One missing girl. Two lives on the line. Four treacherous challenges. Nora Sommer's first case for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is one she'll never forget - if she survives.

When I decided to create a second series, I recognized the logical and most commercial path which checked all the genre boxes, would be a male protagonist in the Florida Keys. But Nora Sommer, a nineteen-year-old Norwegian runaway who’d appeared in several of my AJ Bailey novels, wouldn’t leave me alone. Her personality had become so engaging, her struggle to leave her past behind so motivating; I couldn’t deny her. Nora doesn’t think, act, react, or interact like most people. I fell in love with her character and haven’t regretted the choice for a moment.

Death and the Penguin

By Andrey Kurkov,

Book cover of Death and the Penguin

I chose Death and the Penguin for its unique, intriguing plot and also because it captures so beautifully the sinister, bizarre, shadowy undercurrent of life in Ukraine in the 1990s. At times back then, I remember wondering whether the deaths of some people that I knew were really accidents, as reported, or murders. It is precisely this state of not knowing that Kurkov handles so beautifully. Viktor, the main character in the novel, begins his newspaper job innocently enough, writing obituaries of prominent Ukrainians, still alive. One by one they begin to die. I’ll leave you to read the book to find out what happens next.


Who am I?

I moved to Kyiv to report for The Independent in 1990 and fell in love with Ukraine. The beauty of Kyiv and its golden-domed cathedrals amazed me as did the vibrant culture of civic engagement that emerged. It’s not often that you witness a declaration of independence and see a new country appear on the world map. I admire the bravery of Ukrainians who have fought for both and value the warm friendships that I made. I was Ukraine’s first accredited foreign correspondent. Before that I reported for The Guardian (Budapest) and later, for the BBC (London and Kyiv). I live in Toronto and still closely follow developments in Ukraine.  


I wrote...

Picnic at the Iron Curtain: A Memoir: From the Fall of the Berlin Wall to Ukraine's Orange Revolution

By Susan Viets,

Book cover of Picnic at the Iron Curtain: A Memoir: From the Fall of the Berlin Wall to Ukraine's Orange Revolution

What is my book about?

In this adventure-packed memoir, Susan Viets arrives in Communist Hungary in 1988 and begins reporting for The Guardian, not at all prepared for what lies ahead. She helps East Germans escape to the West at a picnic, moves to the Soviet Union, battling authorities for accreditation as the first foreign journalist in Ukraine, and then watches the political system collapse. Lured by new travel opportunities, Viets shops her way across Central Asia, stumbling into a tank attack in Tajikistan and the start of the Tajik civil war. The book features people at the centre of dramatic events from Budapest to Bishkek and Chernobyl to Chechnya. It spans a period of momentous historical change from 1988 to 1998, ending with an eyewitness account of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.

Bookshelves related to the dissolution of the Soviet Union